Ditch the post-lockdown illusions. Our thuggish leaders will ...

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Ditch the post-lockdown illusions. Our thuggish leaders will still be here

We won’t miraculously be rid of mediocre politicians, broken systems and authorities given to violence

Columnist
Cops and the army have their hands full keeping locals in line.
Now don't move! Cops and the army have their hands full keeping locals in line.
Image: Alon Skuy

They were so close they could taste freedom. Unless that was just the Ghost Pops they’d had an hour ago mixed with the Christmas tree air freshener hanging from the mirror. But either way, they’d made it to the southern border of eSwatini, and nothing lay between them and their escape into SA.

At least, nothing as quaintly local as a border post. According to the report by News24, the two British citizens who pulled up to the Golela border crossing on Saturday were just modern enough to queue at the checkpoint and to be denied entry into SA. But at that point they apparently embraced their colonial heritage by disregarding local customs, slammed their rental into top gear and hightailed it across the border anyway.

You will be reassured to learn that the pair was arrested. But what I find much less reassuring is that they were arrested at a guesthouse in Durban, more than 300km away.

Now, according to national police spokesperson Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo, the pair drove through the border crossing at high speed and “evaded the police who had given chase”. Clearly, they had a running start. But, with all due respect to our police and the limits of horsepower, there is evading and then there is blazing down an otherwise empty N2 for around two hours, during a national lockdown in which our police and army are everywhere and apparently itching to sjambok or humiliate anything that moves.

It’s possible that there’s more to this story than two entitled Poms making a dash for better digs. It’s possible, for example, that that they were allowed to get all the way to Durban as part of some sort of sting operation. There may be be very good reasons why, once they evaded the police at the border, they were not stopped by officers from the stations in Richards Bay, or Esikhawini, or Mtunzini, or KwaGingindlovu, or Mandini, or Newark, or KwaDukuza, or Umhlali, or Tongaat, or Verulam, or Umhlanga. Perhaps police radios don’t work on Saturdays, and nobody could call ahead.

To be fair to our overstretched and under-resourced police and army, these two probably also weren’t the highest priority fugitives in the country. After all, there are women in Alexandra walking home with shopping who need to be surrounded by heavily armed troops and forced to do squats.

But the fact that they got as far as they did reminded me of what we’re going back to in just over two weeks, as the state begins the delicate, dangerous business of restarting the economy without giving the coronavirus any easy victories. It reminded me that once we leave our homes, and venture back to work, we might be filled with elation or renewed hope, but we will also be living in the same country as before, haunted by the same mediocre politicians, dragging along the same crumbling or broken systems, patrolled by the same authorities with the same penchant for ineptitude and violence.

Believing that Ramaphosa has done a solid job over the past weeks doesn’t require one to believe that his party or even his government have magically transformed. None of this is a binary, not even the lockdown.

I don’t say that to depress you or to deflate any sense of collective identity that might have formed in the past two weeks. But I think it’s important not to slip into binary thinking; of a bad before and a good after.

When I agreed with the president’s hopeful rhetoric that we would get through this crisis, I was mocked on social media by the inevitable “libertarian” dude-bros who are using this crisis to build their brands as mediocre pundits. But I remain grateful that Cyril Ramaphosa is my president rather than Donald Trump, who, on Friday explained that “the germ has gotten so brilliant that the antibiotic (sic) can’t keep up with it”, or Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, who has said he wants Brazilians to face Covid-19 “like a man, dammit, not a boy”, by which I assume he means he wants Brazilians to have a higher chance of dying from it.

But believing that Ramaphosa has done a solid job over the past weeks doesn’t require one to believe that his party or even his government have magically transformed. None of this is a binary, not even the lockdown. The point of the lockdown isn’t to keep us safe until Covid-19 magically goes away. The point is to try to slow the spread, so that we don’t all get it at the same time and overwhelm the healthcare system. In just over two weeks, we will all coexist with the virus. And good leadership will coexist with bad governance, and violent policing, as before.

Binaries are comforting. They keep us safe. But what comes next is going to be much more messy. And if we expect it to be clean and clear-cut, the road ahead is going to feel a hell of a lot longer than 300km.