NEWS & ANALYSIS

Being South African in a time of unbridled descent

Zohra Dawood writes that the flip side of political chaos is larger groups of people are rallying together

Being South African in a time of unbridled descent

3 October 2017

For many South Africans, the daily news cycle feels like more of the same: body blows to the economy, bailouts to state-owned enterprises despite a revenue undershoot, and a governing party at war with itself, taking the rest of the country hostage in the process.

With barely a chance to catch its collective breath, the country was subjected to the sheer horror of the recent release by StatsSA of the Victims of Crime Survey and most wanted to head for the hills for a sojourn long enough until sanity is restored.

The luxury of a sojourn is not possible for most but what is possible is to restart the conversation of that which enjoins us, not by what some have termed the “magnificent Mandela consensus” of 1994 but by uniting in a demand for the country we do not want.

The flip side of the current political and economic chaos is that larger swathes of South Africans are moving closer in rallying for a country that they do not want. The sentiment is echoed across real and imagined stratas and geographies. The forms of expression speaking to a captured polity and the redistribution of a shrinking economic pie vary from letters to editors and phone-ins with talk show hosts, to litigation, street protest, and the unfortunate destruction of property - all to express shock, horror and rage at a country torn asunder. 

The dawning of the impact of corruption and state capture has mobilised South Africans to view the country as one would as a shareholder in a company, intent on protecting your assets in the hopes of reaping ever greater dividends. The analogy is more than tongue in cheek as South Africans have become ever more familiar with the slew of companies who have in one form or another been implicated in the #GuptaLeaks.  

An awareness of the ownership of SA Inc. residing in the wrong hands is patently clear but the real question is what is to be done.

The current course is unsustainable, not just financially but crucially that of the impact of the divisive racial politics that is being spewed forth day after day to distract from the real issues facing South Africa.

During a panel discussion at Wits University on 1 August 2017, former minister of Finance and current backbencher, Pravin Gordhan, warned his audience about how the “corrupt and greedy were using race in order to further their own intensions”. In a discussion with economist Iraj Abedian at the same University on 27 September 2017, Gordhan drove the point home that all in the country had a mutually reinforcing interest to be the custodians for the country we want, “we need an active citizenry where people are constructive in finding solutions and leaders in civil society and corporates are identified to address the situation we find ourselves in today”. At the same forum, Abedian warned of the dangers of protecting South Africa’s national resources, presumably from capture.

The traction that Gordhan’s message has enjoyed amongst many in the country across race, class, ethnic and language divides is testament of a common desire not to see the country slide further but to hit the pause button and turn course.

Race-baiting, hurling of racial slurs and trading insults will not deliver the dividends that are so desperately needed in the country. That we acknowledge the trap of poverty and inequality that far too many labour under is not in dispute, nor the imperative to address this legacy of apartheid. Left alone, poverty and inequality will fester and imperil any prospect of a collective future for all who live in South Africa.

There is no doubt that what might have been a real and for others an imaginary consensus, borne out of a need for peace and democracy to prevail in the early to mid-1990s, has made way for another consensus. Within a space of 23 years, there is a loud demand for a country we do not want, where the corrosive impacts of corruption and state capture are stealing the future of too many.  

By Ms Zohra Dawood, Director, Centre for Unity in Diversity, 3 October 2017