Or­well warned us about this

CityPress - - Voices -

Afew days ago, I came across this in­sight from Bri­tish writer Ge­orge Or­well. To many across the world, he is known for his novel An­i­mal Farm, in which he ex­plores the de­cay of po­lit­i­cal moral­ity in the af­ter­math of a suc­cess­ful re­volt by the op­pressed against their op­pres­sion.

Here is my quo­ta­tion of the day from one of his writ­ings: “A PEO­PLE THAT ELECT COR­RUPT POLITI­CIANS, IM­POSTERS, THIEVES AND TRAITORS ... ARE NOT VIC­TIMS BUT AC­COM­PLICES.” (My caps.)

I think Or­well wrote the book with cit­i­zens of any coun­try in mind. But his mes­sage may have a spe­cial res­o­nance for South Africans right now.

Just more than two decades af­ter free­dom, South African cit­i­zens face a dra­matic and po­ten­tially cat­a­strophic de­cay of po­lit­i­cal moral­ity. This de­cay is spear­headed daily by pow­er­ful elected lead­ers, and is served and sup­ported by nu­mer­ous func­tionar­ies ap­pointed by the lead­ers into key po­si­tions in gov­ern­ment, and in the ar­ray of pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions meant to serve the cit­i­zens. They work to­gether to carry out a mor­bid agenda.

Or­well’s mes­sage is also that cit­i­zens ought to recog­nise the depth of their re­la­tion­ship with pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions. Such in­sti­tu­tions are not there only to serve cit­i­zens, but also so that, in turn, each cit­i­zen has the re­spon­si­bil­ity to such in­sti­tu­tions by elect­ing politi­cians who will strengthen their ca­pac­ity to de­liver on their pub­lic man­date for the good of all.

Elected lead­ers and ap­pointed of­fi­cers who re­peat­edly de­stroy the man­date and ca­pac­ity of pub­lic of­fice and pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions de­serve to no longer be elected or ap­pointed.

It has be­come a self-ev­i­dent re­al­ity – which can be de­rived from the Con­sti­tu­tional Court rul­ing on Nkandla and played out in so many ways in the pub­lic record – that the state pres­i­dent him­self, in the ca­pac­i­ties of both his of­fice and of his per­son, has be­come the source and driver of this willed de­struc­tion. He acts like the in­vis­i­ble WiFi sig­nal – never seen, but caus­ing things to hap­pen; the pull of grav­ity of an un­seen star, but def­i­nitely known to be out there; seen by its pres­ence in le­git­imis­ing pub­lic rit­u­als, but ab­sent in the pub­lic and ac­tive de­fence of those rit­u­als as em­body­ing the power of cor­rec­tive ac­tion.

That is why the de­struc­tive col­lec­tive be­hav­iour of many pub­lic of­fi­cers to­day is no longer a mat­ter of spec­u­la­tion. Day by day, both elected and ap­pointed of­fi­cers con­cert­edly and con­sis­tently con­firm Or­well’s quote of hav­ing be­come “cor­rupt politi­cians, im­posters, thieves and traitors”.

Typ­i­cally, they make an­ti­cor­rup­tion dec­la­ra­tions. All the more are they Or­well’s im­posters!

When cit­i­zens fail to ex­er­cise their re­spon­si­bil­ity to name what they have come to see – to em­brace the con­se­quences of that recog­ni­tion – and when they fail to take cor­rec­tive ac­tion with the power in­her­ent in their hu­man essence (as much as that essence is em­bod­ied in laws, rules and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties they cre­ated and leg­is­lated) their sal­va­tion will lie in their tough recog­ni­tion that no longer are they such vic­tims; that they have trans­formed into ac­com­plices work­ing for their own demise through their si­lence, ig­no­rance, self-ful­fill­ing self­jus­ti­fi­ca­tions, or il­lu­sory en­ti­tle­ments to what fun­da­men­tally de­stroys them­selves and oth­ers.

Yet there are count­less oth­ers who have cho­sen not to be ac­com­plices. The ci­ti­zen­ship they rep­re­sent is of the kind de­manded by the ex­tent of the vis­i­ble de­cay of the pub­lic sphere. It is a ci­ti­zen­ship that cuts across the race, class, gen­der, ed­u­ca­tion, cul­ture, eth­nic­ity, ge­o­graphic lo­ca­tion and po­lit­i­cal loy­al­ties of South Africa’s di­verse cit­i­zenry. It is a solemn re­spon­si­bil­ity shared across these bound­aries.

By def­i­ni­tion, it pro­claims the solemn obli­ga­tion of all cit­i­zens to rise above such bound­aries and to re­con­sti­tute in the col­lec­tive in­ter­est em­bod­ied in what be­longs to them all: South Africa, the land of their past, present and fu­ture.

They are called upon to en­list for a new kind of strug­gle for a fu­ture lib­er­ated from the re­ceived sen­ti­ments in which it be­came so easy to call for the de­struc­tion or end of some­thing, but far more dif­fi­cult to be en­er­gised by a pul­sat­ing urge to cre­ate some­thing new.

What was over­come in 1994 can­not be fought in per­pe­tu­ity long af­ter it was de­feated, even when it may have rein­vented it­self in an or­der pro­claimed to be new but that is in so many ways fun­da­men­tally old, and po­ten­tially more bru­tally re­pres­sive be­cause it was self-in­flicted. I think this is what Ge­orge Or­well meant.

Nde­bele is an author and aca­demic

PHOTO: LEON SADIKI

CLOSE TO HOME Neil Cop­pen’s adap­ta­tion of An­i­mal Farm, which was staged last year, fea­tured an all-fe­male cast

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