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South Africa is a rudderless ship without a captain

Defend Truth


Mayday! Mayday! Voters must rise up and save South Africa’s rudderless ship


Thamsanqa D Malinga is director at Mkabayi Management Consultants; a writer, columnist, and political commentator, as well as author of Blame Me on Apartheid and A Dream Betrayed.

South Africa, the once-touted ‘rainbow nation’ and the ‘miracle of the world’ has, like the ill-fated Costa Concordia, found itself without a captain. As a country we are sailing rudderless, with no captain, and no idea of where we are going.

South Africa just came back from the brink of civil war, something that could have easily taken us back to the bloody “black-on-black” violence experienced in the late 1980s and early 1990s. I do not know if the pain of the past couple of weeks’ experience is the unrest that saw unparalleled lawlessness or the shining absence of leadership and accountability. The answer, if any, will most probably come from some commission that will be established to find the cause of all of this – after all, commissions are a South African strategy to defer accountability and dealing with burning issues.

I have written extensively on how the South African intelligence structures are sleeping on the job and awaken only to take political sides. Their evident absence and conflicting statements from the security cluster and the Presidency as seen recently is just a shame to observe. 

Sacrificing citizens for political expediency

In his epilogue to my book, Blame Me on Apartheid, advocate Vuyani Ngalwana SC writes: “… since 1994 that most evil and enduring apartheid achievement seems to be perpetrated by successive governments of what used to be a liberation movement, sacrificing the cerebral development of the black child at the altar of political expediency”.

I agree entirely with Ngalwana’s assertion as articulated in his epilogue as well as on his no-holds-barred blog, Anchored in Law. When the country was plagued by civil unrest, the government failed to adequately describe the crisis it was facing. It was labelled a tribal tendency, then an attempted coup, and later an insurrection. Really?

For years, researchers, scholars, analysts, and community activists have warned that South Africa’s inequality and rising unemployment levels will lead to a South African “Spring Revolution”. But being the denialist and dismissive regime that the governing party is, those warnings were not heeded. Now we witness unrest and looting, the president and his troika come out of their cocoon and have been quick to whip up words that absolve them of their failure to take responsibility for the almost three decades of neglect of our people.

At the time of writing the country has been in various stages of lockdown for about 500 days.

In this period, we have not seen a hospital being built nor more healthcare workers being employed among the throngs of qualified and unemployed. We have been subjected to internal party squabbles while unemployed South Africans have only been good enough to be bussed to support whoever wants to ascend to power and dip his hands in the country’s cookie jar.

We have witnessed unabated corruption rise and rise. We have witnessed as the organs of state, including the judiciary, are brought to their knees. Shocking is the poverty line that has dropped like the level of ethical leadership.

The response from President Cyril Ramaphosa, his hopeless and bloated Cabinet together with the ANC, is what Ngalwana describes as “… nothing to offer except promises of ‘a better life for all’ which often translates to food parcels and poverty trap social grants”.

So now to quell the unrest, the president deems it fit to tangle the proverbial carrot in the form of social relief of distress grants, which were initially offered at the first level of lockdown and stopped midway without valid reasons. This is no relief but a mouse trap – mind you, with local government elections looming and a majority of employable citizens sitting idle in despondency.

The black child has indeed been sacrificed at the altar of political pragmatism, shamefully by the movement and the government the electorate overwhelmingly votes for in every electoral year.

Let’s face it – we are rudderless

Not only do we find ourselves “sacrificed at the altar of political expediency”, we are worse in that as a country, and the poor majority, we have found ourselves in our own Costa Concordia disaster. 

Sharing the fate as the ill-fated cruise ship, the Concordia was named to express a dream of harmony, unity, and peace between nations. But it struck a rock in the Tyrrhenian Sea in January of 2012, drifted towards the island of Giglio, grounded near shore and rolled onto her side on a rocky underwater ledge.

South Africa, the once-touted “rainbow nation” and the “miracle of the world” has, like the Costa Concordia, found itself without a captain. As a country we are sailing rudderless, with no captain and no idea of where we are going.

Ramaphosa, his troika, and the ANC collective have, like the Costa Concordia, caused us to drift backward and to be grounded near shore, rolled onto our side.

The fault is not in our stars

It is clear, we – the people of South Africa – need to send an SOS call, but to whom? Seemingly even the sandal-clad Son of Man (Jesus) is not on our side, for the governing party has told us that it will rule until he comes back and by the look of things, the son of Joseph and Mary has washed his hands.

Will help ever come? Is the Shakespearean remark that “the fault… is not in our stars but ourselves in that we are underlings” a clear wake-up call?

South Africa is ripe for a revolution. I am not calling for lawlessness and “looting power” as erstwhile homeland leader Lucas Mangope once proclaimed. It is time that we turn the tables and use the vote to revolt against the current governing lot, as they seem to have forgotten their mandate.

A movement of the people – and no, I do not mean the ANC – needs to rise, and save South Africa. DM


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  • Maybe worth recalling that the South African salvage master Nick Sloane got the ship upright again on 18 Sep 2013. Shows what talent and expertise we have (had?). We need somebody urgently to steer our rudderless ship to prevent it going where the Costa Concordia went – to the scrapyard…

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