Jacob Zuma may be the perfect villain of our story but he is not our final chapter.
We were warned. We must have known. Surely we could have predicted all of the outcomes that we are now forced to witness? We must have known that it would be this bad. And even if we could not have predicted all of it then we should have known better. Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma may be the perfect villain of our story but he is not our final chapter. We should have prepared for the burden of two terms under Zuma.
The Zuma years have been a vicious reminder of all the flaws and fractures of our young democracy. However, we could never have imagined the extent of the rot and decay. Our worst nightmares are unfolding. Despite all of this Zuma cannot be moved. The ebb and flow of our fragile young democracy has been hijacked by the self-interest and flaws of Zuma and all that he has come to symbolise.
The Zuma years have highlighted the fractures, flaws, decay and the inherent dangers in accepting expediency. There can never be a means to an end when democracy is sacrificed. We compromised on far too many occasions. We elected not to confront the failure of our state in the aftermath of the Marikana massacre. We have failed to accept responsibility and accountability for that massacre.
Our democracy should be required to fulfil the aspirations of its people. Our democracy should be seized with the moral duty of addressing the threat of poverty, unemployment and inequality. Our democracy is required to fulfil the vision of a better, united and democratic South Africa. Our leaders, including many who may seek the highest office, have failed to honour that duty that our democracy should be seized with. Those leaders have become complicit in the decay and flip-flopping that is required to prop up all that Zuma is and represents.
Instead, it is that very democracy that has failed to confront issues of poverty, unemployment and inequality. It is that crop of leaders that have failed to realign the apartheid spatial planning of our cities and provinces that has continued to fester and burden South Africans with the weight of that lived reality. A democracy that has not meaningfully addressed issues of violence, crime, access to higher education, social housing, land or redress (and far too many other issues). Those issues may not be close to home for the leaders that have been entrusted to fulfil the vision of our democracy and it is perhaps for that reason that they seem unfocused.
South Africa has been burdened with a quagmire of decay. It may be overwhelming but the real response to this impasse must surely be rolling mass action and a real plan to return our democracy to its roots. The fractures and fragility of those roots have been highlighted under Zuma but we must not forget that those flaws were highlighted under the presidency of Thabo Mbeki and his government’s response to, or rather denialism of, HIV/AIDS, for instance. We cannot reimagine our history simply because the current unmoving object in the form of Zuma is easy to vilify and demonise. We must hold the centre especially since our leaders have shown themselves unable to honour the values and aspirations that are reflected in our Constitution.
There is a great deal of work that is required in order to fulfil the aspirations reflected in that Constitution. There is a moral duty to fulfil that vision especially since so many South Africans sacrificed everything in order to achieve a free and democratic South Africa. The struggle against apartheid was not simply about replacing one system with another but rather about a moral struggle for what was right, just and fair. That struggle was carried by South Africans from all walks of life and the burden was personal, political, religious, moral and often dangerous. All of this context should demand the very best from our current crop of leaders but instead we are faced with the Zuma years and all those that have been complicit in the rise of Zuma, his election to the presidency and the rot that has been allowed to fester.
That rot can probably be symbolised best in the notion that our leaders all have their own smallanyana skeletons and this fact therefore cripples or precludes them from doing the right thing. A very pitiful state of affairs if one considers, in the year of OR Tambo, that leaders within the African National Congress, with its rich and diverse history of leaders, seem unable to find their own voice to stand against what they believe is wrong not only within the ANC but also across the spectrum of our society. The press conference this week following the ANC’s National Working Committee is a reminder of the dubious nature of our “leaders” and their inability to actually stand up for what is right, just or fair.
In time, many of these men and women will seek to make the argument that they have a vision that will take South Africa forward. These men and women, like many others before them, are instead complicit in the presidency of Jacob Zuma and have allowed him, and those around him, to pursue their own self-interest at the expense of the Republic and its citizens. Those men and women are unable to confront Zuma yet those very people speak of collective responsibility and about unity. Their unity and collective responsibility are directed not in the interest of the Republic but rather for their own narrow party-political agendas and their own job-seeking agendas.
We must remember these men and women because there will come a time when they will require our support. There is a tipping point that is coming. A moment in which we will be reminded that the “arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice”. That moment will not simply arrive through the convening of marches but South Africans, across our diverse society, must unite to confront the question of how best to plan and co-ordinate rolling mass action that is able to respond not only to the Zuma years but also to the men and women that are complicit in this decay. The only way to move the unmoving is through dedication and we must remember the words of Steve Bantu Biko when he said that “change is not the result of force but of dedication, of moral persuasion”. We will have to roll beyond these smallanyana skeletons. DM
Andrew Ihsaan Gasnolar was born in Cape Town and raised by his determined mother, grandparents, aunt and the rest of his maternal family. He is an admitted attorney (formerly of the corporate hue), with recent exposure in the public sector, and is currently working on transport and infrastructure projects. He is a Mandela Washington Fellow, a Mandela Rhodes Scholar, and a WEF Global Shaper. He had a brief stint in the contemporary party politic environment working for Mamphela Ramphele as Agang CEO and chief-of-staff; he found the experience a deeply educational one.
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