There are obviously a lot of problems facing our country that have driven many citizens into a state of hopelessness. Poverty, joblessness, corruption and poor delivery of services are top of the list of challenges the country is battling with. Adding to our woes is the performance of the economy, which continues to disappoint.
A few months ago, Statistician-General Pali Lehohla painted a bleak picture of the problems facing the country’s youth. He said they were being confronted by “a cocktail of disaster”. Figures released by Lehohla showed unemployment among those in the 15- 35 age group had increased from 34.2% in 2009 to 35.9% in 2014.
It is a mixture of these problems that has resulted in many pessimists speculating the country will go the route of Zimbabwe. It is unquestionable that times are hard for most South Africans. However, it’s not all doom and gloom.
We have strong chapter 9 institutions that support our democracy, such as the office of the public protector, whose independence has never been in doubt.
Those convinced that South Africa might be another Zimbabwe need not look further than yesterday’s local government elections to see that this country is not one man’s personal property, but a true democracy anchored in human rights – one of the most fundamental being citizens’ rights to elect a government of their choice.
Compare this with our troubled northern neighbour, where government-engineered economic hardships have seen more than half of the country’s population stripped of their number one right – citizenship – and forced then into lives in exile.
There’s not one iota of doubt that yesterday’s polls will be declared free, fair and credible. Yes, there were incidents of pre-election violence and political assassination ahead of the elections, but none were state-sponsored. The majority of these killings were related to internal political-party battles for leadership positions.
Can the same be said of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe and his Zanu-PF cronies, who have mastered the art of election-rigging in a country where state-sponsored killings are the order of the day? Facing a humiliating defeat in the 2008 elections, Mugabe declared he would not give up power, regardless of the wishes of voters. Days before the polls, Mugabe vowed to remain president of Zimbabwe, saying “only God” could remove him from office.
“We will never allow an event like an election reverse our independence, our sovereignty, our sweat and all that we fought for, all that our comrades died fighting for,” he infamously said.
The nonagenarian despot has recently been threatening everyone posing a threat to his 36-year-rule, including war veterans and Evan Mawarire, the activist pastor behind the current anti-government protests.
Here at home, in the run-up to yesterday’s polls, not a single leader of the opposition was jailed, harassed or intimidated by security forces. No South African critical of government was forced into exile, because our constitution protects the right of all citizens to express themselves freely.
Despite myriad challenges, South Africa remains a maturing, vibrant constitutional democracy that bears no resemblance at all to Zimbabwe.