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S Africa might be on the edge of an abyss, but we canno...

Defend Truth


Our country might be on the edge of an abyss, but we cannot give up on the society of our dreams


Professor Sizwe Mabizela is a member of the Advisory Council, Defend Our Democracy and is Vice-Chancellor at Rhodes University.

The time to join hands to restore the values that underpin our constitutional democracy is now.

We are a nation in a crisis. We are on a perilous path. South Africans are losing hope in democracy. This must be the primary concern and cause for deep reflection for all of society. Things can still get even worse. We could even topple over into a political and social abyss, a point of no return. We can avoid this.

Much of what we see is social, economic, political and moral destruction. Over the past decade society has witnessed spectacular failure of leadership. We have endured years of a leadership culture that is bereft of moral and ethical content. 

We have been subjected to profound levels of moral depravity by those we entrusted with the responsibility to take the baton and lead us. They are the beneficiaries of an impulse of affection earned from the sacrifices of many martyrs, men and women who risked it all for the benefit of all, who paid the ultimate price.

Today, society might be unravelling. Fast and scarily. Over the past decade we have watched with disbelief the staggering acts of betrayal through greed, brazen corruption, deceit, fraud, venality, abuse of power and malfeasance in political and business leadership. This has led to growing disillusionment, anger and disenchantment with the social, economic and political state of our nation. 

There are concerted efforts to malign, discredit and delegitimise key institutions of our constitutional democracy. The foundational principles of a democracy are under fierce assault. The very idea of a constitutional democracy is being intensely contested and potentially even being systematically sabotaged. The idea of the supremacy of the Constitution is being questioned. 

At a fundamental level we are witnessing a growing popular distrust in our democracy and increasingly corrosive inroads into the rule of law. 

The Judicial Commission of Inquiry into Allegations of State Capture, Corruption and Fraud in the Public Sector including Organs of State (the Zondo Commission) has documented the horrendous and shocking acts of rampant corruption, fraud and plunder of state resources that have occurred over the past decade. 

State-owned enterprises (SOEs) that were created to provide reliable and affordable services to citizens have been systematically weakened and hollowed out. They are now teetering on the brink of collapse. Eskom, Transnet, South African Airways, Denel, the South African Revenue Service and the South African Broadcasting Corporation, which were once model institutions, were targeted for looting and theft. Critical institutions created to support, deepen and strengthen our democratic order have been repurposed or weaponised to subvert our constitutional democracy. 

The names of those who facilitated and/or benefited from State Capture are documented in the Zondo Commission reports. Some of them are emboldened because they know that holding them to account will be an uphill and a protracted battle.

Some unscrupulous legal entrepreneurs will use every trick in the book to thwart and possibly derail any effort to hold the architects of State Capture and its beneficiaries to account. We should be vigilant against this. 

The reports also document remarkable acts of courage, bravery and patriotism by whistle-blowers and media organisations to draw attention to the shady characters who had arrogated to themselves the right to run the government and its institutions outside of the Constitution, including appointing ministers and persons to serve on boards of SOEs. 

We owe an unpayable debt of gratitude to Chief Justice Raymond Zondo and all those who served our nation with utmost integrity, honour and distinction on the commission. It was an exacting responsibility in the poisoned sociopolitical space. They acquitted themselves admirably.

Read in Daily Maverick: “The State Capture Commission years: The highs, lows and where to now

The recent report by the Auditor-General presents the parlous state of our municipalities. The impact of the dysfunctionality of this sphere of government is particularly experienced by all citizens. In many metros, towns, villages and townships one has to negotiate deep and dangerous potholes, raw sewage flowing on the streets and general filth all around. Many communities continue to endure non-existent or unreliable and inconsistent supply of water and electricity and a general lack of provision of basic services such as rubbish collection. Lack of accountability and consistently poor audit outcomes for the majority of municipalities have become a common feature.

The nation’s public infrastructure lies in ruins and facilities intended to serve ordinary citizens are constantly compromised and vandalised. Public hospitals fail to provide even the most basic needs – food, clean linen and medication. 

Lawlessness and a trust deficit with law enforcement agencies have given rise to vigilantism and mob violence and brutality. Confidence in the government and its institutions is at an all-time low, and dipping. 

Unemployment continues to soar and, with it, poverty, hopelessness and criminality. Young people, who are hit hardest by unemployment, face each new day with anxiety, uncertainty and a sense of resignation.

For the majority of South Africans, the cost of living has become unaffordable. The inequality gap has worsened with each passing year. More than 18 million South Africans today rely on social security grants which derive from a shrinking tax base. The equation in which you have, on the one side, an ever-increasing number of social security grant beneficiaries and, on the other, an ever-diminishing tax base, is bound to reach a tipping point. At that stage, the state might fail to pay grants and the strife and social upheaval that would ensue is too ghastly to contemplate. 

The current load shedding constrains economic activity, propelling our country further to the point of a perilous imbalance in this equation. Businesses, large and small, cannot operate in a situation of uncertainty of power supply. Morale and business confidence continue to dip.

The picture painted above is troubling and depressing. Such, sadly, is the current state of our nation. We are confronted with real and immense challenges as a people. 

We should, however, not allow apathy, despair, cynicism, hopelessness and despondency to take hold. We must inspire hope and optimism for a better tomorrow. We cannot give up on the society of our dreams – one that is just, equitable, humane, inclusive, caring, fairer and more compassionate. 

This commitment demands of us to rise above the sedimented social, economic and political fault lines and find our common humanity and shared patriotism. We are not helpless nor are we without agency. We should look no further than ourselves to find solutions to the challenges that face us. 

Time is not on our side. We must act now to avert an impending, and potentially devastating, catastrophe. We must act now to save our society from implosion, strife and destruction. There is no magic wand. But we cannot allow ourselves to be imprisoned by current realities. Let us work to free ourselves and imagine what can be. 

Every citizen who cares about this country, its people and its future across the historical sociopolitical fault lines, must roll up their sleeves and help reclaim, rebuild and restore our humanity and ideal being. 

The recent two-day conference of the Defend Our Democracy Campaign was a welcome effort to mobilise civil society and progressive South Africans to re-envision the country’s politics and take charge of its future. The campaign comprises active and engaged citizens committed to the renewal of our constitutional democracy. 

The Defend Our Democracy Campaign is calling on all citizens to rise above differences and act as one, with a common purpose to reclaim, renew and rebuild our society. It is a call for a broad-based social compact and agency that catalyses decency, creativity, energy, imagination and innovation in South Africans to re-establish the sovereignty of this democracy.  As noted in the conference declaration:

Our point of departure should be based on clear constitutional principles, economic inclusion, values of solidarity, social and climate justice, ethical behaviour, respect, collaboration and transparency, which must advance participatory democracy and unity.

May the nation heed this call and take it upon itself to contribute knowledge, skills, talent and expertise to build an ethical and a better, corruption-free, engaged, inclusive, capable and sustainable constitutional democracy that affords all citizens a fair opportunity to realise their full potential. 

The time to reclaim, renew and rebuild is now. We should not rest until the constitutional promise of an egalitarian society becomes a lived reality for the citizens of our country, whatever it takes. DM


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