South Africa must wrestle with real issues, issues that transcend all barriers, if we are ever going to confront the crumbling of our social fabric. Our news cycle and our attention are often driven from one story to another, from Hlaudi Motsoeneng, the shenanigans of Jacob Zuma and the Gupta family to the current debacle involving the shrinking case against Pravin Gordhan. Yet, we must not forget that we have been unable to confront the unfinished business of our democracy, and that failure has come home to roost. We see the consequences of that in the ongoing contestation nationally regarding #FeesMustFall.
Instead of confronting the real issues and looking at solutions to the crisis, Jacob Zuma and his government have relied on a business-as-usual approach by using the state apparatus to contain #FeesMustFall and by the predictable announcement of ministerial task teams and commissions to consider the issue. Our democracy cannot afford to operate in this way especially as the crisis continues to grip our institutions of higher learning.
The only conclusion that can be drawn is that there is a massive deficit in judgement from the very people we rely on to lead us. While Zuma tinkers with the ministerial task team, including his recent inclusion of Gordhan and his colleagues Dlamini, Muthambi and Sisulu, Mcebo Dlamini remains in jail until his next appearance in November. Does this serve the interest of justice? Does the detention of Mcebo truly solve or resolve the broader issue?
We cannot resolve the issues confronting us by relying on the state apparatus to contain the conversation and we cannot afford to have a position where compromise, negotiation and discussion are not used as the means to engage with the issue. We must not only demand more from each other but also from ourselves. The challenge of tackling the real issues is that it requires us to negotiate with people we fundamentally disagree with (but often also dislike) and requires us to suspend our own bias, emotion and frustration.
We must demand more from ourselves if we are ever going to be able to deal with the underlying issues that are highlighted by young South Africans under the #FeesMustFall banner. Too much is at stake for us to take a cavalier approach.
Our leaders, across the spectrum, seem unable to wrestle with the real issues. In the wake of that inability, we continue to see an escalation of events across our campuses including young South Africans like Shaeera Kalla, who was shot several times with rubber bullets (and reportedly at close range) on Thursday. Similarly, we seem unable to confront the capture of our state by the threat of greed and personal interest and collectively our society has not been able to provide comfort or reassurance to a nation that is standing on a cliff. This is not the time for bravado but the time for careful, considered and real action.
We can ill afford this type of leadership and its far-reaching consequences. Instead of confronting the underlying issues, we have reached a point where violence escalates on our campuses, young South Africans are either detained without bail or shot with rubber bullets, while a dialogue on Wednesday evening collapses in God’s house in part because Adam Habib was chased out by students. Instead of correcting our mistakes, we are modelling the completely wrong approach.
If we are ever going to confront the real issues then we must accept that we are burdened with diverging interests, a clash of values, solutions on the table that at best can be described as a zero-sum game and a far too violent approach, which often relies on state apparatus to confine issues instead of meaningfully dealing with it.
Under this impossible situation, South Africa is stuck in a deep paralysis where everything is at risk. The only way to begin addressing it is for us to collectively confront these issues sensibly and without undue bias. We cannot afford to be driven by the singular news cycle. We must acknowledge and accept that there are obvious consequences from our past, which was driven by the oppressive colonial system, the destructive social engineering under the apartheid regime, and the ongoing battles that we are having about our unfinished business.
However, the conversation of #FeesMustFall cannot be focused on young people like Mcebo or Kalla but must be rooted in a holistic and meaningful conversation about the promise of our constitutional democracy and our failures to deliver on that promise. This conversation must extend to the many South Africans, far too many, who are trapped in a cycle of poverty, to the South Africans who are forced to endure the costs of a disengaged and often uncaring government (across all spheres) and to all South Africans who live in a country that has not yet properly confronted issues of racism and patriarchy and has no real plan to confront the triple threat of inequality, poverty and unemployment.
We must do a far better job if we are going to progressively achieve the ideals set out in the Preamble to our Constitution. The task must be embraced in spite of the problematic characters on our national stage. We must wrestle with the important conversation that must define the next decade. That conversation cannot only be rooted in defiance but must be one that is nuanced and rooted in a progressive agenda that speaks and responds to the fractures in our society.
Perhaps we should all be reminded that our mission is already laid out and we must:
- Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;
- Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law;
- Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person; and
- Build a united and democratic South Africa able to take its rightful place as a sovereign state in the family of nations. DM