WADING IN THE QUAGMIRE OF FRUSTRATION AND OPTIMISM
Hollywood’s scriptwriters in search of rich content and material for crime and corruption documentaries, would do well to visit South Africa and immerse themselves into the headline news that citizens are subjected to daily.
My guess is that the mindboggling jailbreak arranged by a murderer / serial rapist prisoner and his award-winning doctor-lover – who took full advantage of a corruption infested prison system and the confused, ineffective, and probably equally corrupt criminal justice system – is being discussed by Netflix scriptwriters as we speak. Throw in a clueless chief of police, seemingly more interested in the choice of his hat than finding real solutions for the ever-escalating crime that we are faced with daily, and you have the makings of a successful crime series that will have international audiences glued to their screens.
Unfortunately, this is our reality, and we are becoming numb to it. I don’t know about you, but I often receive social media headline screen grabs with messages from people abroad asking, “Is this true?”. Embarrassingly for my beloved SA, my answer usually is: “I’m afraid so. Unbelievable, isn’t it?”
The tragedy is that we share the satire and jokes about our numerous crises and the disastrous state of government, to numb our frustration and seek some semblance of sanity amidst the degradation and unnecessary chaos that permeates our everyday lives.
More frustrating is that, given the political will, this is a mess that can be fixed – it won’t even be that difficult to fix it! Turnaround strategies, be they for businesses or countries, must just start somewhere, and the sooner you begin, the sooner you will see results. A good starting point would be to sort out the priorities that will become the catalyst to speeding up the journey to a prosperous country. But that’s the glitch: our government clearly lacks the political will.
A quick example. By now, one would expect parliament and others to have introduced a new law to declare all crimes against Eskom (including theft or sabotage of pylon parts, cables, Eskom’s own coal, machinery, and parts inside our power plants etc.) as acts of treason, carrying the highest penalties for those who commit these crimes against the state. The only reason why we don’t have such laws yet, is clearly because it gets in the way of political agendas, and yet again underlines the lack of political will. And thus thickens the plot of parliament’s decision (well, strictly speaking it was only one political party’s decision) to decline an in-depth forensic investigation into criminal networks that have undermined Eskom’s electricity generation capacity.
The biggest crime of all that impacts negatively on every South African (albeit in varying degrees), is the lack of effective crime fighting by the police service. We know the SAPS has many good people who mean well and do good work, but for as long as we have a police minister like Bheki Cele, who has become an embarrassment to the nation, we will never develop an inspired, motivated and service-oriented culture throughout the police, making them efficient, proud and productive in their service to the people. This minister, as is the case with several others, is oblivious to the public’s negative perception of him and his almost non-existent service delivery. One can only speculate what it is that possesses the President to keep such poor leadership in these important, powerful positions.
Of all the matters that have angered citizens over the past few weeks, the Gupta brothers’ failed extradition from the UAE probably ranks number one. This is an even greater escape than that of Thabo Bester! One even wonders if they ever set foot in a Dubai prison in the first place. And what effort will now be put into hunting them down and updating the Interpol red lists in the hope that another country will do the work that we expected the UAE to do?
With public and business frustration levels at an all-time high amidst the significant decline in service delivery from national to local government level, questions abound as to what the way forward should be. Aside from the ongoing work conducted by civil society, the obvious answer is a democratic one that involves very necessary political leadership change, which is why the 2024 national and provincial elections (some 15 or so months away) provides an extremely crucial opportunity for South Africa. No wonder it is attracting the attention of many stakeholders, old and new political parties, and civil society at large.
When it comes to OUTA’s actions in the past month or so, I’d like to assure our supporters that OUTA’s stance to litigate and challenge government’s State of Disaster on electricity matters was meaningful and a significant success for the people of South Africa. Once again, as it was with the e-toll scheme and other irrational decisions, we have played a responsible role in challenging a government clearly out of touch with the needs of its people. President Ramaphosa often says that he heads up a government that listens and engages meaningfully with civil society. This is definitely not the case, and OUTA will continue to speak up on behalf of all South Africans. We will also be challenging Treasury’s intentions to grant Eskom a three-year exemption from reporting on irregular, fruitless and wasteful expenditure. Read more about our input on both matters elsewhere in this newsletter.
While OUTA remains apolitical, its mandate includes efforts to improve processes that aid and abet greater prosperity in South Africa. In this regard, we will be exploring efforts (funds and resources permitting), to drive higher voter participation and civil society oversight of the 2024 elections. This country needs as many of its citizens over the age of 18 years to understand why and how their voting power can bring about change. Society needs to break the mindset that an outdated, dominant revolutionary party, which has created a lot of misery and pushes more people into poverty and joblessness every day, can continue to have a stranglehold on government.
The extent and levels of economic decay and mismanagement is reaching alarming proportions, and it’s giving rise to growing hopelessness and a national psyche that could slide into a depressed state of mind. There is however a very high probability the current ruling party (the primary cause of our decline) won’t be in power in 16-months’ time, and that probability gets stronger every day. In fact, it’s beginning to look more possible each passing month, that even an ANC-EFF alliance might not cross the 50% hurdle. But that will depend on several factors, including the will of civil society to get out there and do the hard yards of being the change that we want to see. We will share more insights in this regard going forward.
I’m reminded of something Mark Barnes said at OUTA’s business breakfast in November last year: “South Africans are all feeling unwell, but apparently, we are not sick enough yet to take hands. We need to stand together and start listening to each other.” I agree with Mark, and want to reiterate that our country can still be saved. What we now need is to stand together and not allow ourselves to be divided as a nation. Division is something that populist politicians would like to drive because it feeds their agenda. And we don’t need that – or them, for that matter.
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Wayne and OUTA team.