First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.
South Africa has been a playground for some truly bad people of late.
Truck drivers have been merrily burning trucks on the N3 this week, and not for the first time. It’s in the defence of South African drivers and their sole and exclusive right to use the national road, they say. That it is a toll road leading to one of SA’s biggest commercial harbours and that, um, it is not the best practice to slash and burn trucks that also, um again, don’t belong to them, and, um once more, it is multiple crimes that they are committing, is an argument that holds no water with them.
But wait, there is more: The most illustriously brave leader and uncontested champion of the Louis Vuitton rights, Julius Malema, did his best to impersonate Benito Mussolini while threatening to hurt police officers where it hurts the most, in their homes. His performances, as sickening as they are, come predictably on time these days. Just as one media cycle starts forgetting his previous mess, the generalissimo returns to hog the headlines again. A galaxy away and an aeon ago, I called him and his merry fighters a weak but vicious bunch. How nostalgic. These days, Malema, Floyd and co are downright dangerous for the future of South Africa: in a country that’s been brutalised by almost a year of pandemic disruption, they are reliable thugs pulling the country towards a greater conflict.
But even if we are living in lawless times, Newton’s laws of motion still apply.
So for every step in the direction of EFF populist madness, there is a counter-step in the white right-wing direction. Some of it is just pure evil, like sending death threats to parents of the white kids who dared to express their preference for “non-white” movements. Some of them are even threatening our top epidemiologists just for doing their jobs while keeping sane. They are openly organising for war, storing weapons and learning to sound more savage by the day.
One connective tissue for all these excesses, which in any “normal” country in any “normal” times would have resulted in swift action by legal authorities and lengthy incarcerations (because all of the listed actions are indeed criminal offences): the centre that doesn’t hold anymore.
Normal South Africans are a daily miracle and possibly the most peaceful nation in the world. For all intents and purposes, we do not have a functioning legal system, the police are a farce rather than a force for the majority of the people. In many countries, our level of police dysfunction and prosecutorial and judicial emasculation would result in being burned to the ground. Not in South Africa. Here, the overwhelming majority just want to get on with their lives.
But that may change. Possibly soon. The longer the centre of South African society, and especially its government, continues to be ineffective, incompetent and corrupt, the greater the chance that this 60-million people structure will get balkanised into a maze of little warlord- and mafia-run enterprises.
The truck drivers on the N3 know they can do whatever they want, because who is going to arrest them and their masters and quickly throw the book at them? President Cyril Ramaphosa issued a statement of condemnation that sounded more like a plea to stop where he should have ordered the cessation of whatever they were doing and help them march to the nearest prison.
Malema will continue screaming for racial violence that will soon become a reality if unchecked. The right-wingers will continue to send death threats to people they dislike. Who’s going to investigate them, charge them, sentence them?
They can all do it, because they are not afraid of the centre.
Just the other day, a Daily Maverick contributor was threatened with “necklacing” for exposing the xenophobic network behind #PutSouthAfricansFirst. By now you can guess what happened to the perpetrators… nothing.
When the centre doesn’t hold, the country itself gets centrifuged and splattered. There’s only one person who’s powerful enough to make sure it doesn’t happen: President Cyril Ramaphosa. South Africa is currently spinning dangerously around many little axes of power and impudence. It is Ramaphosa’s job to put an end to it and bring back a semblance of government that is competently and firmly in control.
It is in everyone’s interest for this to happen.
The president has been dealt a terrible deck of cards to play with, but this is what we got. The political situation is indeed tough and his multiple battlefields are not easy to fight. But some of the goals must take precedence. Like, the country should come before intra-party fights. A careful and slow player that he is, Ramaphosa may soon find out that while he was grinding out his opponents, South Africa ran out of time. He must act. Now. DM168
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