Mmusi Maimane: Are we a Broken Society?

2015-02-19 11:43

Mmusi Maimane, Parliamentary leader of the Democratic Alliance, in his passionate charge to Mr. Jacob Zuma, responding to the State of the Nation Address (SONA) made a statement that should have bothered all of us. He said, “You [President Zuma] are a broken man, presiding over a broken society”. The charge that Zuma is ‘a broken man’ is not new, with Max du Preez having been one of the latest to make such scathing remarks referring to ‘Zuma - SA’s one-man wrecking ball’. This is a stance adopted by many Members of Parliament when referring to Zuma in their responses to SONA 2015. This is not my point of interest, I have shared my thoughts extensively on Zuma.

The point that has troubled many South Africans is that Maimane has accused us of living in ‘a broken society’. Some have protested; ‘how dare he?! Is South Africa a broken society?’ How do we measure this accusation? It is inherently subjective and depends on one’s tool of analysis when looking at the South African society. It is important that we understand the facets (the political, economic, social and environment) of society before we dismiss this claim. Traditional definitions of society see it as a group of people, who are interdependent, living together with some form of common objectives to pursue. Does the South African society embody this?

Ours is the most unequal country in the world. Telling us that the rich have been getting richer whilst the economic mobility of the poor, marginalised and lowly employed people has been stagnant with negligible increase. This has meant that a divide amongst citizens is growing, discontent is also at its highest. People’s impatience with hunger, marginalisation and poverty is translating itself into lawlessness through acts of looting and burning public property to communicate a message to those in power. People are not willing to act in an interdependent manner, by understanding how their actions will affect the children (and their families) whose school has been burned down.

We have become immune to the suffering of fellow human beings within our society. We express outrage and disdain on social media and never take action beyond that. In the wake of the Marikana Massacre, citizens were angry, but not enough to force a single politician or police official to resign as a sign of taking responsibility, irrespective of the Farlam Commission being appointed. When the report comes out sometime later in the year, I challenge us citizens to prove to Mmusi Maimane that we are not a broken society and ensure that every single one of the people fingered by the report is brought to book, without fear or favour and partisanship.

When Parliament descended into chaos during the SONA night, a catastrophe in our democratic era, again in the comfort of our homes we complained behind our computer and cellphone screens. We were nowhere to be seen marching on Tuesday and handing over a petition to the Speaker of the National Assembly and Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces. Such an act would have reminded the presiding officers of Parliament that this august house belongs to us the people – alas we did not make any such claim and as a result we have again given too much power to politicians to sort out the mess they created.

We have experienced horrific scenes of racism and sexism that culminate either to the raping of people, mutilation of bodies and gross violation of the rights of others. As society we get shocked and move on with our individual lives because we do not believe we are as interconnected to the people we see in news bulletins. Even when we have capacity to act and help, we remain indifferent. Are we then not a broken society?

When it is expedient for us individual citizens, for our own business advancement and self-preservation from criminal prosecution, we participate wilfully in corruption. Yet when the figures of over R30-billion being lost in government through corruption are reported, we are the first to be alarmed yet we perpetuate the system and fuel its existence through normalising corruption in our daily interactions with authorities at a local level. Are we not a broken society if we have such hypocrisy?

The country is continuously faced with an education crisis, which is an impediment in the realisation of the capable state that the National Development Plan Vision 2030 speaks about. The President made little mention of this in his SONA 2015; the responding MPs hardly touched on it, except for a few. Even the Minister responsible for Higher Education was much more excited about throwing jibes at other fellow MPs than detailing substantial improvements in Higher Education funding, curriculum and transformation. Three Universities (UKZN, TUT Soshanguve and WSU) have had to halt Teaching and Learning because of a rocky start to the year owing to the annual student strikes. Students demand access for those students who are passing but have no fees. If the highest body of legislation is not concerned with such developments, are we not a broken society?

It is initiatives such as that of the Wits University Student Representative Council (SRC) that give hope. In an effort to avert a strike and to raise the necessary funds for students to register, the Wits SRC took it upon themselves to start a Humanitarian Fund (mobilising society) and raise R1-million to register fellow students that would otherwise miss out on an opportunity to further their studies. To them I say Kudos. They gave us hope in the midst of chaos, to remind the nation that bonded by a spirit of common purpose, we can achieve a lot in fixing our broken society.

There is a greater need for deepened citizenry engagement, to not give up in searching for answers to our problems. However, if we are a broken society, at least it is an admission we must make so that we may all be part of the solution. Where are the fixers? What creative ways can we come up with to deal with our social wounds, our breaking down political culture and the stubbornly stagnant economy? Each one of us, where we are needs to first make an oath that they want to be part of the change; only then can we begin to search for solutions.

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