This week, South Africa was in desperate need for leadership, for someone in a position of authority to soothe a troubled and hurting nation. The presidency issued statements on the deaths of three of South African sporting heroes but President Jacob Zuma did not make any public appearances. The leaders of the ruling alliance were speaking on a public platform together but, as usual, were preoccupied with their own problems. It was up to other sporting personalities to impart some words of wisdom at a time of national grief. But South Africa’s problems are now far beyond what nation-building sport can bring, and through the latest Oxfam report, the whole world knows it. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
Springbok captain Jean de Villiers says he did not know Senzo Meyiwa, Mbulaeni Mulaudzi or Phindile Mwelase who all lost their lives over the past week. Speaking at a joint memorial service for the three sports stars in Johannesburg on Thursday, De Villiers said he still felt as if he had lost two brothers and a sister.
“We fight the same fight. Through sport we get the opportunity to make this country a better place,” De Villiers said. “It’s circumstances like this that make the country stronger. Respect is earned and these three earned it.”
Little that has been said over the past few days, as the nation battled to come to terms with particularly the killing of the captain of the national football squad, has made much sense. There have been expressions of deep grief but not much to assist the nation to process what has happened and move forward. The focus has also shifted to the manhunt for those who killed Meyiwa and the sideshow over his private life.
But something terrible has happened in the life of South Africa. It is time for leaders to show themselves. De Villiers made a good attempt at doing so with the words he spoke from the heart. They were particularly poignant considering the history of rugby and football in South Africa.
Kaizer Chiefs goalkeeper Itumeleng Khune, who also spoke at the memorial service, told of the long journey he had come with his opposite number at Orlando Pirates as they competed from the age of 15 for the number one spot.
“Senzo and I share the same story of fighting for the number one jersey, coming from rural areas as young boys to being where we are today because we dreamt of taking over from the great legends,” Khune said in a moving tribute to his friend.
“We were roommates at Under 17 level. We always spoke about our dreams and our goals,” he said. He told how he walked across town to tell his friend when he was chosen as goalkeeper for Chiefs, and bought him Kentucky Fried Chicken to celebrate. A year later, Meyiwa was chosen for the same position at Orlando Pirates and did the same for Khune.
In the absence of all else, these moving anecdotes reflected life, difficulties, hard work and triumph in South Africa.
A new report released by development charity Oxfam gave a much harsher reflection of the country. The report, Even It Up, says South Africa remains the most unequal society in the world. It says inequality is greater today than at the end of Apartheid and one in four South Africans are hungry right now with nothing to eat.
Two of the richest South Africans, Johann Rupert and Nicky Oppenheimer have wealth equal to that of 50% of the population. Only 360 of the highest earners in South Africa pay their fair share of taxes, the report goes on to say. And the fact we all know: unemployment is the biggest cause of poverty in South Africa.
Associate country director of Oxfam SA, Pooven Moodley, said a major result of the stark inequality in South Africa was the high crime rate. “The recent murder of Bafana Bafana captain Senzo Meyiwa is an indicator of what is happening in South Africa in terms of inequality,” Moodley was quoted by eNCA.
In the absence of answers about why Meyiwa was killed, Moodley pointed to the underlying cause. The question is what can be done about it, now that South Africa’s economic and social problems has manifest in a national tragedy.
Moodley said “radical transformation” – the ANC’s on and off catchphrase – was needed to introduce more inclusive growth in the country. The problem though is that beyond the realm of the ANC’s sloganeering and campaign speak, radical transformation has not been borne out in government policies. In fact, there still needs to be a detailed explanation from the ANC as to what radical transformation is and how it will break South Africa out of the economic policy morass.
Since the election period passed, attention on such issues has been deflected. There has been no public pressure on South Africa’s political leaders to make good on their election promises.
Attention has been elsewhere. On Thursday, the secretaries of the alliance, Gwede Mantashe, Blade Nzimande and Zwelinzima Vavi were speaking at the national congress of the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa. They seemed so absorbed by the internal politics of the alliance, particularly the moribund Cosatu, that they seemed oblivious to the fact that the country was crying out for leadership.
As the leaders of the organisations that are meant to represent the vast majority of the people of the country, it should have been them who were acutely in touch with the mood of despondency and hopelessness, and the need for strong leadership. It was not the time for navel gazing but for meaningful statements about the state of the nation and the future direction.
Meanwhile, in Parliament, the nation’s elected representatives are also rotating on their own axis. Late on Thursday night, the whitewash over the upgrades at the president’s Nkandla home went to new levels. The ad hoc committee on Nkandla, which only the ANC serves on now since opposition parties walked out, was deliberating on their report to the National Assembly, following their decision not to call witnesses to evidence.
ANC MP Mathole Motshekga did his best to trash Public Protector Thuli Madonsela’s findings on Nkandla, saying only a security expert could determine if there were non-security features that the state paid for and whether Zuma unduly benefitted from them. He also argued that Madonsela’s recommended remedial action that Treasury and the police determine how much the president should pay back was invalid because there was no undue benefit to Zuma.
Amid the desperate efforts to protect the president, it seems that the ANC MPs are oblivious to how much the Nkandla scandal continues to damage the image of the organisation. They seem ignorant to the irony of the ANC campaigning against poverty and inequality when the president’s home is a monument to abuse of the state and taunts the poor through its opulence in the middle of stark poverty in rural Nkandla.
It is why the findings of the Oxfam report will go by with little regard from the country’s political leaders, until it will be convenient to quote it as part of their empty promises to beat poverty.
If this week’s events are anything to go by, the disconnect between those who are meant to lead us and the people of South Africa is growing wider. If there was ever a time to step up to the plate, take control, capture the mood, it was now. It cannot be business as usual.
Unfortunately even death and despair cannot shake the realisation that something extraordinary is needed. De Villiers’ sentiments about this tragedy making our country stronger might turn out to be wilting petals on the graves of those who passed. DM
Photo: Sporting fans gather to celebrate the lives of three of South Africa’s sport stars in a joint memorial at the Standard Bank Arena in Johannesburg on Thursday, 30 October 2014. Fans, friends and families paid tribute to Senzo Meyiwa, Mbulaeni Mulaudzi and Phindile Mwelase. Bafana Bafana and Orlando Pirates footballer Meyiwa was shot dead in Vosloorus on Sunday evening.Eight hundred metre track runner Mulaudzi was killed in a car crash and professional boxer Phindile Mwelase slipped into a coma two weeks ago after being knocked out during a fight. Picture: Werner Beukes/SAPA
"A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason." ~ Thomas Paine