South Africa

Op-Ed: The morning after – let’s try to lean on our light

By Jonathan Faull 15 February 2018

South Africans are used to love and hate sitting side by side and we’re fond of being cannibalised, but can we try another way? By JONATHAN FAULL.

Ken Owen once told me that “South Africans exist in the suspended penultimate”. We wait, expecting heaven and hell, simultaneously. Collective patriotic schizophrenia is our journey and our Oprah-esque destination. It’s what makes us championship drunks, poets and depressives.

I adore my citizenship: I am predisposed to lecturing anyone who will listen about the wonders of our Constitution, the resilience of our people, the awesomeness of our heroes and victories. But like all whose blood flows green, I am also here for the self-loathing, the gleaming chip on the shoulder and – what became under Zuma – a preening and reflexive cynicism.

Asked what his greatest fear was, the Irish novelist and polemicist Colm Toibin replied: “That Ireland will eat me.” Is this the lot for those who are born to, or who love, complicated, divided and intractably complicated countries?

Today, Mzansi, you can eat me. Like a Chippa Masinga goal, our new day pierces the heart; it demands that we shout and sing. This St Valentine’s day, South Africa triumphed against uBaba and his forces of darkness. We showed the world, again, that this is how we do it; and we did it without – and in spite of – them all.

South Africans have a way of showcasing inclusive victories. This time the journos got out front; civil society, activists, artists, workers and voters made the information actionable. There are many seats at this particular table of victory.

On Thursday, we got a new president and another new dawn. But at what cost?

The sun will rise on a moribund and hollowed-out economy, seemingly intractable unemployment, sickening inequality, flailing infrastructure and a litany of daily indignities visited on too many people who deserve and expect better.

Our journey has, again, incurred a body count. Good people have been killed, vulnerable people have died through government incompetence, a star was snuffed out callously and deliberately, and the struggle for sustainable livelihoods and human dignity accrued new martyrs. Institutions, procedures, people and prejudices have been abused, exploited, paraded and discarded with the changing political breeze.

Albie Sachs used to say in the early 2000s that South Africa was a “wonderful-terrible” country. With our more recent penchant for xenophobia, abuses of power and deepening corruption, we have leaned heavily on our more dubious shadows.

We will rock our latest sugar high with our latest sugar daddy and, in the coming days, South Africa will eat us. But let’s try to stop that the day after tomorrow. DM

Photo: Former President Jacob Zuma (Sapa)

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