Defend Truth


We must get back our taste for freedom


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.

Freedom Day should give us all pause. It should not simply be about celebration, remembrance or the joy of having another public holiday. Rather it should be an opportunity to honestly reflect on how far we have strayed from the aspirations of a free and democratic South Africa. This has not simply just happened. It has not been accidental.

We have wilfully wandered into the realm of ineffectual leadership, despair, ineptitude. Today, platitudes value more than what is right, just or even fair. We must confront this reality. What is clear is that South Africans are regressing. In fact, the Statistician-General has said as much. Sisonke Msimang touched on the depth of this despair and the specific use of the word “regression” in Daily Maverick earlier this week and she makes the important point that:

Our own government’s human bean-counter-in-chief – not an agent from America but a mild-mannered specialist in population studies – told us last week that young South Africans today are less educated than their parents were 20 years ago, and we were not outraged”.

Twenty-two years later, mothers and fathers have a better understanding and knowledge base than their own children. My own mother, who marks her own milestone on 27 April, would shudder at the idea that her children are regressing. As a nation, we should be outraged and motivated to arrest this decline as this lost opportunity deprives far too many South Africans from the lives that they should be leading.

Instead, we are consumed by the debacle that is President Zuma. We are captured not only by the Gupta-aligned system of Mr Zuma and his government but also by the belief that we can do nothing about this decline. South Africans are no longer concerned with what is right or whether things are equitable.

We are consumed by ticking boxes. A prime example of this is illustrated in service delivery. We are not concerned with substantive and meaningful compliance or whether the duty to provide services has been fulfilled. Compliance and rooting out corruption and wasteful expenditure, albeit critical, have become the only means by which we measure success.

We are no longer concerned with the all-important assessment as to whether a law or policy is good, reasonable, and sound (aligned to the vision and goals of our Constitution). Instead, all we hear is the platitudes of numbers, strategic goals realised and the other mumbo jumbo that has captured governance today. Our democracy cannot be reduced to this fluff.

Sadly, political rhetoric often determines the national conversation. We see much of this behaviour in the recent song-and-dance from the African National Congress, the Democratic Alliance and probably will see much of the same from the Economic Freedom Fighters later this week. Substance is replaced with how many people attended those events. The optics matter more. Should anyone dare question the veracity of the numbers, which at best is pure speculation/guessing, they are subjected to bluster from party acolytes akin to the behaviour of schoolyard bullies.

I have made it quite clear in earlier columns that unequivocally Mr Zuma must be made to resign or to be removed and that South Africans must truly participate in our democracy. However, our approach must be underpinned by a real commitment to values and a vision for something better. We cannot simply blindly swear allegiance to the next best thing. South Africans have for far too long bought into the idea that political parties are the only real mechanism to effect change.

Truthfully, we all understand the risks of believing that a political party can tear down the system (a system that enables them) or that a political party will implement policies in a more co-ordinated way. This is not enough to arrest the regression that our country faces. To believe that would require us to suspend perspective, truth and context and to embrace blind pragmatism. As a country we have embraced pragmatism before when we negotiated the transition to democracy and in particular in the dealings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The grave costs of our collective inaction will cost us. We cannot risk accepting the politics of the expedient or the bully tactics or Big Men syndrome that has gripped our politics. We have spent too much time being conditioned in this way. Our politics has been captured, not only by Mr Zuma and his ilk, but rather we have been fooled into believing that this is the only way. South Africans can do better and as our eyes look to the heavens we must realise that the only real hope is waiting uncomfortably in our collective hands. Only then will we taste the value of freedom. DM


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