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Cape Town - Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu says the government has lost the plot to the extent that the education of children in some places is almost worse than during apartheid.
Tutu was interviewed by Sir David Frost on the current affairs show The Frost Interview on Al Jazeera on not going quietly into retirement and his views on South Africa on Wednesday. The show, which aired on Friday, also took into account Tutu’s life and experiences.
“We have let people down in so far as you have an elite that has done very well for themselves, have got quite rich. The bulk of the people are still where they where [during apartheid], sometimes worse off.
“We still have children learning under trees... that is quite unconscionable to have people have to go to bed hungry. We seem to have lost the plot to some extent. In the education sphere, we are about as bad as the old dispensation had been... more recently we had one of our provinces’ [Limpopo] children devoid of textbooks - these were found dumped somewhere... people were paid for nothing [to deliver books],” he said.
On poverty, Tutu said: “[It] is something that almost destroys people... something that is explosive. The coming of political freedom does not necessarily mean the coming of economic freedom – but it is 18 years since the [first] democratic elections, you would have hoped now that most of the ugly features of poverty would have been got rid of.”
He added that there were places of hope such as NGOs that help people gain skills.
Tutu echoed social activist Mamphela Ramphele’s call for people to start healing themselves through talking frankly about their problems.
“We are a wounded people,” Tutu said, recalling the testimonies he heard as chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
“Things could have been a great deal worse but I still have this sense that they could have been a great deal better,” he said of South Africa’s political transition.
On why he has always held on to non-violence, he said it was for strategic reasons.
“If we went the way of the armed struggle, we [blacks] would not stand a chance against a government armed to the teeth.
“I am not a pacifist... I couldn’t want to sit by while, say, Hitler was throwing children into gas chambers... I am a peace lover and a peace advocate – I recognised that one day peace was not viable [in that climate].”
Frost showed Tutu a video of former prime minister Hendrik Verwoerd explaining the apartheid policy as “good neighbourliness”.
Tutu chuckled and said: “Goebbels would have enjoyed that. Verwoerd was a very clever man... he thought you could deal with things cleverly... but he was clear that black people [were only ] for labour. Remember black life at the time was cheap... it was incredibly difficult... and Verwoerd was bizarre.”
Tutu hailed Nelson Mandela as an “incredible guy!”
“His contribution is immeasurable; his stature,” said Tutu. “I mean for someone who was the commander-in-chief of the military wing of the ANC to be at the forefront of persuading people that it would be better for us to negotiate; it is better for us to lay down our arms. And then to try to live that.”
The archbishop recalled how the injustices he saw under apartheid tested his Christian faith. But he later said: “Someone up there must really have been on our side or batting for us... After [Nelson Mandela’s] release and the build-up to our first democratic election, it was one of the roughest, one of the bloodiest, periods in our history.”
The major problems facing South Africa are not unique, but are “perennial” issues faced by the oldest democracies – and the country, like other democracies – such as the US and Britain – will be fighting the same issues in 100 and 200 years.
This was the view expressed by Keith Gottschalk, emeritus senior lecturer in politics at the University of the Western Cape, during a seminar on Wednesday on “The State of the State in South Africa”.
The seminar, hosted by the Institute for Security Studies, was aimed at analysing developments in the country’s political economy. Active citizenry was crucial to tackling these issues, Gottschalk stressed.
He listed seven major challenges facing South Africa, but emphasised that other democracies faced the same issues.
These were corruption; incapacity of the state; the appointment of party cronies as judges, prosecutors, and police investigators; freedom of the press; poverty; unemployment and inequality; and deficiencies in the electoral system.
Gottschalk said these issues often appeared in the media with a racial edge that allowed perpetrators to play the race card.
“They are presented as if to suggest South Africa is on the edge of the chasm into apocalyptic collapse to become a dictatorship, but, to the contrary, I argue that all the major problems here are perennial issues in the oldest democracies in the world,” Gottschalk said.
What in South Africa was known as cadre deployment, in the US was called the spoils system, “where the top 16 000 civil servants are political party appointees”.
A persistent challenge in the US was the “revolving door” syndrome, where a civil servant provided huge benefits to a company, then resigned and was immediately hired by that company at triple his or her former salary.
“What here are called ‘tenderpreneurs’ are in the US called ‘earmarks for profits’. All of these are huge challenges for many democracies,” Gottschalk continued.
He said the incapacity of the state was not new to South Africa, although it had not always been so serious: “In the bad old days it wasn’t a case of not repairing potholes in the roads. The government didn’t put tar on roads in townships. That was for white people only.”
The appointment of party cronies as judges, prosecutors, and police investigators was also not limited to South Africa.
There were few democracies in the world that gave judges the “incredible powers” they had in South Africa, Gottschalk said. Judges had notched up many impressive achievements in compelling the government to reverse policy on issues or to reveal information it did not want to.
“The toughest test of all for any judicial system… is when it comes to prosecuting the head of government and cabinet ministers - but this is tough in any democracy.”
South Africa was also not alone in its unemployment crisis, Gottschalk said. Spain had an unemployment rate of 25 percent (50 percent youth unemployment) and Greece’s was 25 percent (58 percent among the youth).
Turning to the deficiencies in the electoral system, Gottschalk said there was no reason why it should not be changed from a purely proportional representation to a mixed system. But such a system was not a panacea for all the country’s woes, he said.
Political Bureau and Cape Argus