Opinionista Steven Boykey Sidley 2 November 2016

Witnessing a Miracle

Somewhere in here, its voice still clear and true amid the clamour, is a working, functioning democracy.

Steven Boykey Sidley

Award-winning and multishortlisted novelist Steven Boykey Sidley has meandered through careers as an animator, chief technology officer for a Fortune 500 company, jazz musician, software developer, video game designer, private equity investor and hi-technology entrepreneur. He currently lives in Johannesburg with his wife and two children. Free Association is his fourth and latest novel.

Events in our body politic are unfolding so rapidly that in the time it takes to write this piece, it will probably be rendered obsolete. The spread of unfolding events is so wide, we cannot even perceive its edges. There is chaotic interference and there are unintended consequences – thieves, useful idiots, reformed crooks posing as saints, chancers, fakirs, hidden agendas, political opportunists, a surfeit of righteous citizen outrage and a few genuinely brave souls.

But as I obsessively check my Twitter feed to try to make sense of it all, I wonder whether we are witnessing the democracy of which we dared to dream, even as it is blurred by the rate of change of things. But even on this confused canvas there are some things which have become clear.

There are previously good men and women who have been forever tarnished for having looked the other way for so long, people who put party in front of principle. They know who they are and we know who they are, because they make up the entire executive and legislative bloc of the ANC. It is a little late now to cry foul with such distaste. And yet, and yet. Perhaps a volte-face even at this hour is a redemption for them, their shame for past silence ushering an era of never-again.

But our democracy is not, and never was, about elected officials. Our democracy is about a living document; our Constitution doesn’t blink in the face of all the chicanery in the world. As someone recently proclaimed, almost all of our institutions have broken down except the two most important ones – our judiciary and our free press. If these can stand there is hope.

This country is trying to do the near impossible: Emerge as a working constitutional democracy in a time slice too small for evolution, for testing, for fine-tuning. Other countries whose systems we envy took hundreds of years to get there. We are racing at blind speed to get there. Perhaps a stumble or two is not a shame.

Yes, things are moving confusingly fast. Even now I glance over to a live feed to be informed that the State of Capture document is now in the public domain. Who would have thought it? Perhaps there are limits to autocracy.

It is possible that we just witnessed a miracle today. There is still of course, another nightmare scenario – Zuma and acolytes close laager, dismiss the traitors in their midst, declare an emergency, and start bricking in a dictatorship. But I believe that this is unlikely. There are still too many citizens who work and raise children and pay their taxes and whose intent is simply to live on level ground.

There are just too many of them to allow the centre not to hold.

I am proud today. Proud of the people of this country who cared enough to say – no, it stops now. DM



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