Ever since Bernard and I moved to South Africa in 1999, I have had a moderately optimistic outlook on the future of my country. However, the events of the last few years have been discouraging. But when I look at the rest of the world, I realise that we are not the only nation in trouble.
South Africa is still plagued by PUI – Poverty, Unemployment , Inequality – and the government is doing little to address these issues. While I am not physically involved, I do provide modest financial support to several not-for-profit organisations.
“Cadre deployment” (a.k.a. “jobs for pals”) continues, with predictable and disastrous decrease of efficiency in all government enterprises: ESKOM, our Electricity Supply Commission, has re-introduced “load-shedding”, which is a minor inconvenience; this was put in perspective by my Zimbabwean visitor, Niki, who arrived at night when there was no power. We do get warning of impending load-shedding, which lasts 2 & ½ hours, whereas in Harare, the capital, where Niki lives, there are no warnings, and power may be off for three days.
Other government enterprises show similar inefficiencies, and often corruption, as well. The CEO of SABC (South African Broadcasting Corporation), for example, does not even have a matriculation certificate, as he had claimed. PRASA (Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa) recently ordered new locomotives, one of which derailed, with six carriages full of passengers, on its first journey.
SA Post Office was on strike for some months, and even now there are delays in delivering the post and SAA (South African Airways) recently discontinued direct flights from Cape Town to London.
Rand 4,200 (£200) per month is reckoned to be the lowest sum on which a family can live above the poverty level, yet most workers (90% or more) in domestic service and in agriculture earn below this. And in manufacturing industry and transport, half the workers fall below the poverty level. These are dire figures, and solutions are made more difficult by the composition of the governing ANC,which is a tripartite organisation, comprising the ANC, COSATU (Congress of South African Trade Unions) and SACP (South African Communist Party). Recently, all three parties have witnessed bitter in-fighting. There is no coherent policy on how more jobs can be created, given that the latter two favour more state control, and ANC leans to market forces. Some commentators predict that the government is likely to move to the right in the future.
Both corruption and inefficiency have increased, particularly in the municipalities, few of which receive a clean bill of health when audited. Despite this, there has been a serious proposal that municipal councillors should earn the same (over Rand 1,000,000 per month) as Members of Parliament.
During all my adult life, I have read – whenever conditions permitted – a daily newspaper. Although I now supplement that with various online sites, I still like to hold a newspaper in my hands. But recently a Dr. Iqbal Servé became chairman of Independent Media, the company that owns most of our main newspapers, including the local Cape Times, which has deteriorated sharply, with many of the leading columnists and journalists leaving, or being fired. When my subscription expires this month, I shall not renew. I cannot help glancing at it now, and I conclude that there is very little, if anything, that is remotely edifying. The trials and fates of Oscar Pistorious and Shrien Diwani (both accused of causing the death of their women partners, both found not guilty of murder) are given much space, as they are in the international press,which also gave overwhelming coverage to the illegal shooting of Cecil, the lion, in Zimbabwe. Of course, news of rugby and cricket matches, particularly when South Africa is competing internationally, are fully covered
-is the location of President Zuma’s controversial private residence, built at a cost of Rand 246 million ($20 m). The courageous public prosecutor, Thuli Madonsela, determined that the president should pay part of the costs, which included a swimming pool ,cottages for security personnel, cattle kraals and many other buildings. A Parliamentary debate was thrown into chaos when members of the irrepressible Julius Malema’s EFF (Economic Freedom Front) shouted in chorus “pay the costs, pay the costs”. A Parliamentary group, including members of the opposition DA (Democratic Alliance,) was taken to the site, and determined that the buildings were “cheap and shoddy” and that construction costs had been much inflated by fraudulent contracts.
The national police commissioner, General Riah Phiyega, who was in charge of the police at the time of the massacre, has been much criticised, with many demanding that she be replaced. She recently sent an SMS to an opposition MP who had dared to criticise her: I am black, proud and capable and get it here you can take nothing from me eat your heart out I am not made by you and I cannot be undone by you. (Ipsissima verba). While I welcome the appointment of women to high positions, it is scandalous that such a senior government official can send such a message, which resembles a hysterical school girl rant.
Our Parliament does pass some weird legislation. For example , from earlier this year tourists visiting South Africa from certain countries are required to present themselves in person to a South African embassy or consulate. Among other results, this has drastically curtailed the growing number of Chinese tourists, some of whom would have to travel 1000 miles to reach a South African mission. And this month a Deputy Minister proposed that South African citizens should be restricted to only one – South African - passport. It was supposed that the reason was to stop South Africans from serving in the Israeli armed forces! Fortunately, a senior official countermanded this suggestion.
- take place on a daily basis, and have recently extended from the poor townships to the universities. At the University of Cape Town a campaign called “Rhodes Must Fall” started ,with some students demanding the removal of the statue of Cecil John Rhodes from the University. It soon spread to other universities, and escalated into general, and often vague, demands for more rapid transformation, i.e. for more blacks to be seen in all positions on the campuses. Students also alleged that Affirmative Action helps mainly a small number of children of black elites.
There are also constant demands for more transformation in sport, particularly in international rugby and cricket matches. I have mentioned before the example of the Professor of Opera Emeritus at the University of Cape Town, who coached a number of coloured and African singers who are now well known on the international stage. He did this by listening to church choirs and selecting young people for further training: it worked. T he same procedure could be used for transformation in sports.
Recently, in the first match of the Rugby World Cup. South Africa faced Japan: it was generally assumed that S.A. would trounce Japan, which is not renowned, as is South Africa, as a major rugby playing nation. But, to much consternation, frustration, disbelief, exhortation, dismay, criticism and shock, little Japan beat South Africa 34 to 32. Judging by the attention in the media one would think that this was a national tragedy.
In the last 15 years there has been a noticeable increase in racist attacks (both verbal and physical, sometimes brutally) and allegations of racism, both of black on white and of white on black. Most physical attacks are, of course, black on black, given that they constitute 80% of the population, and also include the vast majority of the poor and dispossessed.
Last month marked the third anniversary of Marikana, the Lonmin Mine where 34 striking workers were shot and killed by the police, and 78 were injured. A committee, presided by Judge Fanlam, heard testimony from some of the involved parties,and finally issued a report, not apportioning blame to anyone in particular. It seems that all three parties – the government, the mines, and the trade unions – are at fault. Miners are threatening to go on strike again, demanding a starting monthly wage of Rand 12,500 ($1000). The mines say that, with plummeting prices for gold and platinum, they cannot afford such increases, and the government does nothing. Housing conditions for many of the mine workers are deplorable; despite promises, the mines have done little to improve them. In a separate action, five teams of lawyers, in South Africa and in the US, are seeking to bring a class action against the mines on behalf of 69 miners who contracted silicosis or tuberculosis while working for the mines since 1965. It is estimated that over a 1/4 million miners, in South Africa and neighbouring countries, have been affected, many of whom have already died. The mines deny responsibility.
Cyril Ramaphosa, presently Vice-President, is a strong contender for succeeding Jacob Zuma as President; he was involved in Marikana as a major share holder in Lonmin. It is alleged that Lonmin asked Ramaphosa to “co-ordinate concomitant action against criminal protesters”. (Ramaphosa lost more favour when it emerged that he had paid Rand 200,000 for a buffalo, to adorn his farm.)
Another strong contender for the Presidency is Nzosazana Dlamini-Zuma, a formidable lady, an ex-wife of Jacob Zuma, and who is presently Chairperson of the AU (African Union).
One bright location in this depressing scene is the Constitutional Court, which has several times insisted on the Constitution being followed, to the anger of many senior government personnel.