Tag Archives: South Africa

South Africa – How Fucked Are We?

Scared-FaceYassis, I’m depressed about the state of our nation. And that worries me. I’ve always been the one who is upbeat about South Africa (you know the one). I love my country deeply. It is part of my identity, part of my self. I just can’t imagine living anywhere else. And yet…

The events of the last few days have shaken me. I’m unsettled, anxious. My usual confident bluster is faltering. And I don’t like it.

So, I thought I would try to write out my conflicting thoughts and emotions; try to make sense of recent events as they relate to my (and our collective) future.

But first, as we must, a quick recap: Zuma’s State of the Nation address was a catastrophe. It began with a mysterious cellphone signal blackout (which is now officially described as a ‘technical glitch’ and definitely not ordered by anyone). Journalists protested and opposition MPs refused to continue until the signal was restored (which it was, even more mysteriously). Even though the ruling party has promised it will never happen again, it’s an ominous indication of the government’s desire to control the flow of information.

Then came the double whammy of the EFF’s stubbornly disruptive (but procedurally defensible) highjacking of JZ’s speech, followed by the heavy-handed and well-rehearsed removal of all EFF members from the house. I can’t say this part of proceedings came as a surprise. The EFF clearly announced their intentions well in advance, and the Speaker of the House was literally reading from a prepared script. But the physical violence of the armed guards’ response was genuinely shocking.

Perhaps more pertinently, the official parliamentary TV feed refused to show us the scuffle. Instead, it remained locked on the unsmiling faces of the petulant Speaker and brooding NCOP Chairperson. We only saw this fracas thanks to people in the gallery who filmed it on their cell phones). That’s another blow to the freedom of information (especially if you believe rumours that the SABC’s head of news was in the OB van calling the shots).

Finally, we have the issue of the security guards themselves. Who were they: police, army, parliamentary? This is an important question, as raised by Musi Maimane of the DA, because the police and army answer to the Executive (i.e. the president). The parliamentary security force, on the other hand, answers to parliament itself. This separation is essential for democracy and not just semantics (as the Speaker implied when she said she can’t point out who is police and who is from parliament).

So, put it all together and what do you get? Well, you get a ruling party who was prepared to restrict the flow of information and interfere with the autonomy of parliament for their own ends. OK, they were probably only thinking short term (how do we protect Zuma from embarrassment?). But a quick glance through history will show that many dictatorships began with little more than a jammed signal and troops in parliament.

Now, I don’t think we are seriously at risk of JZ becoming a Mugabe. Our democracy is too strong for that. But the spectre of sad, decaying Zimbabwe looms directly over our heads, and the parallels are hard to avoid. Especially when Zuma chuckles ‘heh-heh-heh’.

I regret that this is the case. I hate to trot out the hoary, old trope of ‘failed African state’. But let’s go down that road and see what sticks.

By all accounts, Zuma is intent on putting his mates and/or loyalists in all the top positions, regardless of their experience or ability. Such a system of patronage is, to mis-quote the beloved Pieter-Dirk Uys, the Vaseline of political intercourse in many countries. But one can’t help but wonder if this inter-dependent cabal is going to simply walk away from power when Zuma’s time is up.

Then there’s our infrastructure. After driving to Malawi over December, I can accurately say that maintenance is one of the biggest challenges facing our continent. Without expertise and money applied in the correct places, things fall apart – simple as that. It’s happening with our power grid (the big talk is that our water supply is next). And, petty as it may sound, you just need to look at the state of our rainwater drains, brittle roads, overgrown verges, broken traffic lights to see that the government just isn’t that good at keeping things in shape.

The ‘failed state’ scenario can be taken further. There’s proposed new land legislation that will stop foreigners from owning agricultural land, and limit individuals from owning too much. Not an outrageous proposition (many other countries have similar restrictions) but a policy with lots of potential for abuse. There’s new mining legislation that seeks to give the minister control over pricing. There’s a broad malaise of corruption seeping into every aspect of the bureaucracy, where getting a piece of the action becomes more important than getting things done. And let’s not forget an alarming rise in racial rhetoric that is finally starting to make me feel a little bit unwelcome.

Perhaps worst of all, there is neither progress nor consequence. South Africa is simply not making any headway against the challenges we face such as education, service delivery, economic growth, unemployment, and so on. Sure, these are large, sprawling issues with many complexities, but all too often the people in charge seem either inexperienced, inefficient, insubstantial or downright dishonest.

Because whatever happens, nothing happens. Scandals come and go but no one gets fired. Blunder after blunder, and no one is found responsible. Even when the Public Protector (blessed be her name) makes an official finding, she is ignored and the transgressors get off scot-free. Without accountability, we are helpless.

OK, that’s some of the shit we’re having to deal with at the moment. But what does this all mean for the future? Are we really on course to become yet another failed African state?

Well, first let’s look at some realities that we have to face right now.

Number One: Zuma is not going anywhere for another three years. Barring a pretty-much unthinkable backlash from within the ANC, Zuma is going to be president until the next elections when our constitutionally mandated two-term limit will force him to step down.

Number Two: our erratic electricity supply is going to remain erratic for at least three years. Despite all the interventions in the pipeline, for the next three years we are going to struggle to produce enough power to keep up with consumption.

Number Three: The opposition is weak and will probably remain so. The DA just cannot shift the perception that it is a ‘whites-only party’. And the EFF is radical, fractious and, while often correct, somehow untrustworthy.

So, more of the same for the foreseeable future. What, then, do we do?

Honestly? Fucked if I know…

Those of us who can, could obviously investigate emigration. It’s not an easy process (unless you are very rich – and I don’t shed tears for the rich). Uprooting everything and starting over from scratch is extremely painful. However, maybe now is the time? If you honestly cannot see any hope for South Africa over the next ten years, then you’d be foolish to hang around waiting for it to get worse.

But what if, like me, your optimism is battered but not broken. Do you do a pre-emptive evacuation, to be on the safe side, or do you stay and watch the winds, waiting for the final straw to land on your back? I realise that this very South African middle class tendency to keep one foot on the plane (however subconsciously) isn’t particularly helpful. But it’s there – nagging away in the back of my brain.

The big question that usually hushes my doubt is: where do you go? What with terrorism, climate change, political uncertainty, economic depression and everything else, the whole world is in upheaval. For me, the answer is probably Canada: I have family there and nothing ever happens. But the weather is terrible. And it’s Canada. The UK, America, Australia, New Zealand – they all have their drawbacks. So, I have to ask myself, is my lack of faith in South Africa really worth the price of relocation?

In my heart, I don’t think it is. So, the only other option is to just grin and bear it. After all, it’s not so bad here on the tip of Africa. We live in a beautiful country with beautiful people and beautiful weather. We also have a history of defying dire expectations. And, while we are all living in the looming shadow of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, we’re still a long way away.

And perhaps this is the best way to approach the events of last week – to consider them an early warning; a canary in the mine alerting us to the presence of poisonous gasses that could overwhelm us if we don’t take notice. That’s why, after a few days reflection, I’ve decided that the SONA debacle was a good thing – lucky, even. At least it gives us a chance to correct our course before we really run aground.

Finally, to wrap things up, let’s return to the original question: how fucked are we? Right after SONA, I would have given us a HFAW score of 8. Now, the government seems to have realised that they overstepped the mark and are backtracking on many fronts. No one will be held accountable, of course, but just maybe the fallout has given some people pause for thought – whether it’s politicians who need to re-assess their priorities or members of the public who need to re-assess their vote.

Either way, my little flame of hope is flickering back into life. It’s not as robust as it once was. After all, a mirror was held up to our democracy, and I didn’t like what I saw. But the passage of time (even a few days) soothes everything and I am no longer tormenting myself with ‘should I stay or should I go?’. I’m staying. I’m here. This is my country as much as anyone else’s, and nothing’s going to chase me off my birth right. At least for now…

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Anderson Cooper cuts the crap

As we’ve already established, South Africa’s broadcasting environment is almost totally devoid of balls. The SABC is a cowering, quivering mass of sycophancy. Mnet’s rule of thumb is to produce only shows with a voting line (the excellent Masterchef SA notwithstanding). And eTV is focussed on low-budget soapies.

What this dearth of testicles means is that there is little room for anyone to speak their mind. The occasional hard news show or investigative slot are all well and good, but what about the other genres of television? Our glossy magazine shows, for example, are slick and smooth and featureless – much like Barbie’s crotch. Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The SABC is chicken!

So, our glorious public broadcaster has refused to screen the latest Nando’s ‘Diversity’ ad. Unfortunately, this shouldn’t come as any surprise. The SABC has a long history of avoiding controversy at any cost, usually because the organisation is afraid to run foul of its political masters (nothing new here – the SABC was always designed to be a mouthpiece for the ruling government, whether National Party or the ANC).

Rather, this particular instance of ideological cowardice is supposedly based on cultural sensitivity; a fear that the mere mention of xenophobia will spark off another deplorable wave of bigotry and shop burning, such as we witnessed a couple of years ago. While this general concern does have some validity in a country fraught with xenophobic tension, the SABC’s reasoning as it relates to the commercial is, of course, craven nonsense. Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , ,

World Cup Aftermath

So far, it’s been great. But I am now looking ahead to the end of the World Cup and I’m worried. What’s going to happen to all the happy South Africans on July 12th? Will we forget about the goodwill and go back to hating each other? Will all the flags come down as we start bickering about the money ‘wasted’ on our international extravaganza? And will we fall back into the funk of negativity which characterised our pre-World Cup condition? Continue reading

Tagged , , , ,

Bring on the Olympics!

OK. So I may be prematurely basking in the glow of what appears to be a very successful World Cup, but I’m already looking forward and pondering: what next for SA?

I think the answer is obvious – the Johannesburg Olympics 2020.

And why not? We’ve now got the stadia, the experience and most of the infrastructure to host a major event, such as the Olympics. So let’s get the NOCSA to pull finger and submit the relevant proposals. Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , ,

Is the honeymoon over?

It all got off to such a good start. The World Cup kicked off successfully and our nation exploded onto the world stage, demonstrating a palpable sense of euphoria that was instantly contagious. Soon, just about everyone on the planet joined in to celebrate the first ‘African’ World Cup and it looked like it would be plain sailing. But now we’re a week in and the grumbling has started. Continue reading

Tagged , , , ,

Fifa Fo Fum

Boy, did we need this world cup! After what seems like years of relentlessly bad news and mass negativity, we are suddenly proud to be South African again. And it feels fantastic.

And I don’t even like soccer. To tell the truth, I don’t really care who wins (although a Bafana victory would be wonderful, if unlikely). Instead, I just want the World Cup to go off smoothly and for everyone to have a great time.

Happily, this seems to exactly what’s happening. The doomsayers in the world press have been forced to eat humble pie and the Cassandras who live within our borders seem to be at a loss because all their dire predictions have failed to materialise, again. All I can say is ‘good for us’. We deserve this. Continue reading

Tagged , , , ,

Sounding the call

OK, so some dopey Rasta dude screwed up the South African national anthem on international TV. Big oops. But while the choice of singer was unfortunate and careless, it hardly qualifies as a catastrophe. After all, we’ve got plenty of real problems to worry about. Nevertheless, everybody is up in arms, officials are scrambling to cover their asses and ‘Anthemgate’ has already been given the standard suffix for a scandal.

Now, I’m not saying that fumbling the anthem in a global forum isn’t a serious breach of national etiquette. I also agree that it is slightly embarrassing to the country and downright offensive to many self-respecting South Africans. However, let’s get a bit of perspective here… Continue reading

Tagged , , ,

Jessie Duarte loses the plot

My jaw literally dropped open when I heard Jessie Duarte’s recent outburst to a member of the press. Briefly, and from the perspective of an external listener, the context is as follows: a journalist for The Times was interviewing Ms. Duarte about the ANC’s online activities. At first, things were going OK. Then, JD started fishing for a fight and asked The Times reporter to hurry up and get to the point – which she already knew had to be negative, because The Times is that kind of paper. She was acting like a long-tailed cat in a roomful of rocking chairs. Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Unconventional Conventionists

A new political party has been born! Mazal tov! Now all we need is a name.

While I maintain a ‘wait-and-see’ attitude towards their policies, I welcome the new political entity and hope that it will diversify national politics without making the whole system unmanageable. Having a greater number of smaller parties prevents the abuse of power, which is great, but coalition governments are usually complicated and often fragile. Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , ,