Opinionista Andrew Ihsaan Gasnolar 15 March 2018

The politics of expediency and the cult of power

South Africans need to stop pretending that the politics of the belly are simply the politics of the Guptas and Jacob Zuma. It is intertwined with the body politic of South Africa.

There has been a suggestion in our national discourse that we should be less emotional. The suggestion seems to be that we should be less engaged or outraged about the issues confronting millions of South Africans. This suggestion is disingenuous, foolish and short-sighted.

There has been a suggestion that in order to engage on the important issues confronting South Africans, we must do so in a polite, deferential and academic manner.

There is no doubt that facts matter. Insight, perspective and context matter. South Africa has a complex historical background and the compromises of our constitutional democracy should not be ignored. However, we must guard against the idea that progress must conform to the status quo. We cannot reduce these issues simply to emotional ones. We must look critically at these issues within the context of why South Africa remains unjust and unequal.

Crippling poverty, unemployment and inequality stubbornly cling to the fabric of our society and don’t simply hold the indicators down but abusively control the lives of millions of South Africans.

Many South Africans, including President Cyril Ramaphosa, have spoken about the need to revisit South Africa’s social contract in an attempt to weave together a union that is able to forge ahead together with a new social contract.

The idea is that we need to give birth to this social compact, one that is able to ensure that this new dawn, spoken of by Ramaphosa and the governing party, is realised. The new dawn will not simply be derailed by the ghost (and acolytes) of the Zuma years but the social contract is already beginning to unravel.

Change may be spoken of by our political leaders but that change has already been happening. Change cannot be policed, managed or controlled but must be directed by South Africans to address the issues that entrench inequality, violence, injustice and suffering for the vast majority of South Africans.

Poverty, inequality and unemployment are not afflictions that affect nameless and faceless South Africans but they abuse and torment young South Africans – the vast majority of whom are black (and many of them now recent graduates) – and old South Africans.

It is not enough to talk about a new social contract or the need to redirect South Africa according to a renewed social compact. South Africans have been here before – in a moment when they are required to do far more than they have done before. South Africans have been called upon not to simply serve an ideal but have been prepared to do the hard work of forging this new social contract. If we are ever going to meaningfully engage the real challenges facing South Africans then we must address the regressive nature of our politics, the entrenchment of positions and the polarising nature of our politics.

There can be no holy cows. There should be no deferential attitudes and it will require individuals to start leading the conversation. It will require those entrusted to hold public office to speak out against the views and policies of their own political parties. It will require South Africans to stop pretending that the politics of the belly are simply the politics of the Guptas and Jacob Zuma but instead it is intertwined with the body politic of South Africa.

The politics of expediency, the politics of power and the cult of power and politics is embedded in the very fabric of South Africa. It will be difficult to unshackle as it is not isolated simply to the political arena but has been entrenched as much as patriarchy, prejudice and misogyny have been.

The dangers confronting the republic are not be scoffed at. We cannot indulge in the reductionary nature of our body politic but rather we need to demand more from our elected representatives, leaders in society at large but importantly from each other.

South Africa is not waiting for change to be initiated but rather the impatience and growing frustration demonstrated recently in a series of land occupations is not going to wait for political parties to play catch-up as they did with the conversation that gave birth to free higher education.

The issues of land, expropriation and property rights have been front of mind and part of the national discourse after the African National Congress and the Economic Freedom Fighters aligned themselves on the issue of expropriation and the steps that are currently under way in Parliament that may give rise to a constitutional amendment. It would be easy to pretend this is simply about property rights; however, it is far more nuanced and complex than that.

I need only look at my own family. My maternal grandparents were dispossessed and forcefully removed as a simple reminder that they needed to know their place in the world. Apartheid was structured in many ways to humiliate, degrade, incapacitate and destroy the possibilities of black South Africa.

My grandparents, as many other millions, were deprived of opportunities and made poor by a system designed to protect and support a vicious and racist regime. There is no way that I can simply look at the issue of land – or the issue of unemployment, access to opportunities, or inequality – without considering the traumatic context of our past.

There is a unique opportunity for South Africans to wrestle with the underlying issues and the fault lines that have been revealed over this past decade.

Those fault lines have given space of rampant corruption, growing poverty and hopelessness and unemployment that has stubbornly limited of South Africans to have a better life.

The elected representatives and the growing conservatism by those who have will soon realise that the patience and understanding of South Africans has dissipated. South Africans in their own way, as they did on issues of free higher education, are mobilising, working, talking and effecting the change that they want to see in the world.

South Africans can ill afford not to seize this moment and it must be seized so that the complexity, nuances and solutions are driven to serve the millions of South Africans who have waited too long already. DM

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