Mental floss for the discerning
24 October 2014 11:18 (South Africa)
Opinionista Sipho Hlongwane

Where have all the good men gone?

  • Sipho Hlongwane
The murder of white supremacist, cruel taskmaster and questionable equestrian Eugene Terre'blanche, and the word-joust that will inevitably follow, gives us a unique opportunity to have a frank talk about the state of South Africa. To say things have been difficult of late would be an understatement. A session on the couch would do this country good.

We saw a truly unedifying spectacle on Saturday night – journalists falling over each other to drape the murder of Eugene Terre'blanche around Julius Malema's neck. We're all obviously gatvol of Malema's onanistic bluster, and would like nothing more than to see someone bring him down a notch or three, preferably with the judicious application of sjambok to behind, but the truth is that in order for us to accomplish that, we have to lower ourselves to his level of thinking.

Let's rally the evidence: Julius Malema wasn't the first to sing Ayesaba Amagwala (a.k.a. Shoot the Boer). There is currently no evidence to suggest that singing the song has any relation to farm murders. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to prove that farm attacks are motivated by racial motives, rather than what almost all other crimes are about - money. Eugene Terre'blanche has a history of mistreating his workers, not to mention his racism. It was too easy, too convenient, too sensationalist - and almost every news article that reported the incident made the connection between Terre'blanche's death and Shoot the Boer.

This isn't to say that Malema should sing Shoot the Boer.

The issue, however, is how we arrived at a point where our national discourse is directed by the Malemas and Terre'blanches of this world. Why are these two men, who are really two sides of the same ugly coin, dragging  the entire country down the path of ever-greater polarisation? More importantly, why are they being allowed to?

Is the ANC election conference at Polokwane to blame? Jacob Zuma emerged victorious, but his success was largely due to the fact that the party wanted to eject Thabo Mbeki, and quickly. Zuma inherited a divided ANC, and somehow they've managed to keep the cracks papered over. Until now. The post-Polokwane ANC has been characterised by lackadaisical leadership, tripartite allies circling each other warily, the ugliest forms of greed and belligerent populism. Our ruling party has been anything but unified.

There is also the fact that there is no visible moral leadership within the tripartite alliance. Not a single one of the alliance's top leaders can take the populists on, because they're all tainted. Jacob Zuma has been since the arms deal days. Kgalema Motlanthe can't pipe up either, not with the small matter of a certain Iraqi oil deal hanging over his head. Gwede Mantashe defended the ANC's interest in Hitachi, the company that's going to build a bunch of new power stations, amid howls of fury from opposition parties and the public. Given his job description, he isn't really suited to the task. With no decisive moral leadership to take the middle ground, people naturally gravitate toward the extremists.

Maybe it's just the case of the ANC being lead by a weak populist. Would we even have this conversation had Eugene Terre'blanche died while Mbeki was still president?

Or is the problem us? You have to wonder why Malema finds it so easy to pull society hither and thither, why we are so easy to manipulate. I maintain that beneath all the Rainbow Nation fluff, South Africa is still a deeply divided country. Those divides, and the fact that we're in such denial, play right into Malema's hands.

This Terre'blanche thing will eventually pass over. We will all be worse off after the AWB, Malema, the ANC, Afriforum and everyone else has had a go on the podium. Thank goodness we have the World Cup to look forward to ...

It is high time we all took a moment to extract our collective heads out of our bottoms. We're so worried about Malema's words. “He's destroying this country,” we moan. “He's undoing Mandela's legacy!” Well, we're letting him! Where are the voices of moderation? Where are the people preaching reconciliation and nation-building? We can't rely on Nelson Mandela or Desmond Tutu anymore. They won't be around forever. When our children ask us in the future what we did to save South Africa, will we say, “Well, I wrote a bunch of angry comments in an article about Julius Malema. And then when things really got bad, I wrote to the editor.” That's just not good enough.

The 18th century Irish statesman, Edmund Burke, is famous for saying, “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” We need to remind ourselves of that right now.

  • Sipho Hlongwane
sipho hlongwane BW

Sipho Hlongwane is a writer and columnist for Daily Maverick. His other work interests also include motoring, music and technology, for which he has some awards. In a previous life, he drove forklift trucks, hosted radio shows, waited tables, and was once bitten by a large monitor lizard on his ankle. It hurt a lot. Arsenal Football Club is his only permanent obsession.

He appears in these pages as a political correspondent.

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