Was August 16 South Africa’s “Tunisia Day”, the day a revolution against the status quo started?
No, I don’t think it was. South Africa is a constitutional democracy with strong institutions, a free media and an active civil society.
We cannot be compared to the revolutions in Arab countries triggered by the Tunisian uprising that started on December 18, 2010.
But the bloodbath at Marikana of August 16 was most certainly a tipping point of sorts that showed up all the fault lines in our society and inspired a lot of people to reject the status quo.
As often happens in history, that dramatic event has forced South Africans to look at our society and the government with fresh eyes, and they didn’t like what they saw.
South Africans rich and poor, black and white, have little optimism or hope right now.
It seems only President Jacob Zuma’s inner circle, including the leadership of the SACP, does not believe that the country is in a sharp decline that could lead to serious instability and economic hardship.
Even the very diplomatic former president, Thabo Mbeki, who has stayed out of politics since he was brutally deposed by Zuma’s men more than three years ago, has broken his silence and spoken darkly about our “dangerous and unacceptable situation”.
He said his feeling of unease was “informed by what I sense as a pervasive understanding throughout the nation that there is no certainty about our future”.
Zuma’s reaction to this “pervasive understanding throughout the nation” was to blame the media, opposition politicians and opinion formers whom he wanted “to stop talking our country and economy down”.
And at the weekend his office issued a lengthy statement in an attempt to prove that everything is rosy. The statement is a perfect example of “spin”, which the Penguin dictionary defines as “to present (information, news, etc) in a way that highlights certain aspects of it and creates an impression favourable to a particular political party or politician”.
The statement waffles on about the reduction in HIV infections (a real achievement), the increase in the number of tourists, the stability of the economy and the grand plans of the government.
It also found it necessary to remind us that we had a leader like Nelson Mandela and a proud moment such as the 2010 soccer World Cup.
The Presidency’s statement then concludes: “We will face hiccups here and there, and now and then, because of existing inequalities and poverty and the economic climate globally, but we remain firmly focused on building a united, non-racial, non-sexist democratic and prosperous South Africa.”
Hiccups. We are facing hiccups here and there. Just take a spoonful of sugar or hold your breath for a minute and the hiccups will go away.
Hiccups like a series of continuing violent wildcat strikes devastating the mining industry, reflecting the failure of established trade unions aligned to the ruling party and an almost blind anger at mine owners and their BEE partners, most of them ANC figures.
Hiccups like daily violent protests all over the country against inhumane living conditions; like the virtual implosion of the education of mostly black youngsters.
Hiccups like a weakening currency, a downgrading of our economy by international institutions and headlines such as the one in last week’s influential The Economist: “Sad South Africa: Cry, the Beloved Country”.
Hiccups like the president overseeing the building of his own private town with taxpayers’ money while he was pleading for a time of austerity and for executives to “tighten their belts as part of building a shared commitment to prosperity and growth”.
Hiccups such as the president’s lawyer showing a fat middle finger to the Supreme Court of Appeal and refusing to hand over illegal tapes of telephone conversations irregularly used to get criminal charges against the president dropped.
Hiccups like the almost daily revelation of yet another government or ANC scandal involving tender fraud, nepotism or theft.
The most astonishing thing given this state of affairs is that the ANC appears to be hell-bent on re-electing the man who has overseen this rapid retrogression.
Kgalema Motlanthe, Zuma’s only potential replacement, could very well be a man of many flaws and limitations. But it would be a betrayal of colossal proportions if the party of Luthuli, Tambo and Mandela were to reward Zuma with another term in office.