Opinionista Paul Trewhela 6 April 2017

It is time for South Africans to stop believing their own publicity

Jacob Zuma provides a powerful mirror to South Africans at this time of crisis, asking us – Do we like what I see? And what can we do about it?

This past week has been like a visit to the hospital for an endoscopy scan. It gives us bad news about ourselves. It’s not only about Zuma, it’s about us.

This past week has been a lesson in what Bob Marley said in his Redemption Song, from the album, Uprising (1980), when he sang, in quiet and serious tones: “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our minds.”

In the most humiliating and shameful way, last week millions of South Africans were instructed by the highest office of the land to throw away the illusions of the past 23 years, and face an ugly, unwanted and unpalatable truth. Yes, we are still enslaved, we are not yet free. And this is our own doing.

With deepest respect to Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke of the Constitutional Court, the problem lies in front of us in the very first sentence of his Dedication to a book of essays, Institutionalising Democracy: The Story of the Electoral Commission of South Africa, 1993-2014, edited by Professor Mcebisi Ndletyana, published by the Africa Institute of South Africa in 2015, where he writes: “From a pariah state, shunned by most of the global community, South Africa has rapidly risen to become the most celebrated constitutional democracy in the world.”

That is clearly not correct. It’s an illusion. If democracy really had been “institutionalised” in South Africa, as the book’s title states – and if South Africa really is “the most celebrated constitutional democracy in the world” – then the reality in which South Africans and the world have been instructed over the past week would not be what now faces us.

How can it be, that the most modern economy on the continent has now been downgraded to #Junk bond status, because international lenders of capital do not trust they can be safely repaid – except by lending at exorbitantly expensive rates, which will penalise almost everyone, and the poorest worst of all?

What kind of a political system is it, when an internationally trusted Minister of Finance – trusted equally by South Africans, and with a Struggle reputation as worthy as the President’s – can be sacked overnight along with his deputy, and replaced by two completely inexperienced young men, whose only qualification is that they are homeboys of the President, appointed to do his bidding and open wide the doors of the Treasury to his greedy fingers?

How has it come to this, after the mind-blowing, celestial rhetoric under which Nelson Mandela became president almost a quarter century ago?

It is time for South Africans to stop believing their own publicity, and to start asking difficult questions. It’s as if the addict has reached the point of choice: either you end up in the gutter, or find out for yourself what you’ve been doing wrong. As the great Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, in the concluding words of his poem The archaic torso of Apollo: “You must change your life.”

So where has South Africa gone wrong, and what must be changed? DM


In other news...

July 18 marks Nelson Mandela day. All over the country, South African citizens devote 67 minutes to charitable causes in memory of Madiba. It's a great initiative and one of those few occasions in South Africa where we come together as a nation in pursuit of a common cause. An annual 67 minutes isn't going to cut it though.

In the words of Madiba: "A critical, independent and investigative free press is the lifeblood of any democracy."

Every day Daily Maverick investigates and exposes the deep rot of state capture and corruption but we need your help. Without our readers' support we simply won't survive. We created Maverick Insider as a membership platform where our readers can become part of our community while ensuring that we can keep doing the investigations that we do and, crucially, that our articles remain free to everyone that reads them. Sign up to Maverick Insider this Mandela Month and make that meaningful contribution last longer than 67 minutes.For whatever amount you choose, you can support Daily Maverick and it only takes a minute.

Support Daily MaverickPayment options

Comments - share your knowledge and experience

Please note you must be a Maverick Insider to comment. Sign up here or if you are already an Insider.


Minister of Intelligence: ‘I won’t touch Zuma dossier now. Let Commission complete its work’

By Ferial Haffajee

"What magic are you who dies and still lives on?" ~ Lebo Mashile