Sunday Times


Re­views Ju­dith Fe­bru­ary’s ju­di­cious new book

- Car­los Am­ato @Car­losCar­toons Africa · South Africa · Thabo Mbeki · Nelson Mandela · Andorra · Polokwane City F.C. · Economic Freedom Fighters · Kroonstad · Democratic Alternative

A pot of gold at the end of the Rain­bow Na­tion?

Turn­ing and Turn­ing: Ex­plor­ing the Com­plex­i­ties of SA’s Democ­racy ★★★★ Ju­dith Fe­bru­ary,

Pi­cador Africa, R280

With SA’s po­lit­i­cal econ­omy feel­ing as stuck as a 24year-old lump of chew­ing gum, the mo­ment is right for grounded per­spec­tive on the coun­try’s demo­cratic jour­ney. This pacy ac­count, fea­tur­ing a mix of mem­oir and anal­y­sis, hits the mark.

Since the late ’90s Ju­dith Fe­bru­ary has un­der­taken crit­i­cal re­search and ad­vo­cacy on gov­er­nance is­sues in SA. While at the In­sti­tute for a Demo­cratic Al­ter­na­tive in South Africa (Idasa), she fought tire­lessly for a full ac­count­ing of the graft in­volved in the late-’90s arms deal, and later for trans­parency in po­lit­i­cal party fund­ing.

Nei­ther bat­tle has yet been won, but the war is long, as her book makes clear.

Fe­bru­ary pro­vides a par­tic­u­larly clear-eyed ac­count of the con­ti­nu­ities and causal links be­tween the Zuma era and the Mbeki era, and even the Man­dela era be­fore it. The pub­lic dis­course — par­tic­u­larly the ad hominem lan­guage of Mbeki’s fac­tion against its crit­ics to the left and right alike — be­came coarser and more in­flam­ma­tory.

This, she notes, sowed the seeds of the Polok­wane re­volt and all the rhetor­i­cal, eth­i­cal and in­sti­tu­tional de­cay that fol­lowed.

There is a sim­i­lar long view in her anal­y­sis of state cap­ture. Its ori­gins, she ar­gues, stretch way back to what might be de­scribed as the orig­i­nal sin of the demo­cratic era — the sign­ing of the arms deal. Fe­bru­ary coau­thored a sem­i­nal re­port by Idasa on the vol­ley of hideously waste­ful arms trans­ac­tions and their poi­sonous ef­fect on the in­tegrity of the state in 2001.

Among the ca­su­al­ties of the arms deal, she says, was the vigour of the stand­ing com­mit­tee on pub­lic ac­counts, which be­came a par­ti­san bat­tle­ground in­stead of the rel­a­tively non­par­ti­san watch­dog that it should be. But all is not lost: the epic scale of the Zuma-era cor­rup­tion, Fe­bru­ary notes, has reawak­ened the pub­lic’s con­cern about the strength and pro­tec­tion of pub­lic in­sti­tu­tions — from par­lia­ment to the Chap­ter 9 in­sti­tu­tions to the me­dia to the ju­di­ciary — that mon­i­tor and curb ex­ec­u­tive power. When dam­aged, these in­sti­tu­tions can be re­paired. But hav­ing seen the slow progress of the de­cay in metic­u­lous de­tail, Fe­bru­ary warns that re­cov­ery is not a quick or easy process.

She also ex­plores the in­creas­ingly frac­tious and racialised tenor of our na­tional di­a­logue in re­cent years — at least as it is en­acted and re­flected in the me­dia and so­cial me­dia.

SA is un­der­go­ing an au­topsy of the fan­tasy of the “Rain­bow Na­tion”, she ar­gues. But the re­ac­tionary na­ture of the de­bate — not least in the pop­ulist the­atrics and vi­o­lent rhetoric of the EFF — about what sort of re­al­ity should re­place the fan­tasy is tak­ing us nowhere.

The true, sim­mer­ing po­ten­tial of our so­ci­ety, she sug­gests, lies in the emerg­ing world­view of Mokoni Chaka and Evert du Preez, the two Kroon­stad boys who res­cued in­jured pas­sen­gers from the wreck­age of a train in Jan­uary this year. The 12-yearold he­roes have been best friends since preschool, and they are both bilin­gual in Sotho and Afrikaans. “Hulle is baie erg oor mekaar,” said Du Preez’s mother. (“They are very se­ri­ous about each other.”)

“This should not be unusual in SA but it is,” writes Fe­bru­ary. “It is in the in­no­cence of two 12year-old boys that we un­der­stand that [Man­dela’s] vi­sion is worth fight­ing for every day and every inch of the way.” Even in this jaded mo­ment, Fe­bru­ary re­fuses to give up on the slow trans­for­ma­tive power of democ­racy it­self — an ideal that she sep­a­rates from its rain­bow­ist rhetoric. LS

 ?? Pic­ture: YouTube ?? Evert du Preez and Mokoni Chaka, two friends who res­cued in­jured pas­sen­gers from a train wreck in Kroon­stad this year.
Pic­ture: YouTube Evert du Preez and Mokoni Chaka, two friends who res­cued in­jured pas­sen­gers from a train wreck in Kroon­stad this year.
 ??  ?? Ju­dith Fe­bru­ary
Ju­dith Fe­bru­ary
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