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

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