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Civil Apathy: Too many South Africans have checked out


Andrew Ihsaan Gasnolar was born in Cape Town and raised by his determined mother, grandparents, aunt and the rest of his maternal family. He is an admitted attorney (formerly of the corporate hue), with recent exposure in the public sector, and is currently working on transport and infrastructure projects. He is a Mandela Washington Fellow, a Mandela Rhodes Scholar, and a WEF Global Shaper. He had a brief stint in the contemporary party politic environment working for Mamphela Ramphele as Agang CEO and chief-of-staff; he found the experience a deeply educational one.

We know that Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma and the related scandals, including the recent furore around the state capture and dealings of the Gupta family, are not isolated but rather reflective of a failure to serve the interests of the country first.

We are not simply burdened with a man who should never have taken office, but also with a rising level of apathy and disinterest by South Africans. It is important to remember that the removal of Zuma by the African National Congress will not solve or end our crisis. We are fooling ourselves if we think the departure of Zuma will immediately fix things.

Our democracy and the hard work of the many who sacrificed, died and suffered for that democracy are in jeopardy. Our constitutional democracy is not the work of a few good women and men but of the many South Africans who endured and fought for freedom.

South Africa is at risk not only because of Mr Zuma, and the machinery that supports and enables him, but also because far too many South Africans have checked out. We see it in the lack of investment by the capital machinery (that is willing to expand throughout Africa but is skittish about doing so at home), in the general silence of leaders across the country as well as in the millions of South Africans who opt not to register or to vote.

The recent formation of the People’s Assembly and statements from various struggle stalwarts and former politicians is encouraging but this is just not enough. However, this also reflects a troubling tendency of looking to the ANC to do the right thing. Many rightly ask where they were when the state killed miners in Marikana or during the HIV/AIDS denialism.

Zuma failed to comply with his constitutional duties and we, as South Africans, cannot only look to the ANC to secure our democracy. The crisis extends far beyond Zuma’s political party. We have seen various structures, including the ANC in Gauteng, pleading for Zuma to do the right thing, which again does not serve our democracy but rather shores up the idea that the ANC is larger than our democracy.

Parliament, which should be the People’s Assembly but has instead become an enabler of rot and illegality, should act by convening an ad hoc committee to consider Mr Zuma’s conduct in relation to Nkandla and the scathing findings of the Constitutional Court.

The right thing is for Parliament to sanction Mr Zuma and to remove him as President of the Republic and to do so in terms of the Constitution of this Republic. Sadly, this proposed course of action might as well be a fairy tale.

Instead, many of us are holding on to the hope that the ANC will remove Zuma (soon) and that the upcoming local elections will be used as a warning shot from urban voters to the ANC (and particularly to the Zuma camp). All eyes will be on the visuals streaming in from town halls, meetings and the stadiums in the next couple of weeks in the hope that South Africans will be showing their dissatisfaction with the ANC and Mr Zuma.

The obvious question is of course where do we start? Perhaps a good place would be to look beyond our own borders in order to cultivate a movement that can address our inability to confront this reality.

There is a practice in Kenya where citizens gather almost every day, often after work, outside places of government such as City Hall in Nairobi. This practice is known as a baraza la wazee or kukusanya kuzungumza in Kiswahili.

Women and men gather not simply to talk about party politics but to engage on the affairs of state and their collective future. Government officials and politicians are compelled to participate in the baraza. It is inspiring to see people holding both officials and politicians accountable before they make their way home through the maze of streets that make up Nairobi. The baraza reflects a deep level of participation by citizens that is sorely lacking in South Africa.

The only way to correct the damage in South Africa of focusing on Party over State, on Zuma over People, is for South Africans to act urgently against Zuma and the ANC in a more concerted effort to protect this democracy from men and women who can only think about serving themselves (and often their minders).

Thousands may come together at rallies and at marches, but we remain unable to convert that interest into a real movement. It was reassuring last year to see #FeesMustFall convert interest into a movement (though that movement has serious challenges and concerns about where it is today).

However, as a country we seem unable to gather around our collective goals. Maybe one day we too will be ready to engage in our own baraza in order to move our country forward collectively. DM


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