South Africans continue to search for meaningful change and reform. We continue to struggle under the weight of politicians and public representatives who seem incapable and unable to do the right thing and to move South Africa forward. The slow pace of reform within the New Dawn administration of President Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa has exacerbated this feeling of dread, despair and pessimism about our collective future. The relentless wave and fatigue of this tepid and uninspired leadership has meant that the state of South Africa’s wellbeing remains fixed in a downward spiral of growing inequity, entrenched poverty and stubbornly debilitating unemployment. There was no doubt that the Ramaphosa administration inherited the immense burden of a lost decade enabled by the African National Congress as the governing party and its enablement and protection of Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma in his role as the republic’s president.
The consequences and costs of this lost decade continue to be lamented and revealed at the State Capture Commission, but more so the inaction of South Africa’s governing party since the dawn of democracy to confront defiance of our rule of law continues to linger. The unfortunate state that South Africa finds itself in does not only rest at the door of the ANC, but rather in the systemic and institutional retreat that has taken place in South Africa coupled with the disdain that elected representatives have for the citizens of South Africa. The retreat in South Africa initially may have been in the hope that the dawn of democracy would begin to model a significant departure from the illegitimacy, violence and racism of the apartheid regime. Of course, South Africa was able to make an important change from the illegitimacy and violence of that regime, but we failed to hold our leaders strictly accountable.
The mass democratic movement was able to force the collapse of the apartheid regime through a negotiated settlement, but it needed to do far more to stress-test and proof the institutional muscle to account for a country that was still in desperate need to ensure its elected representatives would swear allegiance to the Constitution and its people over all else. Ramaphosa, at the State Capture Commission in his capacity as leader of the ANC, sought to downplay the inertia and inability of the governing party to confront the system failures that continue to be felt, from the education system and to how electricity is deployed across our country.
We have fled from the public square and left the building and establishment of institutional muscle to the politicians. Unfortunately this cohort of leaders have, over the past 25 years, revealed that they are not fully capable of rising to the challenge. South Africans cannot entrust this activity of nation building and reimagining to those who have been elected, but rather we must begin to support civic organisations and servant leadership across the length and breadth of our country. Activism is not a solitary event or isolated commitment of service, but rather, as young people and womxn have time and time again reminded us, it is about coalition building, boldly standing up against injustice and beginning to model the alternative.
South Africans may not be served by this alternative in our political discourse. We may not be able to rely on those sitting in the governing benches and opposition benches in our Parliament, provincial legislatures or local councils, but we are most certainly imbued with latent commitment across our country. South Africans who believe in doing the right thing, committing themselves and resources in service of others and our communities. We may be despondent and disillusioned by the injustice and flagrant disregard for the moral norms, but we are best placed to demand better. We can vote for better candidates, and to do this we must begin imagining a country that has elected representatives of the people – not simply people who have manoeuvred and climbed their way to a spot on a party list. As South Africa reflects once more on the sacrifice of young people in building a more humane and just country, we must honour their sacrifice but also support the sacrifices of new comrades against injustice. Movements of citizens against corruption, injustice and demagoguery are working hard to confront issues that our governments seem incapable of even articulating.
We have reason to give pause at the outcomes of our democracy and to the crop of current elected representatives – across party lines – who not only fail to deliver a better South Africa for all, but who are also happy to deceive and, worse still, steal from the republic and its people. Representatives who have failed to appreciate that they should hold themselves to a higher account, representatives who have opted to line their own pockets, and who have made the choice to choose self over country. Representatives who, worse, still believe lying or deception should not be punished as, after all, they tell us they don’t require university degrees for the positions they hold. The disdain with which our representatives treat the public must be confronted and halted.
We must reject this trend of defiance that continues to persist, and at the same we must begin to honestly consider our democracy beyond party politics. There is little doubt that we will be unable to move away from established party-political structures as they hold immense power and influence, but we can counter this force with principled, committed and servant leaders who we have the power to support and elect. This would be the most meaningful way to honour the sacrifice and work not only of the June 16 generation, but also the many other South Africans who are committed to the people. DM