The solutions for the time being remain secondary, as our focus is consumed by the upcoming local government elections, expected to take place in July or August this year, the brewing economic storm, the conversation around access and race relations, as well as the feuding factions that are preparing their ground game for the ANC’s 2017 elective conference.
I am beginning to believe that South Africa has entered some sort of twilight zone. A sort of purgatory where all the hits of yesteryear are playing in a loop. Almost a decade later, the conversation today is still somehow dominated by Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma, and in particular the type of leadership that the country desperately needs.
The legacy of former president Mbeki is a difficult one to assess, as much of that legacy is wrapped up in Zuma, the HIV/AIDS issue, and the arms deal. The challenge though in this twilight zone is that many South Africans are beginning to reflect very differently on the Mbeki administration, in part because their own fortunes have changed, but also because of recent events, and the Zuma Presidency.
We only need to look at Julius Malema and Zwelinzima Vavi, to be reminded of this. Malema and Vavi once fervently campaigned and fought for the “Zuma tsunami”. Yet, both Malema and Vavi have now come to regret that choice. We must remember that they have not fully taken responsibility for the fact that it was through their efforts that Zuma came to hold the South African Presidency. Matthew Phosa, another former comrade, who also mobilised for Zuma, and in fact against Mbeki, has now found a new song sheet, and believes that Mbeki’s virtues must be called on to deal with these troubling times.
Phosa, like many others, would like us to forget the fact that he benefited from the ascension of Zuma and that he (with others) worked to put Zuma in the Union Buildings. The effects of that tsunami are still being felt. We can ill-afford such a debate, especially one that is focussed on the virtues and vices of a former president and our current president. It would distract us from the social unrest, inequality, unemployment, the likelihood of an interest rate hike and credit downgrade, the economic dark clouds; but we cannot buy into this narrative (again). South Africa must look forward boldly, decisively and sensibly if it is going to overcome the challenges. We would be mistaken to pin our hopes and optimism on the past, and we would be even more foolish if we were to sketch a period of redemption and salvation for our future.
This is an important reminder that the solutions are sorely absent from the public square. The solutions are not easy, and they are also not immediately apparent and perhaps this is why we are not able to confront the issues directly. It is very easy to speak in broad terms and principles, and so we will hear much talk about good governance, accountability, or about access to quality education. However, the policies, plans and mobilisation that is required is far more complex and also time-consuming. These solutions require a coherent and responsive government that is accountable to citizens that are empowered and engaged.
The tendency of our body politic to rush to revisionism, narratives of a “good story”, the Obama-like rhetoric or alleged radicalism will never serve South Africa’s interests. Instead, all that noise will do is to encourage politicians to repeat the mistakes of the past and try to pass it off as an improved version of liberalism or radicalism. Time on that game is running out and we must look beyond the see-saw of Mbeki-Zuma that has again been introduced into the public square.
However, the solutions also require a willingness of individuals to stop looking to someone else or to some other group for salvation. We must move away from the idea that a group of good people in the ANC will save us, or that some other unidentified group will come to the rescue. Perhaps, the hardships of the next two years will remind us all that we have to get working on confronting the issues instead of waiting on someone else to do it for us. DM