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The past is boring, the present is tedious, and the future already looks bleak

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Ismail Lagardien is a writer, columnist and political economist with extensive exposure and experience in global political economic affairs. He was educated at the London School of Economics, and holds a PhD in International Political Economy.

Tito Mboweni, Mcebisi Jonas, Lungisa Fuzile and the better among us have given up on the state and governance. It all gets rather tedious. We are forever taking one step forward and two steps back.

Now is as good a time as any to reflect on the year we are leaving behind. Personally, the year started in the worst possible way, but it is coming to an end on a high note. All things considered, I will use the analogy of a hangover: the year started with a hangover, and it gradually got better…

As a society it is almost as if nothing has changed. Except for the July Rampage, when people looted couches and television sets because they are “hungry”, and the mild tremors of the local government election outcomes, South Africa’s politics is a bit like The Mousetrap, which has been running in London’s West End for more than 65 years. Over time the actors have come and gone and there have been touches of changes over the years (to keep up with the times), but in the end it doesn’t really matter, because we are reminded not to share the ending.

Someone once said that the more sand escapes from the hourglass of our life, the clearer we should see through it, but there is always someone who quite deliberately turns the hourglass over. We start, then, all over again. Like the day that we get each morning, and that is taken from us every night, we look forward to the mornings, hoping, believing, that tomorrow cannot be as bad as today has been.

The ANC is still in control of the national government. Public administration is still in omnishambles – and I doubt the creation of a type of Higher Party School to train cadres (the original was created by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1939) will make any difference, other than promoting partynost through unfailing fealty to the party. 

The Democratic Alliance’s backroom girls and boys continue to crank the old music box that pumps out the same melody over and over and over and over…

The Economic Freedom Fighters with their paramilitary “commanders”, “commissars” and “ground forces” are still, well, raving with their performative politics (dressing down against the system) while driving themselves mad and remaining oppressed by their beliefs. Meanwhile, Nazier Paulsen continues to be a gat-kruiper and koep gevriet to convince Julius Malema that there is, actually, a point to Nazier Paulsen.

Elsewhere smatterings of political parties are playing religious games (ACDP, Al Jama-ah), secession games (Cape Independence Party) and patriot games (Patriotic Alliance) while the (rightist) libertarian Herman Mashaba is trying his hardest to make us all black like him.

And, of course, that little crack in a windowpane or a leaking tap in Okiep was caused by Cyril Ramaphosa. There is still a search party out for the intellect and savoir faire of people like Mighty Maite Nkoana-Mashabane and Nomvula Mokonyane. And Gwede Mantashe is flopping like a fish on land that has had its tympanic membrane torn by a mysterious sonic boom.

Six years after revelations of State Capture, the main villains who have been fingered remain free and easy like Sunday morning. Hermione Cronje, another smart public servant, has decided that change is impossible when you’re working with people who can’t read or write complex sentences, don’t know which way north, west, east or south is, and walk about with a single sheet of paper prominently in their hands pretending to be busy. Tito Mboweni, Mcebisi Jonas, Lungisa Fuzile and the better among us have given up on the state and governance. It all gets rather tedious. We are forever taking one step forward and two steps back.

The future has started and already looks bleak

It really is becoming increasingly difficult to imagine South Africa not ending up like, say, the Democratic Republic of Congo with pockets of power in some cities, absolute neglect in rural areas, and all power, communications and transportation links between cities broken because of neglect, theft or for some other reason unbeknownst to anyone.

Let’s face it, it’s difficult to imagine that the electricity grid will be fully functioning in the next five to 10 years. It’s hard to imagine water and sanitation reaching everyone, and it’s harder still to imagine that the millions of people who live in informal settlements will be provided with actual brick and mortar (or prefabricated homes). The numbers are too big, and time is limited.

At this moment, it is difficult to imagine Ramaphosa and the people closest to him surviving a tsunami of RET/EFF forces in the next election. It is harder, still, to imagine Jacob Zuma dissolving into the background of our history.

Should all of this happen, I have no doubt that they will place the country on a path (the path of dependence) that led so many countries in Africa down the U-tube after 1960. After all, we have not had a chance to expel foreigners, impose autarky, African socialism or Kenya’s revenge capitalism – starting with pogroms against “non-Africans”. We have indeed gone from the Freedom Charter’s the-country-belongs-to-everyone-who-lives-in-it, to telling “non-Africans” to go back to Europe or Asia.

And leading this charge is the EFF’s Malema, accompanied by barbarous professors, who would prefer it if the country “decoupled” – now couched in wilful obscurantism as “deglobalisation” or “onshoring” with the ultimate objective being import-substitution, for which we don’t have a large enough industrial base to create jobs. It is simply ideological dogmatism.

We don’t have to go the route of Ghana or Kenya in the 1960s (with highly privileged Europeans or subjects of the Queen of England pulling intellectual strings in the background) to prove that we are Africans. The continent has given capitalism almost everything it required for expansion over 500 years. Surely it is time that we focused on turning our natural resources into products that can compete in global markets? Surely it is time to rethink what we teach students of political economy, of geography and sociology, and not brainwash students into making like we live in the British Midlands of Karl Marx? All of that is so 1960s. We really have to stop fighting in theory, improve the lives of people and not wait for the backslapping and fist-pumps from fellow travellers.

All things considered, 2021 has been a pretty ordinary year, notwithstanding the Great Rampage of July, Covid-19 and the local government election snotklap the ANC received. Speaking of Covid-19, we have to tip our hats to the Europeans for finding the secret laboratory where South Africa has manufactured the Omicron variant of Covid-19. We can only hope that next year will be better than the past 11-12 months… DM

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  • “The numbers are too big, and time is limited.”
    You almost had it, Ismail. You almost had the courage to dare to mention the biggest elephant by far in the room. You almost managed to point to the one thing beyond all others that is keeping people poor. You were almost a proper journalist.
    Almost…

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