We, The People: A formidable cast?

2013-12-04 05:35

A while ago, I wrote an article titled “South Africa: The Perfect Script and the Almost Story” – wherein I used an analogy to describe South Africa as a New Production, with our politicians as the production crew; the constitution and policies as the Script; and we, the citizens as the cast.

Here I argued about how the New South Africa was supposed to be this great production based on the original idea of the script – but was somehow derailed by our questionable production crew, most notably the current Production Company (ANC) and the Director (JZ). (You can read the article here).

In this piece of writing, I want to focus on the other side of this production: The Production Cast. We, the People.

A great script, great producer, and great director – all will not amount to much without a good cast: Are we, the people, a formidable cast for this great production? I ask.

Are we really a cast worthy of being attached to this big dream of the new production: New South Africa? Are we ready & deserving of a good producer and an excellent director? Does mere citizenship give us this entitlement? Does being a taxpayer automatically entitle one to ‘perfect’ governance? Some may argue, yes. But I’ll argue, there’s more to responsible citizenry than merely paying your taxes.

Eusebius McKaiser once tweeted (paraphrased) “The one thing I like about the Afrikaner community is their patriotism and strong family values”. I have no view about whether this is true or not - I quoted this merely to make a point. How nice would it be if this could be said about all South Africans in general: “South Africans are renowned for their patriotism and strong family values” – this would automatically take care of at least half of the socio-economic ills we have in this country, regardless of who is in charge of government. But sometimes, I look at some news and events happening in this country, and I shudder in shame – sometimes to the extent I wouldn’t even be able to defend my fellow citizens (including myself) to a foreign audience.

Somehow, we have been led to believe that responsible citizenry means holding government to account, voicing out our concerns against the government; voting this one In and that one out; giving the Public Protector more than enough on her plate; taking government to court; strong opposition in parliament; etc. These are all good & integral, but it’s not the only making of a Great Nation. A great nation is not only built by having the right politicians/ government (which will never happen), but even more important, are the citizens and their attitude towards their country.

On that note, there is a lot of ‘responsibility shifting’ happening in this country. During 2013 in particular, there were a lot of debates about who’s to blame: I am poor, I have no house, I have no job, there is crime, there is so much corruption, there is no service delivery, no electricity, etc – I don’t deserve to live like this: So who can I blame? Oh yes, the government. Another says, this is all the doing of apartheid. Yet another says, it’s all due to the failures of the current government. Anyone but me, they say. But are really the epitome of responsible citizenry?

For example: We complain of lack of service delivery, no infrastructure, high cost of electricity, etc. Yet, at the same time, it is us, the ordinary citizens, who ‘steal’ electricity – there are communities where not paying for electricity is an acceptable norm, and not because of being poor, but simply because they can and they don’t care. Municipalities report annual distribution losses averaging 20% - due mainly to these illegal connections (or meter tampering). It may seem trivial, but it could be the difference between ‘affordable’ and ‘too expensive’. The very same people who don’t pay for services, will go and destroy infrastructure due to ‘lack of service delivery’. And of course, when this happens, there is more noise about the government’s failures than condemnation of the people themselves.

But again, this electricity theft is not just confined to individual residents – to my shock, businesses and corporates are the biggest culprits – which just proves my point that it’s not about being poor, just a lack of a patriotic spirit.

Not long ago we heard of stories of hospital staff and teachers stealing meat to resell for themselves – yet we unflinchingly blame the government when patients/ kids don’t get their food. Daily we hear of tenders awarded to people who turn out and do sloppy work, yet we complain when not given opportunities.

We blame the government for not delivering school books (rightly so), yet in our own homes we have school books lying around, and won't even care to return them to school or to the library.

During the year, there was a TV/ internet campaign which entailed school children talking about South Africa post-apartheid – basically voicing their views/ concerns about the country. Even there, one got the sense that even young people are being given the mind-set that being a responsible citizen means voicing out your concerns against the government, knowing what the govt should or shouldn’t be doing, etc. But that shouldn’t be - young people also need to know that they are just as responsible to make things work. For example, from those children, I can bet that a fair share of them came from homes with illegal electricity connections, they know a family member involved in cable theft, they have a mother or aunt involved in stealing food from schools/hospitals – but here they are, being told: hey, we don’t really care about all that, the most responsible thing to do: speak about the govt, hold the govt accountable, etc.

These young people, commonly dubbed ‘the born frees’ are likely the ones who will eventually bring about a regime change in this country. But a regime change will not do much if they still don’t have the right mind-set to know that it starts with us, we, the ordinary citizens.

Another example: Early this year, allegations emerged that construction companies colluded when tendering for construction of the 2010 stadia - which resulted in billions of Rands being siphoned from state coffers. Now if the allegations are true, the normal process of the law should deal with them. But you don’t hear as much noise about these practices and how they affect the progress of this country – mind you, we’re talking about hundreds of millions, if not billions, of taxpayer’s money here.

We have this natural inclination to view politicians’ sins as more condemnable than those of ours ordinary citizens. Somehow we are being led to believe that a million Rand stolen or misused by a government official is more wrong than millions of Rands being indirectly stolen by us the people. We hear more noises about a government official spending R50,000 at a local fastfood, than about the fact that the very fastfood outlet is powering its cold-room through illegally connected electricity, effectively stealing millions of taxpayers money.

There is more mathematics about how many houses and schools could have been built by a million Rand misused by a government minister, yet no mathematics about how many houses and schools could have been built by the billions stolen by corporates and the elite. Double standards?

Fact is, a change in government will not automatically result in a change of attitude. I doubt that people will say, ‘hey look, the DA is now in power, let’s disconnect all the illegally connected electricity and water’ or ‘hey look, Agang is now in government, let’s pay our taxes more religiously and honestly’ – No, it won’t happen. Some socio-economic ills do not call for a change in government, but a change in how ordinary citizens think.

Sometimes I look at fellow citizens and can’t help but think, we, South Africans, are a rather ungovernable bunch.

Any new ‘producer’ that comes into power need to understand that they don’t have ‘Hollywood actors’ for a cast, but ordinary South Africans who sometimes do things that are very hard to comprehend or defend. The DA’s and the Agang’s of this world need to understand that change will not merely be a product of good policies and good governance. The people need to come to the party to bring about change more holistically.

And we, the people, need to understand that a change in government regime will not necessarily give us the overall change that we desperately feel entitled to. We have a bigger role to play.

Otherwise, we will have one ‘almost-story’ after another. We’ll vote the ANC out, until we vote them back in again – still trying to achieve the dream of ‘the Perfect Story’.

In conclusion, we are approaching election time. One of the most basic things you can do as responsible citizen: Vote. So, let’s do so.

Let us all proclaim: South Africa, Hail the Beloved country!! .

.

Thank you. Catch me on twitter @xolanik

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