Opinionista Mark Heywood 15 April 2014

Battle for South Africa – now at a Playstation near you

The battle for our country is beginning to resemble a giant, nonsensical Playstation game, with delusional heroes and larger-than-life fantasies. When are we going to end the game and get the country working?

In an article in the Daily Maverick a few weeks ago Ranjeni Munusamy referred to Gwede Mantashe’s response on behalf of the ANC National Executive Committee (NEC) to the Public Protector’s report on Nkandla as suggesting that the ANC leaders inhabit a ‘parallel universe’.

For several weeks now I have been outside of South Africa, placed in a position of watching our national tragi-comedy unfold online. My observations from afar reinforce Munusamy’s analysis except that I believe this psychiatric disorder is not limited to the ANC. Spending a few lines describing the parallel universe might enlighten us a little. The process of doing so reminds me of a poem called A Martian Sends a Post Card Home, by British poet Craig Raine, that defamiliarises the familiar and by so doing helps us think better about ourselves.

In the parallel universe Mantashe and quite a few other influential ANC leaders believe they are still at war, under attack from a hostile media with a hidden agenda, the paid agent of ‘imperialism’. In this war, well-known civil society leaders are counter-majoritarian stooges, members of the judiciary are neo-liberal Apartheid restorationists. Critical academics, clerics and former liberation struggle leaders have become sell-outs and turncoats.

Within this parallel universe, a coup over the Constitution by President Zuma is not a coup because the party he leads is considered the supreme authority, wrestling with a historical mission it still has to complete. Contempt of Parliament and the Public Protector is a necessary part of ‘strategy and tactics’ to defeat class enemies and defend the revolution.

Spending R270 million on the security upgrade at Nkandla was a “mistake” according to Malusi Gigaba. But R270 million is small change when the planet’s budget has a trillion rand in it and the people don’t really care anyway, their alleged concerns just ‘white people’s lies’ that are being inflated by the conspiratorial media.

Marikana was not a massacre, but a “tragedy”. “Education has never been better”, and in this regard, as former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel recently told a meeting, the death of little Michael Komape in a pit pretending to be a toilet at school was “unfortunate”. On Wednesday, as his parents sat at home still mourning his loss, Limpopo’s MEC for Education, Dikeledi Magadzi, told an interviewer from TV news network eNCA that most of the toilets in Limpopo’s schools are now fixed, and anyway, “I’m not the MEC of school toilets”. According to her Michael’s death was “God’s will and I am not God.”

However, belief in this universe is not a disease confined to the leaders of the ANC.

The ‘class enemies’ also exhibit symptoms. Many big business/company bosses live on a planet that counts production but not the people who produce; others salaciously solicit foreign direct investment even if it is to pollute the planet’s environment; some consider their multi-million rand salaries not as corruption but as reward for a fair day’s work; some advocates see no contradiction between being a so-called human rights lawyer, the R40,000 a day invoice they hand in to government and the affordability of access to justice.

So infectious is this virus of deceit that even though many leading trade unionists in Cosatu and its affiliates have made peace with the creature comforts of ‘crony capitalism’ and some are personal friends with very big bosses they still believe the capitalists are plotting against them.

Last week, for example, Sidumo Dlamini told a NUM shop stewards’ council that the conflict in Cosatu was “giving space to our class enemies to continuously divide us … experience has taught us that when conditions of peace gets created those who have defined their strategy around chaos and disruption will automatically become irrelevant and get exposed for who they really are.”  Phew!

Even the great Zwelinzima Vavi looks as if he is falling back into this parallel universe, telling the DM Gathering that it’s “beyond argument that life for virtually all South Africans has improved”. This is true, but it’s a deceitful truth because life could be much better. Now that he appears to be moving back into the fold, Vavi can see the Nkandla scandal more clearly as “gross profiteering by service providers” as opposed to gross self-enrichment at public expense by its number one beneficiary.

Phew too!

When looked at from afar, it strikes one that many people in this rogue’s gallery behave as if they are in a child’s Playstation game, Battle for South Africa, each one living with a bit of a heroic persecution complex.

To them, South Africa feels like the centre of the world, all the globe’s currents flow across its stage, each day they rush into battle; for the poor, against the poor, for the government, against the government, for the bosses, against the bosses, for this, against that.

But looked at from planet earth it all looks rather sad, tawdry and tiny. Except that it’s an expensive game for the poor and those who have no choice but to live in the universe they were born in.

So while heroic warriors cross swords in this parallel universe the merciless logic of deprivation, indignity and inequality continues its work. Last week hundreds more women and children were raped, a baby died in the arms of his mother whilst waiting in queue at a clinic in Daveyton, children of the poor lined up daily at schools where they receive the poorest of education.

The real South Africa’s challenge must be to stop the play of politics and get on with bettering real people’s lives.

If we could all get back on the same planet we might accept that the media may well be owned by and reflect vested interests. It might even have a conservative agenda. But it frequently turns a mirror on our society.

Outspoken civil society organisations that campaign for social justice may receive foreign funding (because no one has the balls to fund them in South Africa and for them the gates to the Lottery billions are locked). But they might assist to monitor delivery, combat corruption and also genuinely have the interests of the poor at heart. Engaging with them might make for better governance.

Prominent outspoken voices like Archbishop Tutu or Mavuso Msimang may just be people experiencing anguish at the strangling of a dream.

The Public Protector could even just be doing the job our supreme law has tasked her with.

We have it in us to end this game. We have a constitution that dictates that we realise social justice and not just the play of democracy. We come from a heroic tradition that includes Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Chris Hani, Ruth First, Charlotte Maxeke and many others.

My appeal to the players of Battle for South Africa would be to quit the game and try to begin to find the common ground that exists between us. Agree on the need for a common platform for change.

In this platform the soft logic of fulfilling the human rights promised by the Constitution should replace the hard logic of the market. Construction companies, pharmaceutical monopolies, the mining industry, the private health sector should be asked to contribute to real economic growth while finding new business models that respect and promote human rights, rather than strip them.

Those with power in society, which includes all the actors in Battle for South Africa should determine one or two big priorities and throw all our resources at it. One should be a plan to do everything necessary to provide quality basic education to all of our children in the shortest possible time.

Is that asking too much? DM


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