Last year’s State of the Nation (SONA) left me with the sense that when we look to the future under our current crop of leaders then we must “imagine a boot stamping on a human face – for ever”. At the time, the State of the Nation seemed pivotal and the events that unfolded seemed to define our country. The events of SONA 2015, the scandal of Nkandla and the denial by Mr Zuma and his ANC-lead Parliamentary majority of the Public Protector’s report seemed to consume all our attention.
Most of last year was defined by the efforts of young South Africans who were confronting broken promises, patriarchy, racism, inequality, unfairness and a broken system.
This year when watching Mr Zuma’s State of the Nation, I was not surprised by the recycled ideas and the missed opportunities to meaningfully shape the body politic. Mr Zuma and the parliamentarians on Thursday failed to honestly and openly engage with South Africa.
I was not surprised by the theatrics and grandstanding by the Economic Freedom Fighters. Neither was I surprised by the continuous heckling during Mr Zuma’s speech by the Democratic Alliance.
Watch: SONA 2016 – Day of protests turns violent
I am beginning to accept the oddity and the dysfunction that has gripped South Africa’s leadership. The oddness extends far beyond our politics.
With each day we lose an opportunity to address the true structural issues that South Africans must face.
The theatrics of Thursday’s State of the Nation may create a great deal of banter, chatter and sound bites, but that’s all.
Mr Zuma rehashed talk of austerity, of fiscal prudency, of working on optimising and building efficiencies into the state machinery including moving Parliament to Pretoria. The time for talk is over. South Africa faces a great deal of hardship and the burden of that hardship will impact poor South Africans more than any of those who attended Thursday’s joint sitting of Parliament.
The State of the Nation address, Mr Zuma and the People’s Assembly all seem unable to confront the problems of racial inequalities, the structural system that perpetuates poverty by race and our unjust society. It would be easy in these moments to look to animated men and women to stand up on our behalf. Many will claim to speak on our behalf against Zuma, the poster child of bad and destructive leadership.
However we will have to start questioning whether they are able to fix the broken system since they themselves are part of that broken system.
We must guard against pinning our hopes and dreams on flawed men and women.
When he came into power, despite the long string of corruption charges and the rape trial, Zuma was seen as a man of hope. We all know how that turned out.
There is an opportunity for South Africans to reclaim the space and to redirect the conversation to things that actually matter. But we must do so urgently.
The #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall movements have highlighted how powerful a catalyst young South Africans can be for national dialogue. Those movements have also demonstrated how the system and its leaders can be bypassed and circumvented in order to call for change.
In these troubled times, we must be vigilant. We must hold each other accountable and we must confront the structural system in order to ensure that we have a State of the Nation address that is people-centric and not focused simply recycling old and dated ideas from old and tired men who feel obligated to make us a string of empty promises.
Our hope as a country is to move beyond this dysfunction and to rely on our youth to move South Africa forward, to quote Bobby Kennedy, who spoke in Cape Town fifty years ago, and to “not yield to obsolete dogmas and outworn slogans … (or) cling to a present which is already dying”. DM