For so long, the ANC NEC’s meeting pronouncements could have been guessed in advance with great precision. Reported blood-curdling fights would puncture a weekend for our political elite every eight weeks or so. Despite knowing we all knew that lies were being presented in those statements — truthfulness usually ending with the opening sentence that noted when and where the meeting was held — despite all that, the ruling party communications officials would sing Kumbaya, dosed with an attack on the evil media that terrorised their serene lives and disrupted their perfect harmonies.
It is funny how, throughout the years of State Capture, the accusation against media “agendas” was the last remaining cry they could subscribe to – even as most kept their lines of communication open and often served as valuable sources. Looking back, it should have been more obvious to us that a lack of individual ethics and misshapen values could never morph into a common spirit to transform an already grotesquely unequal society. And, yes, it was of course obvious to all of us in the media that this creaking circus of an incompetent national government and nose-bleedingly corrupt local administration would have no choice but to end its run in tears and destruction.
Deep down, most of us knew the events that burned KwaZulu-Natal and large swathes of Gauteng and traumatised everyone, simply had to happen. There was no way we could have avoided it, we knew, and yet we hoped some kind of Deus ex machina would jump from behind the curtains and save the day, sparing South Africa from devastation and despair.
But this was a Shakespearian play, not a Greek tragedy – Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides are all gone, their often-used divine saviours perished with them. No, this was a tragedy written as if penned during a medieval pandemic, the bubonic plague: the main characters die, the masses suffer, the gods are useless.
As we emerge from this week of horror and disbelief, in the shortest of terms we have a massive humanitarian crisis on our hands to attempt to solve: the spectre of hunger, as I write this on Thursday night, is already menacing the very communities that were involved in looting. The supply chain has been disrupted, severed in many places, making resupplying a herculean task. The medicine stockouts are real, the vaccination drive has been halted. Crucially, the SASSA grant payments have been frozen, turning millions of people in the worst-hit areas into the worst-hit individuals.
In the medium term, we need to figure out a way to get the economy going and help both large corporations and SMMEs get back on their feet and resume their activity.
Perhaps the greatest challenge we face is the task of great political realignment that this explosion of hatred has made necessary.
To emerge from this crisis and build for the long term, we must go back to the drawing board: we must ask ourselves, what is the fundamental commitment to which the overwhelming majority of us can subscribe.
And it is not brain surgery: it is there in our Constitution’s preamble:
“We, the people of South Africa, Recognise the injustices of our past; Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land; Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity.
“We therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic so as to
- Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;
- Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law;
- Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and
- Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations.
Just read it. It’s easy if you do. Then ask yourself: do the people who instigated, organised, executed and ignited the fires that nearly destroyed South Africa’s soul this week believe in our Constitution? Do they deserve another chance?
The answer is there, in those flames, in hatred, in calls for violence and destruction, in threats of amplifying the said violence. And it is as clear an answer as you’re ever likely to get: NO.
The likes of Jacob Zuma and his RETinue abandoned politics this week and chose violence as their descriptor. They should never be allowed back into politics; most of them should be given a comfortable bed and three square meals in the correctional facility near them, for the longest time.
The likes of Julius Malema, who chose, in the moment the country was on its knees, to come closer and land a kick in the solar plexus should be charged with fanning violence and declared persona non-grata. His politics of racist cowardice should be forever condemned.
We cannot allow, in six months time, the perpetrators of these vile acts to return and weave a fake history — in the way Donald Trump is attempting in the US over the events of 6 January.
We must go forward, and it must be a giant leap. In practical terms, new alliances must be forged and a nationwide movement to protect and preserve the Constitution must be born out of the shopping mall ashes.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has this one chance to gather forces across the board, who all agree on what our Constitution demands. (Let’s first agree on what’s fundamental: Working for the people of South Africa — good. Turning the country into Somalia — bad.)
This great realignment should include political parties and other active forces who want to build and not destroy our democracy; civil society and all communities and individuals willing to help must be included.
This simple criteria (Somalia-bad) will demand the exclusion of many ANC heavyweights but they have only themselves to blame. Jacob Zuma, Ace Magashule and RET Inc should never again be allowed to affix a political label on themselves. Zuma’s children and his little helpers should be disqualified from having a participatory voice in our democracy. They have deserved their scarlet letters and should never be able to remove them.
Out of the ashes of a burnt country, there could be a rebirth in which Ramaphosa appoints a government of national unity and starts to address the real issues we’re facing, not to work ad nauseam on pacifying the egos of people who have long forgotten why they came to power.
Let’s face it, we can still at some point in the future disagree on how to organise and tax business, how to help labour forces swell their ranks, or what to do with SOEs. But, before that moment comes, we must ensure that we do have labour, business, SOEs and so, so many other things. People expect us to act. They are united in their purpose of surviving this, and they are doing their best. First and foremost, we must ensure that we do have a country.
The jury is still out on that, but we must do our damnedest to not be again sucker-punched by a bunch of vile conmen.
Another choice? We don’t have one. DM