Nwabisa Makunga: Our free fall to mayhem

NwabisaMakungaI can never claim to know how it is to live in a normal society. Growing up in apartheid South Africa, I doubt many of us can.

Even in my childhood I understood that there was nothing normal about police occasionally kicking down our kitchen door, instilling enormous fear, while searching for who knows what in every corner of our home.

Although our democracy subsequently brought tangible change on many fronts, our reality remains one of a nation scarred by manmade structural inequality.

Therefore, I am under no illusion about who we are and where we come from.

It is where we are going that troubles me.

Much has been said, particularly in recent years, about South Africa and the perceived likelihood of a failed state.

By definition, a failed state is that whose ability to provide public services has collapsed.

It is that which has lost its sovereignty, territorial control and monopoly to enforce security.

It is a state which has no legitimacy or authority to govern.

Although we have moved from one governance crisis to another, we must agree that based on this definition, we are not a failed state. At least not yet. I am of the view, however, that such a state does not automatically become a reality. It never does.

It is always heralded by a steady decline.

It is prefaced by an erosion of our moral fibre brought by a constant hammering at sacred values which previously dictated societal standards.

This is where we are at right now.

From daily conversations with friends, family, colleagues and strangers, I have become increasingly disturbed by our national mood.

It is evident that the last few years have brought about a significant shift in what we previously understood to be untouchable ethical boundaries. This is in respect of both the state and our society in general. In the last few years we have hit new lows. We have witnessed events which were previously unfathomable unfold before our eyes.

Perhaps the red flags have always been there, but we ignored them.

We did after all look away when a young woman was hounded out of her country by thugs because she had accused a powerful man of rape.

wigget-useWe missed the glaring signs of political degeneration when ANC Youth League members bared their buttocks as they elected Julius Malema in Bloemfontein back in 2008.

We allowed public servants to fail our children, steal from us again and again, and instead of holding them to account, we rewarded them with our votes and cemented their power.

And now here we are, becoming accustomed to increasing levels of violence in our once dignified parliament.

Granted, I accept that no change will ever happen in a country where law makers are allowed to sleep in their benches.

Yet, I do not believe that vulgarity and the spilling of blood can ever be understood as a healthy test of the strength of our democratic pillars, as some have suggested. I believe it is a sign of our free fall, way past permissible norms of political discourse into a dark place from which it may be difficult to return.

By the way, that the nonsense in our parliament is not exclusive to our republic is for me neither here nor there. Our history demands of us to be better. In fact, it is precisely because we have lowered the bar that we find ourselves in this troubling era. A place where the line between right and wrong is increasingly blurred, where accountability is a farce and impunity prevails.

It is this lowering of the bar that has placed us under the command of a man who speaks with a forked tongue and has come to represent everything we loathe about ourselves.

It is therefore little wonder that it has become permissible for bureaucrats to treat citizens with disdain, to undermine the separation of powers and to scorn those who demand accountability.

It should not be that we are a nation whose courts have become the only recourse we have to compel leaders to act morally and politically justly. Yet we are.

Perhaps because our crisis is deeper than the failures of the state.

We are a society that has allowed rogues to rise while good men fell silent.

This is evident in every area of our life.

It is seen in the prevalence of drugs in our schools, the burning down of universities and how readily we embrace all things criminal.

It is in our acceptance of a culture where young women give their most intimate selves to older men in exchange for champagne and fake hair.

It manifests in how we raise our children to believe that violence and disruption is a legitimate form of resolving disputes.

Yes, just like we are not yet a failed state, I do not believe that we are yet a broken society.

There are many men and women committed to making this nation work. Every day we stand on their shoulders. For their patriotism, I am eternally grateful. But let us be frank, if we continue as we are, the consequence of our choices may in due course become too heavy a burden to carry, even for them.

Unless we deliberately change course, I fear that the direction we have taken – intentionally or not – will only lead to that dark, unspeakable place from which we have no immunity.

Nwabisa Makunga is the deputy editor of The Herald and Weekend Post

One thought on “Nwabisa Makunga: Our free fall to mayhem

  • February 16, 2017 at 10:19 am

    could not have said this better myself. a lot of what has been said in this article is the way I feel. we need to stop this downhill slide and we need to do it quickly. we are breeding a society of destruction in our young,. many adults are not being role models for their children and ARE teaching them how to destroy instead of negotiate or be the change that is needed in this country.


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