The ANC’s fall has left many a lost soul behind. Hallelujah!
When Zuma dragged the ANC out of heaven and pressed its face into the gutter, he made it mortal
For the last few days, a man has sat beside a morbidly decorated camper van alongside the Sea Point promenade, blasting gospel music at nobody in particular.
The van is covered with phrases attributed to the Bible, although I don’t remember the bit in John 3 that says: “It’s all about Jesus.” A large wooden cross has been fastened to one side; a crown of thorns dangles from the mirror.
The man doesn’t approach anyone. He just sits there, singing along to the McMelodies booming across the bay. He is not so much a fisher of men as a mechanised gill-netter. He has, it seems, decided that broadcasting his faith is as good as actively going out and trying to convert people.
I’ve watched politicians do the same thing in the last few weeks. The belief is strong, the amplifiers are pumping, but most of the evangelising seems to have been done in stadiums full of converts. Lost souls have been left to wander unsaved.
Their message, too, has been lazy, although perhaps details aren’t a good idea when you’re trying to win hearts instead of minds. Some of the smaller newcomers have been especially bad in this regard, spinning silly yarns about what they’ll do once they’re in power (presumably 20 years from now) instead of explaining what practical difference they plan to make with the one seat they hope to win.
To exhausted, jaded voters, this could all sound dispiritingly familiar; just more yelling from the row of self-appointed prophets loitering in the shade of the temple. But I also see a gleam of hope. Because, for the first time in the new dispensation, we have the chance of becoming more secular, perhaps even metaphorically atheist, in our politics.
I know this sounds odd given the messianic approach of, for example, the EFF. The ATM and ACDP are literally religious organisations. Even the newly formed Capitalist Party seems to be offering a distinctly Old Testament version of reality. Eighteen months ago one of its founding members tweeted: “Water is not a human right,” which, when combined with the party’s hope that teenagers be taught to handle firearms, offers a glimpse of a Bronze Age future in which the only way you stay hydrated is if you and your teens outgun the rival clan at the watering hole.
But change is possible, thanks to an unexpected reformer: Jacob Zuma.
When he dragged the ANC out of heaven and pressed its face into the gutter, he made it mortal. When he hacked off its wings because they were too “clever”, and sold its halo for a crate of Johnnie Blue, he severed its connection to the god-like omnipresence and infallibility it had enjoyed since its founding. He made it a dirty, earthly thing and, in so doing, gave SA’s politics a chance to free itself from its centuries-old dependence on prophets; to evolve and mature into complexity and nuance.
To be fair, the coming era of coalition politics won’t always look complex and nuanced: a lot of the time it will just be a lot of shouting and finger-pointing.
But it is possible that, behind the noise and posturing, a new way of doing things will slowly take root; a new politics in which fewer decisions are carved on tablets by Luthuli House and more are argued over, justified, debated, trashed and rebuilt from scratch. As we slowly start to understand that government is a human creation and not the will of the gods, we might even begin to focus on policy and implementation rather than promises and rhetoric.
It will be difficult. We will have to learn entirely new ways of judging politicians: coalitions will shelter the wretched and obscure the excellent. But at least it has the potential to be a future in which parties are judged on what they do rather than what they say.
Jacob Zuma’s second term, in which already-predatory politics were overwhelmed by frenzied extraction, was the beginning of the end of post-apartheid SA. That wicked project was exposed by the brave people who leaked the Gupta hard drives, and partially derailed by the journalists, opposition parties and activist groups that responded with such ferocity and tenacity. The end was averted, at least for now.
Of course, we are still in deep trouble. Slowly expelling criminals from a criminal organisation doesn’t magically transform it into a functioning government. It just leaves it weaker. But that weakness is our country’s chance.
Three and a half years ago, as Zuma appointed Des van Rooyen to unlock the Treasury doors, we gasped in disbelief at the beginning of the end.
I hope we now stand, older and wiser in our experience and disillusionment, at the end of the beginning.