Opinionista Branko Brkic 19 November 2012

168 hours

What a difference seven months make; how to solve the fight with Sanral; and The Gathering 2.0 is here.

It is almost difficult these days to justify the intensity and single-mindedness with which we followed the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (Outa) court battle against Sanral over the latter’s imminent start of e-tolling. It looked to us, in those days, as if e-tolls and Sanral would be South Africa’s big newsmaker in the run-up to Mangaung. 

Of course, we were desperately wrong. Let’s see…

On 15 May earlier rumours of a possible Cosatu/DA romance were dashed when the unionists violently interrupted the DA’s march to the new Cosatu House. The Spear storm in a teacup took over soon after, followed by the textbook scandal in Limpopo and the education scandal in Eastern Cape. Meanwhile, Julius Malema was popping in and out of the news and in and out of the ANC and the Zuma/Motlanthe conflict, one which may never really be revealed for all to see, was escalating. 

In June, the ANC’s policy conference left many questions deferred to Mangaung, and we saw fistfights by delegates disrupt the proceedings so badly that ANC president Jacob Zuma had to leave the session.

And just as we rested for a week or two of slow news in late July/early August, the country sort of welcomed in the new, ultra-Zuma-loyalist police commissioner, Riah Phiyega, after Bheki Cele was sent packing. Of course, the very same Phiyega immediately presided over the mother of all crises: Marikana. In its wake followed the bloody platinum and gold mining contagion and the bloody, and fiery, protests that rocked the Cape winelands only the last week. 

Along with these massive problems, of course, a host of troubling matters featured our very own president, from his above- and below-waist fistfights with Julius Malema, Kgalema Motlanthe, the Limpopo ANC and most of the party’s top six, to his increasing reliance on a closed circle of securocrats rather than the people of South Africa. And, of course, the tapes: the apparently illegally obtained records of Thabo Mbeki’s securocrats plotting to manipulate the prosecution of Zuma. The same tapes that are now not being released by the president’s lawyer, or the NPA (depending on who you ask) – despite being ordered to do so by the Supreme Court of Appeals. And the ANC in Parliament is ready to push for the Secrecy Bill with a newfound vigour, courtesy of State Security Minister Siyabonga Cwele.

Exhausted? Yep. In case you didn’t notice: all of these events – some tragic, some horrible, some downright disturbing – each and every one of them capable of bringing down a democratically-elected government and landing many of the officials in jail – happened in the last seven months. Just SEVEN months. And the Mangaung is still over the horizon. (You can start panicking here.)

So, the Sanral vs. Outa fight of April 2012 looks downright puny these days. Yet, it is a crucially important fight that may just define civil society’s enthusiasm and reach over the obvious heavy clashes to come. The fundamental problem with this specific fight will probably repeat itself for as long as the balance of power remains as it is in the beloved country: the information mismatch is of such massive scale that it renders any meaningful conversation impossible. For example, Thabo Mbeki’s illogical support of Robert Mugabe, at such great cost to this country, will not be understood because we simply don’t have the truth. (The very same truth that is likely contained in the Sisi Khampepe and Dikgang Moseneke report on Zimbabwe’s controversial 2002 elections and SA’s role in it, a document which the SA government went all the way to the Constitutional Court to protect, when the Mail & Guardian asked.)  It is pretty much the same with Sanral: we simply don’t know, but are asked to trust with our own money. 

Still, the solution is pretty simple. We, the citizens, can commit ourselves to paying the e-tolls, as long as the government levels with us. As Alex Eliseev of EWN (and Daily Maverick) has observed, all we need is the truth. 

So how about this:

  • Sanral releases the un-redacted report on Gautrain roads;
  • Sanral provides the entire list of expenses that, hopefully, comprehensively proves that it has indeed spent R20 billion wisely;
  • Sanral provides the non-willing drivers with alternative routes.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t see any unfair request here. Give the people the truth, prove that you kept your part of the bargain and they will pay. Easy, hey?

Again, I don’t know about you, but I think the citizens of South Africa CAN handle the truth. They proved it comprehensively during the 1990s, when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s submissions tore at the hearts of every South African in possession of anything resembling a soul. After that, the people can easily handle the truth about a corrupt politician or incompetent official. However, what they are also demonstrating, every day now, through smoke, fire and bullets, is that that they will no longer tolerate the endless lies and humiliations. 

Okay, week after week, this sounds really depressing. Maybe, just maybe, there is a little light at the end of this dark tunnel. Organisations like Africa 2.0 will make that light shine more and more brightly. The pace of information growth may sometimes be slowed down by a securocrat or two, but it is unstoppable. South Africa’s Born Free generation will hopefully soon be able to look at the country and begin to shape the future they want, and not because they are afraid. 

And right here, in Johannesburg, what seemed to be a pretty good idea at the time, is now turning into a magnificent, thought-provoking, intelligent meeting of great people, both on the podium and in the audience. Daily Maverick’s The Gathering 2.0 will shine a powerful spotlight on the moment this country is in right now. It is on this Friday. Make sure you’re there. DM

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"Take a chance, won't you? Knock down the fences which divide. Tear apart the walls that imprison you. Reach out. Freedom lies just on the other side." ~ Thurgood Marshall

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