We progress in re­verse, we great pre­tenders

We’ll soon learn to keep politi­cians on short leashes for vot­ers to yank

The Star Late Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS - DE­NIS BECK­ETT

THE wa­ter is off, again, as I write. Yes­ter­day it was power – off at sun­rise, re­turned by noon, van­ished again an hour af­ter night­fall. We’d barely done the out­age round-up, scratch­ing for torches and can­dles and so­lar jars, when it put in its sec­ond reap­pear­ance.

That’s a mixed ex­pe­ri­ence. Prompt restora­tion con­jures up images of ea­ger tech­ni­cians speed­ing to the res­cue, ur­gent to serve their pub­lic and up­hold their pro­fes­sional hon­our, a quick apolo­getic kiss for the fam­ily as they rush out the door.

The truth may be a surly grump growl­ing curses while he re­sent­fully re­pairs a glitch that his own care­less­ness just caused, but rapid re­cov­ery be­stows a de­fault air of hero­ism on the coun­cil and its brave and noble work­force. It also means a twinge of let-down, nor­mal­ity re­assert­ing con­trol even while breached rou­tine is wav­ing its in­vi­ta­tion to a small ad­ven­ture.

The in­sis­tent mean­ing, though, is the dis­lodg­ing of an­other brick from the frag­ile fortress of our con­fi­dence. We’d at­tuned to a dis­rup­tion every sev­eral months; we’ve grad­u­ated to sev­eral dis­rup­tions every month. Weirdly, we’re worse off than when they con­fessed it, call­ing it load shed­ding and giv­ing us a sched­ule.

Now, the start is a mys­tery, the end is a mys­tery, and the cause is a mys­tery. The switch­board’s phrase, “Our tech­ni­cians are work­ing on it,” need only shuf­fle the named sub­urbs.

It’s far from in­tol­er­a­ble but it isn’t ig­nor­able. Try as we might, the drum­ming in the back of the head keeps get­ting louder, the drum that says: “This isn’t progress, we’re in re­verse.”

The main mea­sure­ments are statis­tics, GDP, bal­ance of trade and em­ploy­ment and all. In none of those are we shin­ing, but right now we are talk­ing of gut im­pacts, the ones need­ing no pro­cess­ing to tell their tale. There, num- ber 2 is surely the tap that de­liv­ers no wa­ter, and num­ber 3 is the switch that de­liv­ers no power.

Which leaves the top slot for that car­i­ca­ture sight, the bro­ken traf­fic-light. That’s funny, at a time that the van­ish­ing traf­fic light is a grow­ing sight of su­per-progress in ex­per­i­men­tal towns such as Hol­land’s Drachten, Ger­many’s Bohmte, China’s Tekes in Xin­jiang, Uygur.

There, lights are pur­pose­fully up­rooted to make way for driv­ers’ dis­cre­tion. It’s the op­po­site phe­nom­e­non from places where a flat­tened light pole can spend a decade blockad­ing the pave­ment like an ob­sta­cle-race, clas­sic sym­bol of a flat­tened so­ci­ety.

South of the Lim­popo had es­caped that flat­tened sym­bol till now. We thought/hoped we’d by­passed it. Now, the hints and fore­run­ners keep smit­ing our eyes and ears, and souls.

The chief irony is that we all know why we are on this path. Highly pub­lic ev­i­dence rolls out all the time. Two sim­ple rea­sons, our pub­lic funds be­ing stolen dry by so-called pub­lic ser­vants, and roles be­ing al­lo­cated by cri­te­ria other than the ca­pac­ity to do the job.

We’ve be­come a na­tion of great pre­tenders, pre­tend­ing we can play ducks and drakes with our sup­ply of abil­ity and go un­pun­ished, pre­tend­ing we can blame it on his­tory that we have let cor­rup­tion be­come our norm.

One day we’ll take it as self-ev­i­dent that we make the best use we can of all the skills we have. We’ll look back on to­day’s race-ob­sessed anti-racism as no less ru­inous than the know-your-place prej­u­dices that bot­tled up ad­vance­ment for so long. One day we’ll take it as ob­vi­ous that we keep our politi­cians on short stout leashes for their vot­ers to yank at any time.

At core, peo­ple want de­cency, ef­fi­ciency, hon­esty, sta­bil­ity. Put their votes on steroids and there’ll be no mis­tak­ing what progress is.

Con­tact Stoep: E-mail: dbeck­ett@global.co.za

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