South Africa

Editorial

A Rough Guide to saving South Africa

Photo by Daily Maverick

So here we are: After so many years of finding new depths to plumb, we have finally hit the bottom, where there is no more space to kick the can down the road. (Both the can and the road are missing, presumed looted.)

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.

No-one wins.

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

Gallery

Comments - share your knowledge and experience

Please note you must be a Maverick Insider to comment. Sign up here or sign in if you are already an Insider.

Everybody has an opinion but not everyone has the knowledge and the experience to contribute meaningfully to a discussion. That’s what we want from our members. Help us learn with your expertise and insights on articles that we publish. We encourage different, respectful viewpoints to further our understanding of the world. View our comments policy here.

All Comments 37

  • Quietly hoping that a book of Branko’s editorials and articles might be published one day. If so, please include this one.

  • It is a giant step forward for South Africa but I agree 100% that is now or never for CR to display the political leadership of which he is undoubtedly capable and invite appropriate political parties who have the interests of all South Africans at heart to join him in forming a government of national unity.

  • This is a rousing admonition to what should be done. But, we have to face the possibility that we are still at the point where things will get worse before they get better. I believe that there are powerful people in this country who would rather drag the entire nation down than willingly submit to the rule of law. As much as I would like to see this about face by the ANC, I fear that last week was the October Revolution and that there will be more blood spilled before all is said and done.

  • This past week has been traumatic for me to say the least, and I live in Cape Town where things have been “normal”, bar some horrific taxi shootings. I can only imagine what it must be like for residents of KZN and Gauteng. Reading this was a cathartic release in a sea of hopelessness and despair.

  • A powerful piece, Branko. Thank you. Maybe someone will show it to Cyril Ramaphosa – and give him the courage to leap from the ashes, kicking aside the dead wood threatening to strangle him.

  • Great piece Branko! The ANC have had their chance at governing South Africa, and the blew it. Bigtime. Now we need a political setup that is democratic in the true sense, punts equality and non-racism and can get the economy going as fast as possible. Talk of following our Constitution is hollow if there is BEE and cadre deployment at the same time. We can do it.

  • “… and all communities and individuals willing to help must be included.” I remember, when 1994 rolled around and the apartheid ruling elite were sidelined, how good South Africans across the board were eager to help build a new South Africa. Sadly, everybody not carrying an ANC party card was slapped aside by the very lot now governing the country. Turns out the ANC were not interested in building, they were interested only in getting to the loot. Zuma’s avarice is a prime example.

  • Thank you. This article helps. Perhaps we can all do one or two things to help our country. Volunteer 1 hour or 1 day a month and share our skills.
    I like our constitution

  • I cannot fault these suggestions. I am attached to a CPF smack in the middle of one of the hotspots. From what I have experienced first-hand during the past week, sometimes on a 24-hour basis, only a miracle will prevent us from ending up on the Somalian model. And I don’t believe in miracles.
    Who will get their hands dirty if the true professionals have either left the country or are to old to do something? And listening to the president last night I am afraid government has lost the plot. The president is ill- or mis- or disinfomed by the top brass.
    Perhaps the tide will change again somewhere in future. It will cost a lot of blood though and time and the current generation will not experience a country where the Constitution is respected by all.

  • The climate is right for a Government of National Unity. Approach the World bank/others to fund a basic income grant coupled with large scale public works programmes in exchange for market friendly policy reform so that we can buy time to unleash the massive economic potential we have.
    We cannot afford to waste this crisis.

  • Is this an opportunity to make a complete break from our present political lines and form completely new ones. We are stuck with the ANC for the foreseeable future. In my view the brand should be consigned to history and new political formations should emerge. I think the part of the battle at the moment is for brand ANC with no one prepared to break away. The brand is what is powerful not the leaders.

  • I don’t expect a new movement but I am cautiously optimistic that a faction of the ANC will exit it toward the EFF.

    Will it change anything?

    Inside the ANC yes a lot. For the citizens nothing will change unless the newANC drops cadre deployment. The Zupta’s are evil but the root of our problems is gross incompetence and corruption. As we’ve seen : cadres from both sides of the ANC steal at equal pace.

  • Good editorial. Bravo 👏. However, your derogatory reference to Trump and the events of Jan 6 are out of place. Trump never called for violence & if u honestly think Biden won fair and square then I’m concerned about your analytical skills. . Stop watching CNN😉

    • Are you suggesting watching Fox instead? Do you truly believe that Trump was not responsible or at least did not condone the storming of the Capitol?

    • Sorry Ryan, but there is a very clear data driven analysis of the movements of cel phones and timing of speeches and social media urging that directly correlates Trump to the movement of that mob.

      So it boils down to whether you believe he called on the crowd to stop the process peacefully demonstrating outside or by taking over the Capitol. If you believe a mob can peacefully take over control of the Capitol you are nuts.

      Fortunately the mob was a collection of misfits that could not topple an overladen food trolley, never mind the Capitol.

      • Guys … don’t worry …. Ryan is part of that brigade that is still recounting votes (and forensically I should add) in some of those states, to produce evidence of fraud in the elections … and Trump’s erection (sorry – election win) victory !

  • Great article- no more pandering of Cyril Ramaphosa to the very people who brought this country to the edge of the cliff, because if he doe not rid the political space of them we simply cannot go forward. It is so extraordinary- this country has so many superbly talented people in so many ways- business,philanthropic works, medicine and yet we have had to endure this incompetent and unethical grouping who govern

  • The sound levels in favour of a government of national unity need to be turned up to the highest levels and shouted from every house top in the country so that all political leaders hear the wishes of the people. Whether the ANC can ever convert from arrogance to humility and put South Africa before the ANC is more than doubtful. A key part of any future strategy must be to deepen democracy so that unaccountable power is taken away from power elites in the political world. Our constitution will need some amendments to achieve this so that we all feel included – pure proportional representation without strong constituency links together with political party lists secretly compiled will have to go.

  • In every school and in other places of learning, the concepts ‘Constitution’ and ‘the Rule of Law’ should be taught and discussed. Integrated into curricula wherever possible.

    • Agreed, it is time that citizens of this country had an understanding that the ruling party do not own the country – the Government is there to manage the country on behalf of the the citizens who are “shareholders” through the taxes they pay.

  • The truth is this is an ANC problem that doesn’t have a an ANC solution. South Africa pays dearly for the ANC’s factional battles. The ANC government’s response to what happened last week was clearly compromised by the fact that it’s ANC vs ANC. Even the Nasrec’17 ‘unity’ compromises were bad for SA and now they don’t even have that. There’s no good ANC and bad ANC, there’s just ANC. ANC voters, do yourselves a favour and kick them out.

  • A new cabinet needs to be put in place.
    The security cluster is to be fired and issued with white sticks to find thier way.

  • And … I thought only Tyilo ‘did’ satire right ! You’ve just taken it to a new level ! I mean … just look at the picture accompanying the article by Davis and Dolney – beginning “This is us- …..” which shows two young men taking the socially responsible steps to keep the vaccines cool ! They plan on stocking vaccines effective against RET also . Give them a leg up ! The ones taking mattresses were taking it to JZ’s cell, so he could have wall to wall mattressing to make his stay comfortable enough, not to require a pardon … my language !

  • Strongly support a government of national unity.
    Consider Rwanda and Ethiopia as models of restorative governance.
    Both nations placed women in meaningful positions of decision making.
    Societal diligence is implied.
    For any system to succeed
    the core necessities of meaningful life have to be established- freedom from food insecurity- safe housing and transportation- maximising educational and recreational opportunities for the majority population, our children.

    Bala Naidoo

  • I fear that this is a well-meaning but sadly unrealistic plea. Recent South African history suggests that both business people and public employees at every level have shown themselves as guilty of “looting” as anyone. In effect they have said – “look, it (the state/my institution/the municipality/the “system”) doesn’t work, so forget the public need – feed me and mine first”. But let’s assume that social justice and a basic living standard are now in this wake-up moment agreed as sensible goals. What would the costs be? How much would taxation have to increase? Would capital simply decamp? Would the holders of non-mobile taxable assets be prepared to accept really sweeping charges, or would they simply find newer ways of tax avoidance and of sheltering their position outside of state structures? Even if the massive funds *could* be raised, how would they be distributed? Who would administer disbursement reliably, and how would the reconstruction of material resources (houses, roads, electricity, water, etc. etc) be achieved? This goes too for non-material goods such as efficient administration, law enforcement and legal process. Are there sufficient numbers of skilled and dutiful people to deliver these on anything like the scale required, and would they be the ones to be employed? Finally, how would more equitable distribution and social justice be sustained? Education is the obvious answer, but the precedent over the past 27 years is perhaps not promising?

  • Daily Maverick, I vote that you, with your reach, sway and connections, start a campaign for a govt of national unity – what else will save us?