For a moment last week, we felt like a country in free-fall. Like the bottom just dropped out of our world. It wasn't the floods in KZN or the rising Covid numbers, the rising costs of fuel and basic foodstuffs or even the lack-lustre performances by the president on live television.
It was the overwhelming sense of acknowledgement that, as an entire country, we seemed to have moved in the wrong direction. And have been doing so for a very long time.
Most successful countries have three things that work for them: Good policy, good governance and goodwill. The successful interplay between these three spheres of well-being is what makes for a good country. It is that basic. Despite its great Constitution, South Africa has been bad at policy setting, bad at good governance, and is finally losing the battle of having the goodwill of its people.
We can document the litanies of failure around policy – from Sassa to Eskom to Prasa to Covid-19 to mining to renewable energy and service delivery challenges.
We seem to be a country where every department, town, and city works from a different set of policy documents – the proverbial "singing from a different song sheet".
The confusing policy directions are overwhelming and seem to be a consequence of paying too many pipers but losing control over who calls the tune. The government no longer seems to be in control of sensible policy making or maintaining policy alignment. And the examples are numerous.
Take the government's policy on coal vs renewable energy strategies. We learnt of the Limpopo province flirting with a $10 billion (R155bn) Chinese-backed coal power plant in February.
We have seen the spat between Eskom Board member Busisiwe Mavuso and Parliament's Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa), accusing the ANC-led government for “the (policy?) mess” that Eskom is in.
When it comes to good governance, the books are open for all to read. This government has been particularly poor at good governance.
Besides the Zondo Commission reports, several other commissions have sat and are currently sitting to look into specific incidences of governance failures by ministers and their departments.
But it is the governance failures at local municipal level that are most startling and that often does not catch the public eye. Entire health infrastructures are collapsing.
A while back, I stopped in Philipstown in the Northern Cape. It looked like a scene out of an old Western movie. A town that progress has passed by. Everywhere I walked through the town, the sense of poverty – of both performance and spirit – overwhelmed me. I could see broken things everywhere.
I later stopped in other parts of the Pixley ka Seme District and was left with the continued awareness of governance failures.
The government has become an employment agency, not a service delivery agency.
Last week I bought a train ticket for a train trip to my home on the Southern line. The ticketing agent had me wait for 3 minutes while she was on the phone with a friend, speaking about articles of clothing.
While on the phone, she indicated to me with her hands, "what do you want?" I waited till she was done on the phone and said I needed to buy a train ticket. What else would I be there for?
All this has culminated in the collapse of goodwill from the people toward the state. And without the goodwill of the people, the state becomes a sterile, emasculated institution that will become increasingly unpopular, isolated and eventually voted out of power.
I am not sure this government can restore the practice of good policy setting. Nor instil good governance. It does not know how. But most of all, I fear that the state has lost the goodwill of the people.
* Lorenzo A Davids.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.