"If 2020 has taught me any lessons, it is that populism is a poisonous practice that destroys all aspirations for a balanced and prosperous democracy.“ Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

#changethestory: Who bears the light that is worth following?

By Opinion Dec 1, 2020

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by Lorenzo A Davids

If 2020 has taught me any lessons, it is that populism is a poisonous practice that destroys all aspirations for a balanced and prosperous democracy. By embracing reckless rhetoric instead of reason and giving room for hatred to harbour in the war on democracy, the world has sunk to unprecedented lows. Leaders like Donald Trump have shown us the dire consequences of what happens when a nation sells the household silver to buy a single corrupted personality instead of a series of well-honed principles.

Watching Trump throw hand-grenades at those who criticise him, and then watching his adoring fans think his belligerent behaviour is justified "because others did it first", is the reason why we have a centre that can no longer hold. Seeing Jacob Zuma fleeing the state capture inquiry is on par with Donald Trump’s reckless and belligerent behaviour.

Both men have a one single selfish obsession – to be exonerated from crimes they might be guilty of during their respective presidencies and to make as much money as possible from the system they corrupted.

Add into this chaos the state capture as well as the Covid-19 corruption, the truck violence, the rise of racism, the national health and housing crisis and the culture of political threat, and we are a country that requires an entirely new direction. Our political leadership has no clue – other than spouting populist rhetoric – on how to get South Africa on to a sense-making pathway.

What is that new direction? Six important things need to become our sense-making pathway. First, we need a safe country. We need politicians who can stop the insincere and mindless rhetoric and produce a safe country for its citizens. One national minister and nine MECs and nine provincial heads of police, along with the criminology experts at our universities are unable to produce a blueprint for national safety.

Our most intelligent minds and our most experienced actors must collaborate with communities and intelligence agencies to come up with a national safety plan to combat violence. After that, the Cabinet must put a corruption-proof budget in place to execute it.

Once we all feel safe, we will need justice and equity as the two parallel next steps. Safety is maintained by justice and equity. Every opportunity for growth and development, for business and trade, for education and research, must pass the justice and equity standards. We have seen the dire consequences in our country when we fail to uphold standards of justice and equity. Police stations are attacked. Roadblocks are set up. Schools are burnt. We must have a national justice and equity orientation that immediately responds to injustice and inequity.

Once we have established safety, justice and equity, we do need leaders who know how to build inclusivity and prosperity for all – in other words, an inclusive prosperity.

South Africa is too great a nation to leave it in the hands of the small-minded, the corrupt, those instilling fear and the self-serving. We are too great a country to leave our and our children's destinies in the hands of people who have no vision for the future others than to own three Porches and two mansions. We are too celebratory a people to leave our happiness in the hands of grumpy, out-of-touch people who hanker back to a colonial, apartheid South Africa.

When I see the EFF rushing to make another populist speech, the DA rushing away from the challenging issues of race and land and the ANC rushing towards another tender, my heart becomes enormously sad. We have become a people accustomed to being governed by darkness, not light, by fear and not intelligence.

What are our leaders giving this year's matric class to look forward to? Who among the current cohort of national leaders are they to follow as role-models? Who in our midst bears the light of moral courage? Of holy discipline? Of noble principle?

* Lorenzo A Davids is chief executive of the Community Chest.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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