This article first appeared in the 27 June 2022 edition of the Cape Argus newspaper.
When one reads Songezo Zibi’s latest book, “Manifesto for South Africa”, and listens to him speak, one encounters someone who has moved beyond the “balanced view” and “whataboutism” that so permeates political dialogue in South Africa today and has embraced the bravery to say what we all know to be true: our political system is very broken.
That brokenness has made it unaccountable and dangerous to any form of a better public life. At virtually every level, our political leaders have opted for silence or complicity to foist on us a crass corruption from which South Africa will take decades to recover.
Nothing portrays this collapse more poignantly than the South African pothole. SA National Roads Agency Ltd (Sanral) states that there are 535 000km of proclaimed roads in South Africa.
Potholes have appeared all over our road network, and municipalities have not done the work of repairing our potholed roads.
A recent television programme showed Free State Premier Sisi Ntombela arriving with a convoy of about 14 luxury cars to inspect potholes on a Free State road. The premier made the same promises as before and drove off. The farmers of the Free State started fixing the potholes themselves.
And herein lies the problem: if we need convoys of luxury cars carrying overpaid politicians who have seen potholes before and make more promises to the television cameras, then we know we are in deep trouble.
South Africans must be brave enough to say it: the system to fix anything has collapsed. One indicator of the system’s collapse is that only 27 municipalities out of 257 have received clean audits. Still, we spent R5.3 billion on consultants over the past five years, the majority of that expenditure on preparing financial statements.
We all are infuriated by the potholes, but we keep driving these roads, despite the damage to our cars and, in some cases, the loss of life. Similarly, we see the “potholed” ANC, but we keep trusting them to renew themselves and fix our broken system. It’s not going to happen.
Like the Free State farmers, we are going to have to do it ourselves. It is up to us to fix the system. And that begins with us no longer believing that those who broke the system can fix the system. Like Sisi Ntombela told the television cameras that her government would fix the potholes, but the farmers eventually had to do it themselves.
The potholes in our democracy are there because we have not paid attention to the erosion, over time, of our national integrity. We excused thieves. We excused broken promises. We excused violations of the rule of law by leaders. We excused a sitting president’s corruption. And each of those actions on our part as citizens potholed our democracy.
This morning we wake up in South Africa, a betrayed, potholed country. The poorest of our people stood in long lines for two days in 1994 to put a government in power that would solve poverty and fix our national integrity.
Instead, over 30 years they have enriched themselves and collapsed the system that was to deliver a better life for all. Today, those same voters still stand in long lines: for food, social grants and at hospitals and Home Affairs.
Each week I look for a glimmer of light to write a less depressing column and wish to effuse about how we are rising in national well-being. Each week, however, I encounter more political potholes that our leaders are either creating or not fixing.
The ANC renewal call is a bridge too far. It is irreparably broken. They are like a destroyed highway after a tsunami hit. Yet, sadly, no opposition parties is rising to articulate a better political vision for us. Voters want a future filled with hope and not race, ideological and class factionalism.
* Lorenzo A Davids.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.