There are good leaders. Pity none are in politics
As things stand, voting in SA is like chickens deciding which fox should guard the henhouse
“Enough! Teach these useless politicians a lesson at the polls! Vote them out!”
If you’re 14 years old, or Swedish, these sound like good suggestions. If you’re very young, or very Scandinavian, and you still believe that being in government is the same as being a leader, or that politics and organised crime are different things, then they might even sound like solutions.
If, however, you’re older than 14, and live in South Africa, then they sound like what they are: straws being clutched at by a country circling what might be a drain.
Last week, when the New York Times and Wall Street Journal wrote us up and wrote us off, straws were being clutched by the armful. Which was a pity, because in doing so we missed yet another opportunity to ask ourselves why we keep shooting ourselves in the foot and then getting all upset that we’re missing toes.
“Teach these useless politicians a lesson at the polls”? Which lesson, exactly, would that be? Because we’ve taught them a couple already. Like the one where they are caught stealing enormous amounts of money in an arms deal, and we vote them back into power by a landslide. Like the one where the president buys himself a homestead with our money and we keep voting for him. Like the one where the make-believe revolutionary insults and expels a journalist from a press conference and the media coo over him for years after. Like those lessons?Which brings us to that second, and apparently most sensible exhortation: “Vote them out!”
Of course the ANC must go. Its new godfather might be trying to nudge it into more legitimate business ventures, but it remains a criminal syndicate, an unapologetic mafia dedicated to secrecy, loyalty to the family, and extracting immense amounts of money from its community.
But who replaces it? And when?
Die-hard supporters of the Democratic Alliance keep insisting that their party has a plan. Of course, three hours later the Federal Executive will deny that there is a plan, at which point a deputy mayor will tweet that he’s seen the plan, only for him to be unseated by a coalition of disgruntled former mayors, before Mmusi Maimane steps in. Just that. He just steps in. Into something. Sometimes manure. Sometimes his own mouth.
Sometimes, of course, he doesn’t appear at all, like during the De Lille fiasco in Cape Town, an electoral disaster that has left a pungent odour in the nostrils of once-loyal voters: after all, when a Mexican standoff ends without a shot fired, it’s usually because everyone involved had enough firepower to waste everyone else.
The EFF, on the other hand, definitely has a plan. If you believe that South Africa is completely broken, that capitalism and property rights are a boot on the throat of the masses, and that the only solution is to burn the whole rotten edifice to the ground and start again, then it’s pretty great plan. If, however, you prefer not to live in a pre-industrial commune fuelled by potatoes and rhetoric, then the EFF’s plan is probably less appealing.
So no, I don’t know who to vote for, any more than a chicken can decide which fox should guard the henhouse.
But I don’t feel despair. Instead, I’m frustrated, and, despite everything, depressingly hopeful. Because I know that there are good leaders and good administrators in South Africa. I see their work every day, proving, over and over again, that South Africa staggers on not because of its politicians but despite them.
I see them feeding us, scraping us up and sewing us back together, teaching us to read and write, protecting us. I see farmers and paramedics and primary school teachers and bus drivers and police officers who go to work despite the chaos flung at them from government, and who do their job, and do it well. I see people who know right from wrong, who feel a duty to their people, who don’t like leaving a thing half-done. I see that even though the mafia in parliament has left us punch drunk and full of self-loathing, there are still enough of us who want to build this place into a home.
I don’t know how we get those people into government but it’s got to happen. Because I’ll be damned if I’m going to spend the rest of my life clucking with my fellow fowls about the relative merits of carnivores.