The week we learned to listen. And prepare for new battles.
- Alex Eliseev
- 01 Jun 2012 08:22 (South Africa)
I imagine standing on a war-torn battlefield, tired and wounded, but glad to have been part of the great Spear skirmish. For me, it’s been a sharp learning curve and I believe the whole thing will go down in history as one of the most bizarre ways to get a nation talking.
Earlier this week, a few thousand people marched to the Goodman Gallery, where the story began. It was an odd thing to do considering the painting was down, but it suited the politicians and landed up paving the way to some form of a compromise. During an awkward press conference the next morning, the ANC announced it would withdraw its court case against the gallery and the City Press newspaper, while the gallery admitted it was alive to the pain – the hurt and humiliation – the painting had caused.
During the same week, City Press took down the offending image of President Jacob Zuma – with his genitals exposed – from its website. Since the paper was the first to publish it, and found itself at the epicentre of the earthquake that followed, it was a significant development. Some continue to criticise it, but I believe it showed – as Brendan Boyle put it so beautifully – that: “South Africans must listen when others are weeping”.
I look back now and am amazed at how much emotion erupted over the painting. How when the ANC first challenged it, all I wanted to do was climb onto a soapbox and shout to defend freedom of expression. You can read those early thoughts here.
But then a respected advocate cried in court and some of South Africa’s most powerful black writers began painting the real picture of just how much pain continues to linger. For me, it was an awakening and a softening of attitude. Don’t mistake this for a change of view, or some sort of an apology – it’s neither. I stand by what I said. But what changed is my willingness to listen… to quiet down and hear the other side.
It’s clear that on this front we are moving away from the combat and towards the real debate. Not the angry shouting, but the psychological and emotional post-mortem of what happened. The Spear will leave a scar on South Africa’s skin, but it is the price we’ll pay for learning to listen.
Yes, there will be casualties; there always are. As I once wrote, the winds of the 2008 xenophobic mayhem blew across the land and changed us forever. Remember those images of the South African flag dripping in blood? And yet we look back at it now as something we never wish to return to. A mark showing us the lowest point. It’s a dramatic comparison, but I do think we can use the past few days as a reference point.
It’s foolish to think that xenophobia has been abolished, or that people will now stop wrestling with issues of race, culture, dignity and expression. They won’t. But maybe in future we can explore each other in a more constructive way.
Turn now towards the new battlefield.
Remember how much ground the opposition – the so-called rebels – gained after winning a court order to stop the launch of e-tolling? Do you recall all that talk of a new consciousness and of a tax revolt? Well, the government regrouped and yesterday offered a rather impressive display of power.
Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe convened a media briefing to discuss the outcome of a ministerial committee he was asked to chair into the controversial project. It was sold as a “reveal all” briefing, in which all the finer details would be discussed. When journalists pushed for those details, they were asked to stop “pulling teeth”, as a more technical briefing would be held later. So what was the point of yesterday’s session?
The most important issue that emerged was that government is now considering passing a new bill to bail out Sanral, which is bleeding buckets of blood each month. We don’t yet know how much the bailout will amount to, or where the cash will come from, but it’s a clear signal that government remains committed to e-tolling and to not letting Sanral default on its debt. The move says: “We’re in this until the bitter end”.
Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan used the opportunity to claim that the collection of tariffs would cost far less (20% of revenue, once the project is up and running) than previously thought, and therefore makes economic sense. Transport Minister S’bu Ndebele tried to convince everyone that alternative transport and routes exist for those who didn’t want to pay for tolls. And then, while answering the last question of the day, Motlanthe let slip that the search for a new Sanral CEO had been called off.
This was an astonishing fact, considering Nazir Alli had resigned and the board had accepted his resignation, making it that an acting CEO had been found. In other words, the farewell cake had been eaten.
But it seems the order to persuade him to stay came tumbling down from Motlanthe’s committee, which felt he had too much experience to be allowed to leave. We were told that while Alli offered to fall on his sword over the e-tolling mess, government gave him the “it’s not your fault” speech and informed him that it had other plans for him.
The reaction to this has been mixed. Cosatu quickly claimed that Sanral would live to regret bringing Alli back. Others reminded us how well he ran the organisation for years and that Sanral would be lost without him. There’s no denying that he has crucial organisational memory and is a key player. Plus many considered him to have been the scapegoat all along. Wherever the truth lies, his return is another sign that government is digging in for a fight by redeploying its top talent.
With all that, and the constitutional court appeal that has been launched, Ndebele’s words have a particular ominous ring to them: “South Africa must be a construction site… you ain’t seen nothing yet”.
Perhaps not, but we’ve seen a hell of a lot for one week.
- Analysis: In the wake of Chinese adventure, a reminder of freedoms we take for granted
- Analysis: Police’s ‘clenched fist’ strikes blow against fellow human beings
- The real brutality of Nkandla
- The new e-tolling dispensation – too little, too late
- Op-Ed: Curro School scandal – when Government does its job well
- Op-Ed: South Africa, a country of misdirected anger
- Op-Ed: Xenophobia, the darkest déjà vu of them all
- Fake affidavit(s) and unhappy communities: Sanral's brand new scandal
- Op-Ed: No 'dark sarcasm' in the classroom
- NPA vs SAPS: Justice is down and out
- Analysis: The SAPS need more than prayer – they need a leader
- TB Joshua and the Nigerian tragedy that shook SA into gear
- TB Joshua: When stupidity rules
- When it comes to policing, accountability is what matters
- Op-Ed: Everybody, CALM DOWN!
- Joshua Broomberg, a schoolboy defending our most fundamental right
- The Accusation Game 2.0: Prince Mokotedi vs NPA
- With Prince Mokotedi's departure from NPA, many questions will remain unanswered
- Popcorn ballet: Easy to digest, delicious to swallow
- We are but dandelions against the wind
- Madonsela, the Defence Review, and SA’s cries for leadership
- On the Nkandla campaign trail: The ANC’s continuing mission down Denial Avenue
- The ANC's Judgement Day gone wrong
- As Oscar looms, Ketani DNA expert gives his verdict on SA justice system
- A cold case, a sizzling battle: Betty Ketani murder trial, week one
- His name is Louca, and he could be a game-changer
- Analysis: Bonfires of discontent, in horrifying numbers
- Limpopo's fierytale: the people vs. the police, Armageddon style
- Joburg's latest mystery: A rocket-head of possibilities
- Analysis: e-tolls' first act of sabotage, a sign of deep discontent
- Analysis: Never forget Jan Rivombo
- Nkandla government report: Controlling the (scandal) creep
- Wanted: A time machine. Mission: Re-do Nelson Mandela memorial
- Nkandla leak: one step closer to the truth
- Jo'burg Ballet: A gorgeous 'The Nutcracker'; an antidote to e-tolls and Krejcir
- Police vs. Krejcir: Could this be the final battle?
- Blue Light Brigade: The president’s bullies assault journalist
- McBride as head of Ipid? WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?!
- Crime intelligence: Ngcobo joins Mdluli on sidelines
- Analysis: Joburg, Gotham City without Batman
- SA schools' safety: Festering scandals, emerging lessons
- Nazir Alli: The man whose bells are e-tolling
- SA government: excellence, unforgiven
- Riah Phiyega’s disaster-filled journey, far from over
- Gemballa case: Key witness' memory U-turn
- Krejcir assassination attempt: The stuff of movies, Bond movies
- The magic of (de)construction: Unveiling the biggest losers
- Goodman Nono and the darkness of our system's soul
- Away from the squabbling family, graciousness and love for Madiba
- The things that Obama can teach us
- A day in the life of a soul-searching country: Will good eventually prevail?
- E-tolls: Final countdown? Or not so... final... countdown?
- Mvula Trust scandal: Minister Baloyi changes tack
- Mvula trust, minister Baloyi and the basic question of trust
- The Phiyega Problem
- Oscar: The day our newsroom went quiet
- Humphrey Mmemezi: An embodiment of all that Mamphela Ramphele loathes
- Mvula Trust: The inconvenient questions
- Exclusive: Water Affairs Deputy Minister, her friends and the R30-million tender
- Get OUTA here: Sanral's win, everyone else's loss
- That race card ain't no trump card
- Gauteng's e-tolling volcano
- FIVE MINUTES: South Africa, 27 September
- E-tolls: the lawyers slug it out
- Humphrey Mmemezi rides into the sunset, for now
- Higgs boson and the loss of our collective compass
- Death of a (textbook) salesman: Motshekga blames the supplier
- Reporter's notebook: Chaos and pain in Marlboro Gardens
- Ketani murder: ex-wife steps out
- Outa's Wayne Duvenage, out of Avis
- Humphrey Mmemezi: Have you any shame, sir?
- Betty Ketani: A murder less experienced
- Zuma squeezes the oxygen from General Cele's job
- The week we learned to listen. And prepare for new battles.
- Crime: Cold case files, South Johannesburg, chapter 1
- The realpolitik of SKA
- PaintingGate: the Gallery strikes back
- Analysis: Painting debate will test our democracy
- Unchain my art
- Gauteng's Highway to Hell, revisited
- Extra! Extra! Coming soon to a court near you: The Richard Mdluli Show
- Maldonado's triumph unites polarised Venezuela
- Defiance 2.0: Malema's back, alive & kicking
- Nazir Alli: E-tolling scandal's first victim
- That sinking feeling: Khoza 2.0 unleashes a storm of... silence
- Analysis: Which model will the police follow - Marc Ishlove's or Richard Mdluli's?
- E-tolling: Judge Prinsloo and hope for South Africa
- E-tolls: The puppet-masters drop their masks
- E-tolls: Judge's admission of urgency Outa hurt Sanral
- Reporter's notebook: Sanral's raging bronco vs Outa's angry rider
- Chuck Colson, Nixon's 'master of dirty tricks', has left the building
- Analysis: Malema's organised demise
- Lights go off on SA electric car project
- Radovan Krejcir is just a symptom
- E-Tolls: A dogfight on the cards
- A fissioning of poetry with imaginative adventures in humanness
- E-tags: The silence before the storm?
- The Princess of Bergplaas
- The Future Eaters... effectively beyond parody
- Malema suspension: ANCYL chess game continues
- His back to the wall, Malema's down to primal instincts - fight or flight
- SKA goes into referee's optional extra time
- The 'Monster', his men and the twists and turns of the Modimolle trial
- African financial ministers back Nigerian for World Bank job
- ZANEWS: Weekly Digest – S4 Episode 27
- ZANEWS: The Misfortune Teller (Part 2) Feat. The DA Team
- ZANEWS: The Misfortune Teller (Part 1)
- ZANEWS: Old School
- ZANEWS: Show me the Money!
- ZANEWS: Juju in Memoriam
- ZANEWS: Tokyo Adrift
- ZANEWS: Coming To America
- ZANEWS: Touchy-feely Boers
- ZANEWS: Weekly Digest # 25
- ZANEWS: Hail to the Chief
- ZANEWS: The Devil Wears Gaga
- ZANEWS: Lindiwe's African Dream
- ZANEWS: The Constitution and Other Fairytales
- ZANEWS: Star Wars Ep. VII – A No Hope
- ZANEWS: Sex, Drugs & Boerie Roll
- ZANEWS: Juju's in the panic room
- ZANEWS: Amazing Zooma
- ZANEWS: Buns in the oven
- ZANEWS: Eye Spy
- ZANEWS: Sirious?!?
- ZANEWS: Flushed Away?
- ZANEWS Weekly Digest
- ZANEWS: Dubul' ibhunu e Gabbana
- ZANEWS: Life after PDV
- ZANEWS: The Donald is angry
- An advice to a monster
- Ster: Return to Art for the Sake of Art
- Missing. One Maverick writer. Might be in Fifth Dimension.
- The SA economy's Cosatu migraine
- France finally arrive at Rugby World Cup
- Libyan War's forgotten sufferers
- Only 12 years after Dubya, another Texan wants to be president
- The 2010 World Cup: Was it all worth it?
- Analysis: Twitter, a @realpoliticalpowerplayerSA
- SKA's little Mozambican brother, still an embryo
- Lewis Pugh: Frack off, Shell!
- The Square Kilometre Array, a project The Karoo deserves
- Press Council hearings in Cape Town - speaking to empty chairs, again
- The Chinese Sphinx: How China reports on Egypt
- Nightmare at Baragwanath refuses to end
- Reporter's notebook: A most curious vigil
- Justice slowed by toxicology reports is justice denied
- Gauteng's mean streets offer police a reality check
- 'Fela! The Musical' comes to South Africa - well, kinda...
- 63rd Cannes: The Bang Bang Club, the movie - where art doesn't imitate life
- 63rd Cannes: Applause, emotion and Life Above All
- 63rd Cannes: Winnie, the movie, Winnie, the dilemma
- 63rd Cannes: Judging the jurors
- Cannes it all come together?
- ZANews Friday: Thabo Mbeki is the obvious choice for Bafana Bafana
- ZANews: Zuma, De Villiers, and Percy Montgomery's hair
- ZANews: Hellen Zille and national security
- ZANews debuts, politicians Shaik in their boots