Defend Truth


We are still two nations in a divided country


Prof Michael le Cordeur is Vice-Dean Teaching and Learning in the Faculty of Education at the University of Stellenbosch. He is deputy chair of the Stigting vir die bemagtiging deur Afrikaans.

We were and still are an abnormal society. We were and still are two nations. Trapped in a divided country. This is visible everywhere, also during a state of lockdown. One group sits happily on their stoep drinking wine. Their fridges are full. The other group stands in the queue at the soup kitchen.

In the days of the Struggle (1950 to 1990), when South Africa was isolated from the international sports world, the South African Council on Sport (Sacos) had a motto, “No normal sport in an abnormal society”. Those who participated in “normal” sport hated Sacos and its members.

It is 30 years later. Sacos ended its struggle when the ANC and its partners were unbanned. South Africa was already welcomed back into international sport in 1991 (before we had a democratic election). Zola Budd ran, fell and retired; Clive Rice and his team went to India, and the Springboks could gambol on the green grass of Newlands again. 

Nothing has changed

From pure gratitude, everything, from the creche on the corner to universities, airports and rugby competitions, was named after Mandela: the Mandela Shield, the Freedom Cup and many others. We won the rugby World Cup and hosted the soccer World Cup. The abnormal society suddenly became normal and everybody was happy. Hip, hip, hooray!

Sport, it was generally reported, had united South Africans over divides. We certainly were united as long as the match lasted; we even sang Die Stem with a clenched fist. But a rugby match is only 80 minutes long. We were so desperate to be a nation that we started believing our own lies. In the townships, nothing had changed.

The current government had the task to address this inequality. Admittedly, this was a giant task: millions of people were either unemployed or suffered from Aids or tuberculosis. The latter disease was mostly due to the fact that people have to live in the most desperate circumstances imaginable in densely populated areas where many residents must share a tap and a toilet.

The Virus

And then the Virus hit us. The president locked down the country and threw away the keys. “You will stay in your homes until the Virus departs.” South Africans had three days in which to fill their fridges. Those, at least, who still had money in their pockets and a bank account on 23 March. But the president forgot that most people in South Africa do not have a piggy bank, not to mention money in a bank account. Thirty years after Mandela was freed, we may be the world’s rugby champions, but we are also the country with the most inequality.

The doors of learning also closed. The place where the children get a daily meal, mostly their only meal for the day. That is, if they even turned up for school, if they are not killed in the crossfire of gangs, or assaulted by a rapist while they must walk many kilometres on foot to get to the school. This is a country where a child is raped every three minutes and 57 people are murdered every day. Another thing at which we are the world champions.

Only when the virus struck, did the minister of water affairs become aware that there are 41,000 places in the townships where water points are urgently needed. So that people can wash their hands.

Thank heaven for the Virus.

Divided country

This is a country where the public has lost confidence in the police because the police often team up with criminals to do our country’s people harm. This is a country where violence is rampant. Instead of parliamentarians focusing on solutions, they throw accusations at one another in parliament.

This is a country where 10 million people of working age don’t work or study. A country where more people (17 million) live on social grants than there are people who work (15 million). South Africa has become a welfare state. Too many still look to the state for work, where the high salary rate is one of the factors that landed us in trouble in the first place.

While most matriculants and their parents wonder how they are going to pass matric, there are schools where learners start school at 8am and learn until school closes at 2pm. Online. Because some schools in our country have access to the best technology in the world.

I am overjoyed that instruction continues in some schools, but how normal is it that, in the midst of such poverty and misery, some schools can continue as if it is business as usual? We were and still are an abnormal society. We were and still are two nations. Trapped in a divided country. This is visible everywhere, also during a state of lockdown. One group sits happily on their stoep drinking wine. Their fridges are full. The other group stands in the queue at the soup kitchen. They are hungry. So hungry they will steal; even commit murder.

If a mother has to decide between a virus and food for her children who went to bed hungry last night, she will choose her children, every time.

French Revolution

Before the president and his Cabinet thus decide on what will happen after 30 April, he should perhaps refresh his memory on the factors which led to the French Revolution:

The king’s money chest was empty. Decades of poor harvests, terrible drought and livestock diseases and deaths caused food prices to skyrocket. The monarchy did not want to listen to the poor. They also did nothing to improve the miserable circumstances of the poor. Eventually, the poor rebelled… The monarchy was overthrown.

Does this sound familiar?

The government is asking that every citizen pay attention to the symptoms of the Covid-19 virus. It is also time that they pay attention to the symptoms that precede any revolution.

Why has SA failed to use its natural resources to the advantage of the country and its people? Probably because we have undermined SA society through poor leadership in nearly every sphere. This extends from the school where principals were appointed on the ground of having an acquaintance in the governing body, to the government where cadre deployment is the order of the day.

Have a look at the Canadian Cabinet, where every minister has a PhD degree in the field in which he or she has been appointed. The ANC is not there yet. Poor leadership is the reason why the government has spent billions of rand on the SAA, before realising that it was all in vain. How many food packages could we buy with that money? How many classrooms could we build?

Only the best

After this lockdown, our lives will never be the same. The economy and every sphere of society will have to overcome an enormous setback. Many businesses will close. Thousands are going to lose their jobs. Some aspects will have to be rebuilt totally. For that, we need the best experts in our country.

The country has become aware of the expertise of Professor Salim Abdool Karim over the past weeks. We dare not underestimate his role in the good performance of the minister of health. We need not wonder any longer who will succeed Cyril Ramaphosa. In recent times a slim medical doctor has stepped forward and looks increasingly like a future leader.

Martin Luther King Jnr said a good leader is not known by what he said in times of prosperity, but by what he does in times of need. President Ramaphosa now has the opportunity to establish himself as the undisputed leader of South Africa.

My message to the president is simple: When you came into power, you said during your inaugural speech: “Here I am, send me.”

President Ramaphosa, out there are many people who want to say the same to you. South Africa has many excellent leaders, people with a world of expertise who love their country and want to help.

You only need to ask. DM


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