State of country
I WROTE in a letter published on February 20: “Finally we all need a change of heart – how that might happen is for another day” (“State of nation assessment fails dismally with poor content”). That day has arrived!
This letter is about the troubling state of affairs in which the country now finds itself. On that basis I would urge that nobody, and I include myself, should hold politicians to a higher set of moral standards than we expect from ourselves.
But by the same token, we should not allow politicians off the hook for treating political life as if it were outside the demands of reality and other societal norms. Importantly it is incumbent upon all of us, politicians included, “to think it possible that we (they) might be mistaken” to use the words of Oliver Cromwell.
There seems also to be a need for a change in the way society looks at the government. For example the budget ought not be about what the government is to do for society, but rather about justice for all and compassion for the needy and, importantly, what contribution we can make to community.
I opposed apartheid all my life, but did so from the comfort of skewed privilege. I certainly haven’t a clue what it is like to be classed as a “second-class citizen” and all the indignities that went with it.
So if the promised “better life for all” means that those upon whom the power to govern has been conferred via the ballot box wish to enjoy these same privileges, I have no problem with that. The difficulty comes with excesses and entitlement!
Essentially we are called to be mercifully grateful to the moment (where we now find ourselves), patient with human failure and equally generous towards the maddening issues of our time. For me that is the shape of Christian salvation, indeed all salvation!
The political settlement at Codesa that gave South Africa democracy unfortunately did not give attention to a key issue, namely “how to tackle the poverty and inequality our past created without damaging the country’s ability to create wealth” (Allistair Sparks). An economic Codesa has been proposed, but the ruling elite thinks there is no problem with the way things are going (their way) and is not keen on the idea.
However, the five giant evils of want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness are still staring us in the face!
There have certainly been a raft of well-intended interventions to redress the injustices of the past, there have been many, many changes for the good and South Africa is a better, more open society than ever it was. We are however plagued by avarice, corruption, patronage, mismanagement, poor personnel selection, missed opportunities, mistrust, conflicting ideologies, an inefficient and bloated administration, runaway consumption, low production, depressed world trade, inflation and a serious balance of payment problem.
Alarmingly only the courts and civil society can slow the accelerated drift from constitutionalism to an unfettered executive, a tendency started in the Thabo Mbeki years but accelerated under Jacob Zuma. I am also not sure that our new friends are going to bring home the bacon for us: I certainly would not want South African society to evolve along the lines of what is on offer in either Russia and China, while Brazil is far from a model society!
In 1994 there seemed to be a discernable desire to find an answer to the question: “Who is my neighbour?” This spirit has all but evaporated and our nation is rapidly showing signs of renewing the hostilities of the past along the same fault lines.
There is a direct contradiction in the attitude of a society which prides itself, indeed champions equality in principle, yet stresses and treats some people, especially the vulnerable poor, certain sectors of the population and refugees, as unwanted, unvalued and unnoticed.
There are very capable people of goodwill in all our political groupings. Is it asking too much that we/they put differences behind us and steer the “ship of state” in the direction that Nelson Mandela intended?
We need an honest account of how we must live now and into the future (not promises of how it is all going to come good!) and if future generations are not to inherent a denuded and exhausted country. Debts national or personal are never good news. Indebtedness means handing power over one’s life to creditors and widespread indebtedness is yet another manifestation of the accumulation of power in too few hands.
Various approaches to improve the wellbeing of the nation at a local level have been attempted but appear not to have succeeded. These attempts and others in similar vein are unlikely ever to succeed unless social relationships are marked by neighbourliness, strong voluntary commitment and personal responsibility (very difficult in cities and towns divided by apartheid).
Members of parliament, ward councillors, mayors, etc ought to be elected by constituents living in each constituency or town and city: voters voting for people they trust to represent local interests first and foremost. There is no need for representatives to be thrust upon local communities by party bosses.
There must surely be a better way of achieving what Nelson Mandela had in mind for South Africa.
“Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8). I have an idea that this is what Mandela was striving for!
-Andrew Tainton, Chelsea Conservancy, Port Elizabeth