CAPE TOWN - During the holidays I went to renew my driver’s license at the Marlboro Traffic Department. I arrived before the doors opened with a flask of tea and a packed picnic and sat down to wait.
While I was waiting I noticed members of the neighbouring police station’s staff attending their daily morning parade. I was impressed by the fact that this morning ritual was still very much alive, but when the breeze blew a few minutes later I realised that the tatty and bedraggled patch of fabric that wilted above the station force, was a grubby, ripped and faded South African flag.
For me, this one small event was symbolic of where South Africa is at the moment. For a long time we have known deep in our bellies that something isn’t quite right, yet we have continued with our daily lives as if nothing is wrong. Over the past year or more it has become almost impossible to ignore the deep- seated problems that are plaguing our country, yet much like the police at Marlboro, we have become used to things not being quite right.
The good news is that we have an opportunity to fix things. Jacob Zuma is no longer the president of the ANC and it would seem that there are concrete plans afoot for him to be recalled.
The National Prosecuting Authority (NPA), which has magically been spurred into action has issued preservation orders against McKinsey and Trillian in connection with their dodgy dealings with Eskom, as well as seized control of the bank accounts of Atul Gupta and companies co-owned by Duduzane Zuma.
Similarly, the appointment of a new board at Eskom this weekend showed that there is a new sheriff in town and he means business.
My only worry is that the promise and enthusiasm that have followed these events could give way to a sort of limbo that – if left unchecked – could be as damaging as the uncertainty that plagued South Africa in the run-up to the ANC’s elective conference.
Perversely, a large part of this has to do with Ramaphosa’s reputation as a world-class businessman and negotiator.
The long-held assumption that if only Jacob Zuma was no longer in power, the ANC, and by proxy the government – would suddenly improve, is false. In reality, the task of turning South Africa around lies in the hands of each and every one of us.
If there is one message that I would like to give to South Africans it is that what has been going on in this country is not normal, and all of us have a role to play in fixing it.
As much as we can be encouraged and even inspired by the changes we are seeing in the ANC, turning the country around is not a job for one man.
Ramaphosa might be the new broom that is sweeping clean, but he won’t reach every corner of the house. It is here where us as ordinary citizens have a most crucial role to play. And they can start with their own traffic fines.
The result of the recent South African Citizens’ Bribery Survey found that the top reason for giving a bribe was to avoid a traffic fine.
What is even more alarming is that 37% of respondents know someone who has been asked for a bribe in the past year, and 24% know someone who has paid a bribe in the past year.
This is not the type of corruption that makes the front pages of the newspapers, nor is it the sort of thing that will see the NPA seize your assets, but it is as much a part of turning this country around as rooting out state capture at the top.
If we are serious about changing the direction of the country we must look as much at ourselves as our new leadership.
As ordinary citizens we are the ones who have the greatest influence and control over our immediate environs, whether that is our local police station, schools, or town hall. Change at the top is encouraging and sets the scene, but on its own it is not enough to bring change to where it is most needed – in our daily lives.
What I found particularly heartening about the Bribery Survey is that South Africans have a strong dislike for corruption.
The survey found that more than 70% of respondents would change their vote if the political party they supported was enabling corruption. In other words, South Africans don’t want to live in a corrupt country, but they have been forced to adapt to their environment.
We are able to change and now we have an opportunity to do so. The future of this country is in our hands as much as it is in the hands of the government.