You would be excused for thinking Charles Dickens was talking about modern-day South Africa when he penned this famous quote in the 1800s (from A Tale of Two Cities):
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”
In the past seven days we’ve witnessed a spectacular own-goal scored by Shaun Abrahams, and just when we thought that couldn’t be topped, the president scored an even more spectacular one by trying one delaying tactic too many in withdrawing his challenge against the release of Thuli Madonsela’s “State of Capture” report. This he did while another minister was still on his way to court to apply for a similar interdict. Credit must go to the full bench of high court judges who saw right through all of this.
The full contents of Madonsela’s parting gift to democracy in our country still needs to be dissected fully, but the events that unfolded both on the streets of Tshwane and in the cathedral that housed the “People’s Assembly” this Wednesday have left one “in the spring of hope and winter of despair” at the same time.
Three separate gatherings took place in the same city, all fighting for a common goal, all united by love for their country and a common stand against corruption by our country’s number one citizen.
South Africans are indeed gatvol. This is where hope springs eternal that, if pushed far enough, active citizenry will come to the fore. But is it all hopeful?
Three separate gatherings in one city against a common enemy? Maybe I bought too much into Mandela and OR Tambo’s dream of South Africa “belonging to all who live in it”. The mental picture I had of Wednesday’s events in the capital consisted of swarms of people dressed in red, blue, green, yellow, white and orange all gathered together on the sprawling lawns of the Union Buildings saying “No” in one voice. Imagine what a powerful message that would have sent to those in power to know that all of these people are tired of their actions, and they’re united in their opposition to it.
Wednesday will go down in history as the day South Africans chose to speak up, but they could have spoken up louder if all those opposed to corruption had co-ordinated their protests beyond party-political lines. Yes, the People’s Assembly provided a safety net for all those were not EFF or DA, but it had the feel and look of “disgruntled comrades”.
The success of the Arab Spring in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya in getting unpopular rulers out of power depended very much on a consistent and united show of force by all those in opposition. South Africans still seem to be sending a split message to the president and his fellow looters: “We all don’t really like you but we’ll all shout from our own little corners.”
I know, I know, “ideological differences” informed the different gatherings. But that’s exactly what is wrong with South Africa. We seem to think ideological purity will lead to an outcome more to the liking of each of these separate groupings. The question has been asked and I’m certain will continue to be asked: Why doesn’t the rest of South Africa rise up in arms when the other section of the country screams “this economic bondage” is a heavy burden to bear, #FeesMustFall? The cop-out that it’s because these protests are violent doesn’t cut it. Have a peaceful People’s Assembly in a Cathedral in support of the students then.
The common refrain in South Africa is to do something when it hurts “the poorest of the poor”. What people mean though is that, if I don’t stand up now and do something about this, there won’t be anything left for me to worry about soon. The truth of the matter is that “the poorest of the poor” will need to be taken along on this journey to restore the values of our constitution.
When opposition groupings lose their myopic outlook and start dealing with issues beyond “ideological differences”, those in power will be scared when people gather against them. The enemy is a common one: corrupt leadership. The remedy for that lies in a strong, united citizenry all speaking with one voice.
Naive, you think? What’s naive is thinking a fragmented opposition and citizenry will succeed in halting this very determined assault on our state. The president has scored far too many own-goals to still be in his seat. Presidents have been impeached for far less in other countries. The structure of our democracy requires some of his closest allies to unseat him. Not likely to happen. The collective resolve of all South Africans to bring change will have to be much stronger than the collective sum of all our ideological differences.