We are a nation fatigued by years of endless corruption, an underperforming public sector, a relentless pandemic, a lethargic vaccine roll-out and a bout of looting and destruction to boot. Will these seemingly endless waves of challenges that stunt our prosperity and livelihood subside? And how do we deal with them?
To be honest, they never go away - not in any part of the world. Let’s compare the situation with a coastline ocean tossing wave upon wave at the shoreline, sometimes wild with destructive violence, but largely of mild wave action in harmony and equilibrium with the environment. The heightened destruction and erosion of coastlines (which I liken to national prosperity), happens when water levels rise (from stronger international competitive forces and reduced investment enabled environment), and landmass subsidence (the weight of an inept and corruptible government). Every nation and society are having to deal with their own waves of issues and challenges. Some with more turbulence and others with less.
The solution to reducing the erosion of our societal prosperity, is to stop the knee-jerk reactions that attempt to temporarily barricade and break the waves of destruction on the surface (a sand-bagging reaction). Long term prosperity is achieved through addressing the major underlying sources of the problems. Our underlying currents that raise our destructive water levels and make us uncompetitive or lacklustre as an investment destination, are largely attributed to the cancerous trio of inept leadership, lack of transparency and minimal accountability. Adding to our depression and ‘subsiding landmass’ is the ongoing political meddling by a bloated and inefficient government, stuck in a time-warp of revolutionary party politics and outdated ideologies.
Both ‘rising waters’ and ‘landmass subsidence’ situations tend to feed off each other and worsen our plight, until something (state collapse) or someone (statesmanship) intervenes. The age-old adage rings true - human beings are the source of their own problems.
Today, it doesn’t matter what our past collective energy was that helped us to achieve a new democracy and launch our democratic South Africa. Obviously, we should cherish that energy and never forget the remarkable achievements. However, today’s destructive energy has different forces and requires different solutions. While we have dragged with us the inability to grapple with meaningful economic inclusivity, the Zuma era added heaps of new baggage generated by an inefficient, bloated and corruption infested government, eroding our already fragile landscape of failing education and healthcare systems, weak security, unemployment, poverty and inequality. Suffer more, the beloved country.
However, just as the rot was allowed to take hold and drained the nation, so too is it possible to reverse this situation. Instead of allowing our mental defence mechanism to become fatigued and switch off, civil society must become relentless and heightened in our resilience and quest for positive change. We cannot allow our national psyche of depression and fatigue to take hold and place us forever on the back foot (of excuses and complaining), as opposed to the front foot (of change, progress, and opportunity).
It’s precisely the back-foot scenario that diminishes our ability to believe in that which is possible and feeds our sense of helplessness and apathy. This is when we stop seeing or celebrating the good things and events taking place right under our noses, some of it essential for the long-term fix of the underlying currents of destruction. We underestimate the immense strides in the application of the rule of law and quickly forget how, just a few months ago most scoffed at any suggestion that Jacob Zuma could be jailed, or that Ace Magashule would be fired from the ANC-NEC. We let the waves of bad news and chaos consume us. We become fatigued and stop noticing or riding a set of constructive waves that roll in.
The continuous exposure and debate on the destructive forces playing out within the corridors of Luthuli House - which has a habit of spilling over to the Union Buildings - adds energy to necessary underlying changes required. By focussing on the epicentre for real change, more is exposed about the archaic and aging party-political ideologies that gets in the way of our potential prosperity as a nation. If we allow or ignore forces that promote poor governance and inefficient administration to thrive within government, it does not matter that we have a great constitution, incredible resources, and great human diversity,
It is also the role of civil society to applaud and support leadership that speaks out against cadre deployment and mediocrity. By feeding positive energy and applauding the removal of compromised and corrupt leaders, momentum is applied beyond the conflicted ruling party and into cabinet and government decisions. The constant exposure, debate and action taken by civil society has created the sufficient energy to remove the likes of Zuma and Magashule, along with once seemingly good people like Mkhize from the system. Debates on the removal of an ANC elected Public Protector is gaining momentum and moral courage is heightened for decisions that ought to determine the fate of others, like the ever-absent Deputy President Mabuza (despite his enablement of Ramaphosa’s rise to Presidency), who do not deserve to fill positions of power in South Africa.
Ours is a role of relentless pressure for positive change. For greater accountability and transparency. We do this through a combination of resilience and collaboration with other civil activist organisations, coupled with credible media-house journalism, engaging with the powers, laying charges where we can, and remaining relentless in our quest to create discomfort for those who abuse their positions of power.
Let us never sit back and breathe a sigh of relief in the false belief that the subsiding of a concentrated and destructive wave makes us bullet-proof as a nation. Many more destructive waves will rise if we don’t encourage the real work that must be done to address the underlying issues undermining our ability to address poverty, inequality and increased prosperity for all.
If we can fix the underlying issues with verve and conviction, the right stuff will fall into place. Not overnight, but in a relatively short space of time, a-la Rwanda, South Korea, Singapore and many other countries. Within five to ten years, we can become the powerhouse and attractive investment destination of the continent. Just as quickly as our country was brought to its knees, we can build it up.
The pace of that change, however, will depend on political will to do so. Let us all add to that energy and never become fatigued by the waves of negativity that surround us.