We cannot embrace a social compact when we are complacent and willing to accept mediocrity. We cannot forge a social compact when a privileged few have a monopoly on power and wealth. We cannot embrace change when a silent majority is expected to endure and required to be compliant.
Rhetoric matters. The decisions of our politicians’ matter. The decisions of those politicians extends far beyond the decisions of office that they are entrusted to make. Those men and women entrusted to speak on our behalf are expected to do better. In these troubled times, we naturally look to our leaders for direction. We try to find a glimmer of hope in all of this turmoil.
We look to the African National Congress and many look to the alternative voices offered from the Economic Freedom Fighters and the Democratic Alliance. We look to the voices of people like Parks Tau, Julius Malema, Mmusi Maimane, Paul Mashatile, Patricia de Lille, Herman Mashaba, Dali Mpofu, and even someone like Jacob Zuma to provide some reassurance for the future.
Kgalema Motlanthe, our former president, was at Wits this week, as part of the 50th commemoration of Robert Kennedy’s Ripples of Hope speech, and he shared a story with the audience. That story was about Ali Mazrui, a scholar and academic, who in 1994 told Motlanthe and his colleagues that they “must guard against becoming the villains of tomorrow”. When we look at South Africa today, there is much to be afraid of and even more to be concerned about. The warning from Ali Mazrui was ignored.
The rhetoric from our politicians is bizarre and they seem indifferent to the damage of that rhetoric. We only need to look to the recent interview with Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, our International Relations Minister, who went on Al Jazeera in a live interview in Doha where she would spew forth very strange and erratic statements including reference to former Minister Trevor Manuel as being a “Minister of Common Sense” and talk of a hole in her head.
All in the same week we would also have to hear from Herman Mashaba too, the Democratic Alliance’s Johannesburg mayoral candidate, via his Twitter account, where he would imply that drug abuse is rooted in unemployment (“drug abuse stems from the desperation of unemployment”) and that “desperate people resort to drug addiction because of broken ANC promises”. Of course, unemployment should concern all of us with an unemployment rate of 26.7% and an expanded unemployment rate of 36.3%. But this rhetoric is dangerous and serves only a narrow political purpose and not in service of the 5.9-million South Africans who are unemployed and under 34, and account for about two-thirds of the unemployed.
As a resident of Cape Town, I can only look at the recent cycle of political talk around local government elections sceptically, where some will use governance in Cape Town as a yardstick for performance and supply that as the reason for voters to support a different voice. Those politicians will claim that Cape Town is better governed or that life is better down in the Cape comparatively to those who live under the “broken ANC promises”. The lived reality of South Africans should matter more than infographics, numbers, platitudes and political spin. One only needs to look across our country to realise that the talk of our politicians is cheap and empty.
Yet, inequality and exclusion continues to live on in Cape Town. This is a deeply personal reality for me. My maternal grandparents faced the heartache and pain of being forcefully removed to the Cape Flats, like many other families. Those issues of inequality continue to exist. The parts of Cape Town in which I grew up, and which my family called home, look worse today than they did 20 years ago. Surely, it is not enough to talk about budgetary spending and the establishment of a crime prevention unit?
South Africans will need to be more radical if we are ever to address the real issues facing our country. In 1966 Robert Kennedy at a venue in Cape Town said that “all can be swept away by a government which does not heed the demands of its people” and today as a country we are seeing this unfold. Of course, we have reason to be disappointed. Disappointed not only in our politicians but also in ourselves and the system that we have allowed take root in South Africa.
However, we must overcome this complacency and instead embrace vigilance to struggle (once more) towards a just and equitable society. Last year in spring we were all reminded about what it means to be galvanised when we looked on in awe as thousands of young South Africans embraced a different kind of thinking. Those South Africans believed that every little drop of effort mattered. Those South Africans were vigilant and committed to the belief that more was possible. We can overcome, but only if we can do the work despite the noise from our politicians. DM