It might sound like an absurd idea, considering the way things are going, but why don't we start supporting government and working toward improving the state of SA's civil service?
We should all be ready to work in government. I sense some of you grimacing at the very thought. But it’s not impossible.
In a country where around two million people are government employees, out of an employed workforce of 14.7 million, the chances of you finding yourself in the civil service are significant.
Government is critical to our functioning as a country. It is government that facilitates the building of the infrastructure that keeps our economy functioning and our people alive. Water, electricity, sanitation, even telecommunications… that’s government at work.
At times of national crisis, it is government that guides us and works to manage our response. On a domestic level, government creates the laws – in partnership with the people at a geopolitical level, government negotiates the trade deals that keep us supplied and fed.
The price of food? Government has a hand in determining that too.
This is not to say that government is perfect, effective, or even acceptable in its performance. Our government’s track record is “not ideal”, as my mom once said when the cat got locked in the house and defecated everywhere.
However, there is a trend among South Africans to demonise the government at every opportunity. I’m not saying they don’t deserve it, it’s just that this also leads to the “othering” of the government.
A situation is developing where it is the people of South Africa against the government. The people in the townships are getting terrible service delivery, the people in suburbs are facing exorbitant billing failures, we all have unreliable electricity, and our taxes are being stolen by corrupt officials.
This is common cause. Corrupt people should be caught and sent to jail, make no mistake. But at some point we have to accept that government is of the people, for the people and by the people.
Governing is also necessary. Once the Zondo Commission has done its work, and some of the worst offenders have been marched past the TV cameras, through the courts and off to jail for a few months, we are going to have to build a better public service.
The process appears to already be on the go, with some encouraging appointments at the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and, hopefully, at Eskom. If we want this process to continue, and even expand exponentially across the public service, the “tsek to the government” idea is going to have to end.
That is our government. We need to support steps to clean it up and improve it, and at some point, we might even have to get involved ourselves.
It’s not us against the government. And if it is, it shouldn’t be. That way lies uprisings, social collapse and relocation to New Zealand.
Believe it or not, we are on the same side as the government. And the unhappiness with its performance does show a kind of angry love for our country. We care, and we do wish things could work. Let’s not let that polarise us.
The government also needs to cast its net wider, to attract more talent into its ranks, so that it is no longer seen as a faction of South African society, but perhaps more of a South Africa in microcosm. A place where you, or your sister, or your cousin can also work, and be proud of it.
From there, perhaps we can begin to dream of a time where the civil service is a place of superior performance, where our tax rands are effectively spent for the betterment of our people.
Don’t laugh! It’s possible. We know there are patches of excellence in government – we just need to knit them together. To create a quilt of quality from those patches of excellence.
Hagen Engler. Picture: Supplied
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