SA pot will boil over eventually
Those who have studied uprisings will argue that there are certain basic conditions that render a society ripe for such – among them a growing inequality, sense of misgovernance, failing leadership and disgruntlement among the middle classes and intellectuals in the establishment.
These readers of history also cite the growing distance between the leadership and the people, a phenomenon that leads those in power to become deaf to the voices around them. The state then becomes paranoid, spies on and unleashes violence on its citizens. A decisive element, which results from a combination of some or all of the above, is distrust of those in power.
If those who run this country, many of whom were trained in revolutionary theory, were to honestly consider these factors, they’d be worried.
It is common cause that we are one of the most unequal societies on the planet. We know about the misgovernance that is felt most harshly by those in working class neighbourhoods. The leadership failure needs no further elaboration. Middle class resentment has been palpable for some time now, as has been the mutual disdain between Number 1 and the intellectual class.
The distance between the leadership and the people is visible in the daily protests by those who feel they are not being adequately served by the current order. When you listen to all the conspiracy theories coming from the mouths of those who are feigning leadership, and consider the violent – but still relatively restrained – clashes between the police and protestors, you would see the state busy girding its loins against the people.
Then we come to the all-important matter of trust. The current administration has spent the past seven years squandering this commodity – so much so that people roll their eyes – much like the president during Nkandla question time – whenever government makes a new promise or announcement.
What is bizarre and disconcerting about this squandering of trust is that it was done with eyes wide open. Ministers of state piled lie upon lie in their bid to protect a corruptible man from any form of accountability. In doing so, they were eroding the legitimacy, authority and dignity of the state.
Three events of the past two weeks stand out as demonstrations of how this legitimacy and dignity have been undermined.
The first was the release of the long-awaited Seriti commission report into the multibillion-rand arms deal. The dismissive manner in which the report was received demonstrated just how distrustful many have become of authority. It was a case of: “Oh, but what did you expect? It was always going to be a whitewash.” Even worse was the fact that it was being read out by someone with zero credibility in most quarters.
The second was the Freedom Day celebrations, during which the head of state sang the praises of the Constitution that he had recently been found to have violated, and which he had mocked by issuing ministers with slap-on-the-wrist reprimands. With a straight face, he told a nation, which cannot wait to see the back of him, that “what is important is that we should humble ourselves” and “if you were elected at one point and people no longer want you, humble yourself”.
Just in case the nation was getting excited that this was a prelude to a momentous announcement about his own future, he quickly made it clear that he was referring to other people, such as the councillors who will be elected on August 3.
On the following day, he presided over the conferring of the national orders, a solemn occasion on which the republic honours its finest and salutes its honourable friends. But with the most dirt-laden individual conferring the awards, the occasion lost much of its sheen. Important as it still was, his presence in the picture denuded it of much of its dignity.
The week was completed with the “spy tapes” judgment, in which the North Gauteng High Court ruled that the 2009 decision by the National Prosecuting Authority to set aside Zuma’s corruption charges in 2009 was irrational. That decision, by then acting national director of public prosecutions Mokotedi Mpshe, was one of the most disgraceful episodes in democratic South Africa’s history. It was essentially the result of crass bullying, when an ANC task team strong-armed Mpshe into dropping the charges so that Zuma would not have to park his VIP car outside the court instead of in the Union Buildings parkade. The long-term effect of the decision has been devastating to organs of state and the national wellbeing.
Zuma and his sidekicks will brush off the judgment as “just one of those things”. They will continue their Stalingrad-style campaign by taking the matter to the higher courts, unperturbed by the costs, as these will be borne by the South African public. An angry public will grow angrier. The leadership will be deaf to their anger. The paranoid state will react to their restlessness with old-fashioned kragdadigheid.
It may not be tomorrow, next month or next year, but the tensions will eventually mount and morph into something more than perturbing.