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A place where you despair on Monday and hope on Tuesday...

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Opinionista

A place where you despair on Monday and hope on Tuesday — that’s our Mzansi

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Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is currently a Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Fort Hare University and writes in his personal capacity.

The rule of law remains in place for now. Our constitutional order is rock solid, for now, and as a result, our democracy is strong. But it will derail if we continue on this path of self-destruction.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope…”

These opening lines of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities could have been written to describe these past weeks in South Africa, according to my good friend, JP Landman. Landman correctly outlines the events of the past few weeks as follows:

  • The Constitutional Court sentenced former president Jacob Zuma to 15 months in jail for contempt of court;
  • He surrendered himself to the police: “The best of times”;
  • Violence started in KZN with the burning of trucks. Calls were made for Zuma to be released/pardoned: “The worst of times”;
  • The violence spread to Gauteng: “The season of darkness”;
  • Mass-scale looting and plundering commenced in both KZN and Gauteng: “The worst of times”;
  • Both the violence and the looting peaked and started tapering: “The spring of hope”; and
  • The violence had abated and a great spontaneous pushback occurred: “The season of light”.

It was Alan Paton who said in 1985, “South Africa is a place where you despair on Monday and hope on Tuesday.”

Despair because it seems history has caught up with South Africa. The time for reckoning has dawned and the poorest of the poor black majority wants their pound of flesh. Electioneering politics ain’t gonna cut it and denialism and whitewashing history on the part of our white compatriots also won’t be tolerated any longer. The season of reckoning is upon us all.

The rule of law remains in place for now. Our constitutional order is rock solid, for now, and as a result, our democracy is strong. But it will derail if we continue on this path of self-destruction. Pointing fingers at each other as to who is responsible for solving our historical injustices and the triple challenges facing us as a nation is simply not helpful or constructive. We must all come to the party and have the willpower to finally take difficult decisions in order to get us out of this morass.

It is not an overstatement to say that our constitutional democracy is very strong indeed. We have one former president in jail for contempt of court, which speaks to the independence of the judiciary, and another, our sitting president, appearing before a state commission to probe state matters. Transparency is key — South Africa has recently been voted as having a truly independent Auditor-General and a national budget process that is transparent in comparison with many other countries.

I accept, as we have observed over the past few days, that former president Jacob Zuma is at it once again — wanting to worm his way out of having his day in court. He has clamoured to have his day in court since the early 2000s and yet here we are, with him taking refuge at the military hospital to avoid precisely that day in court. He indicated boldly that he is not scared to return to prison and yet here we are, with him taking strain after just a few weeks incarcerated.

And those around him actively participated in wanting to create a climate of chaos in the country so as to intimidate the nation into agreeing with his early release from prison. This tactic will simply not work and no level of intimidation will suffice — we have seen how our communities saw straight through their destructive plan and refused to participate in mass looting and destruction that ultimately negatively affects the poor.

Now we see some of the culprits and accused turning to prayer: this will have very little effect since the word also tells us in no uncertain terms that stealing is frowned upon by God. “Thou shalt not steal” is one of the revered 10 Commandments and, believe you me, State Capture and the associated corruption is nothing short of wholesale stealing from the poor.

Best of luck with your prayers.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope…”

Hope, because as we despair at times with the inordinate task before us, as we accept our collective task to fix the historical injustices in our country, we appreciate and accept that the season of reckoning is here. Acting fast and with urgency will certainly go down in history, and history will judge us kindly, perhaps.

So, in keeping with Alan Paton’s remark, “South Africa is a place where you despair on Monday and hope on Tuesday”, we can do it as active citizens and we will succeed in realising the vision of our Constitution and Bill of Rights. Let us continue to defend our democracy and never waver.

Let this be our season of hope. DM

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