Some fixing needed
It is difficult to celebrate our heritage when real issues are undermining nationbuilding
AS has bec ome customary every National H eritage D ay, South Africa w ent thr ough the motions of debating what exactly our heritage is and whether having a braai is an appropriate way of mar king the da y.
It is one of the thing s we do e very year, with the holiday providing the opportunity to examine and celebrate our diversity, quirks and South Africanness.
At the official Heritage Day celebrations in the Western Province, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa said South Africans dare not ignore their heritage.
“In isiZulu w e sa y: ‘ Indlela ibuzw a kwabaphambili’. B efore w e undert ake any journey, we must remember where we come from and learn from those who have gone before us,” Ramaphosa said.
On the same day, President Jacob Zuma was addressing the United Nations general as sembly in N ew York, telling the world of South Africa’s “good story” in implementing the Millennium Development Go als.
The goal of reducing by half the num ber of people earning less than a dollar a day has been achieved, and South Africa has also attained the goal of providing access to primary education for all.
The president said South Africa has recorded “impr essive pr ogress” through the expansion of health infrastructure and improved access to health services f or all South Africans.
Sometimes we do not pay enough attention to the great achievements of our country and acknowledge that, by global standards, there is movement in the right dir ection. But when you look at events in the news over the past week, it is not difficult t o see why the country’s achie vements ar e mitig ated b y negative sentiment.
Large p arts of G auteng ha ve been without water for a week due to a power cut at the main pumping s tation. The crisis in South Africa’ s ec onomic hub shows no sign of abating, with the City of Johannesburg and Rand Water unable to give answers as to how they will resolve the mat ter.
Crime statistics released by the Minister of Police and National Police Commissioner las t week sho w that South Africa is less safe than it was two years ago, with a spike in murders, house robberies and hij ackings.
The figures show that there were 800 more murders in the past financial year and house robberies increased by more than seven percent across the country.
Crime analysts say the lat est statistics show that the police do not appear to have a clear strategy to deal with the increase, particularly in contact crimes.
On Thursday and yesterday, the parliamentary ad hoc committee considering the public protector’s report on the Nkandla upgrades was bogged down on whether the president should be called to account for theexcessive state spending at his pri vate home.
The meeting saw a battle of wits between ANC and opposition MPs about whether Zuma should be made t o answer the que stions he a voided during the public protector and Special Inves tigating Unit in vestigations.
The ANC ar gued c onsistently that the pr esident c ould not ha ve kno wn how much was being spent and that the public pr otector’s r ecommendations, which include that Zuma should reimburse the state for undue benefits, were advisory r ather than mandat ory. T he ANC w ants the g overnment officials and contractors involved in the project to face the consequences, but does not believe that the homeo wner should have t o. Opposition MP s ar gued that a c onstitutional crisis is on the car ds if the president is not held to account.
All these events relate to very different aspects of South African lief and im pact on people diff erently.
Their collective effect, however, is to mitigate against national cohesion and a sense of w ellness in the c ountry.
It is difficult to celebrate South Africa’s achie vements and herit age w hen people are denied basic rights, feel unsafe and government leaders refuse to be held to account for wanton spending.
They are real issues that undermine national c ohesion and mak e people negative about South Africa.
Without these being dealt with, nationbuilding will be c osmetic. • Ranjeni Munusamy is a political journalist and commentator for the Daily Maverick. r an[email protected]