Police Minister Bheki Cele got into an altercation with City of Cape Town's MMC for safety and security JP Smith, over the shooting of an advert at a Cape Town beach. Picture: Sisonke Mlamla/Cape Argus/Independent Media
Police Minister Bheki Cele got into an altercation with City of Cape Town's MMC for safety and security JP Smith, over the shooting of an advert at a Cape Town beach. Picture: Sisonke Mlamla/Cape Argus/Independent Media

#changethestory: Stop the cowboy antics and revisit who we are as people

By Opinion Time of article published Dec 22, 2020

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by Lorenzo A Davids

The past week I heard with shock of the sad death of Stan Henkeman, Executive Director of the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, due to Covid19.

Stan Henkeman embodied the values of a democratic South Africa like few others. His intellectual astuteness and his kindness, his political insight and the grace he expressed to all in his presence made him the sought-after leader he was.

Looking at 2020 through the lens of disruption, I often wondered whether we did not fail to heed the Mother Nature's call to stop what we were doing and to allow ourselves to disrupt this democracy in order to find each other in new ways?

Let me speak on behalf of a few frustrated people and say to our politicians: we are tired of the political fights, the insults, and the destructive nature of your contributions to our civic life.

The nature of our politics was probably best summed up in the video clip of the altercation between our Police Minister Bheki Cele and the Mayco member for Safety and Security JP Smith, who performed a cowboy duel on the beach, recorded for all to see.

Both men acted with the maturity of 9-year-olds whose sandcastles were kicked over. It went on for at least two days. During that anal two-day television duel, our country battled the most deadly moments of the Covid19 pandemic.

Both men are known for their cowboy brattishness, which is most unhelpful in a country where democracy is in such a perilled state.

How do we build a democracy where the consequences of robust nation building are not always violence, protests and insults? How do we build a country in which we do not glory in shutting down Clicks stores, #voetsekking others or protecting corrupt comrades?

Instead of stopping film shoots, we all need to stop what we are doing to revisit who we are as a people. We must become a people who do not shut down much-needed businesses, throw garbage across busy streets, and burn down libraries.

We must become a people who do not insult our political opponents and a people who care deeply about the 31 million citizens who live in dire poverty. We must embrace a corruption-free culture. We need South Africans everywhere to stand up to disrupt the negative narrative about who we are. It should not only be the work of our comedians to sketch these low points in our democracy without there being a majority of citizens who stand up for a better democracy.

It is time to disrupt the current trajectory of our democracy with opposition politicians coming together in united commitment to each other. It is time, instead of seeking to overthrow each other, to stand in united commitment to help build a values-based democracy that is founded on dignity, dialogue and deference for every citizen. The levels of insult and the vitriolic exchanges between our leaders are extremely unhelpful.

Our democracy requires a severe disruption that will lead us to find a new language of decency instead of dishonesty, of compassion instead of corruption and integrity instead of insult.

Why do political exchanges in South Africa always leave one sensing the bitter sting of racial undertones? Why does the smell of racial insult and covert apartheid hang in the air at every political gathering and most business meetings? Will our insulting hashtags today become the justification for political assassinations later?

This is what leaders like Stan Henkeman spoke about. While some want to destroy all opposition and others wish to maintain the status quo, it was the leadership of Stan Henkeman and the work he did through the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation that set a different standard of engagement for those who sought to embrace a values-based democracy. Who will disrupt this democracy with the values of decency, dignity and dialogue, instead of #voetsek and #gatvol?

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

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

Cape Argus

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