Caught in a web of violence and political inertia

Unlike the ANC's leadership, striking miners do not have Mangaung on the mind. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

Unlike the ANC's leadership, striking miners do not have Mangaung on the mind. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

You could be mistaken for thinking that all is normal in South Africa right now. The Springboks lost to the All Blacks, Kaizer Chiefs are "quarter-champions" in the Premier Soccer League and Khaya Mthethwa won the Idols competition hands down.

But although all of that is true, local politicians are being killed weekly in KwaZulu-Natal, union leaders are being mowed down by hit squads in Rustenburg and platinum mines in North West have fired about 20 000 workers but are unable to resume production by hiring new people. And more miners look set to be fired.
SAA, the national airline, is facing turbulence, the rand is hitting new lows and for the fifth month in a row children are unable to attend classes in a Northern Cape township.

Crisis? What crisis?

But hang on – is it not true, also, that all these problems are coming at exactly the wrong time?

"We cannot afford all these crises right now – we have Mangaung on our mind," is what the politicians in the ruling party and in government seem to be saying. An MP complained this week that only one ANC MP had pitched up for a workshop she had organised for them. She reckoned they were all distracted, preoccupied by Mangaung.

Respected academic Stephen Friedman recently bemoaned the practice of political commentators constantly throwing their hands in the air and asking for the government to provide leadership.

He was referring to how all of us shirk responsibility and opt for the easy call to the government to provide leadership. What about the role of union leaders, business and civil society? What are they all doing?

Whisked away
Yes, armchair critics like myself should not be alarmist and shout "fire" in a crowded space. But to be honest, Dr Friedman, I am alarmed and I am about to scream "fire".

I will do so not because we have problems, but because it seems we are entangled in a web from which we cannot disentangle ourselves.

Why should we believe that the violence in KwaZulu-Natal will end? The minister of police – with all his bodyguards, nogal – had to be hurriedly whisked away from KwaMashu because it was too dangerous for him – several people have been killed there recently.

Why should we trust that the killings in Rustenburg will end when the police refused to allow miners to open a case related to the killing of a miner last Sunday?

I cannot honestly expect that we are headed for stability when 20 000 miners are put out to pasture for embarking on an illegal strike. What happens to the family members who each of the miners feed?

And, given the recent history of violence in the area, do we expect that the dismissed workers will sit idly by and allow new employees to take their jobs? No. This means production will grind to a halt for even longer.

Our president, in his inimitable style, believes he has ministers who, ­having been delegated the responsibility to handle all these prickly matters, will get on with it – and he can continue with his official programme of opening a clinic here and cutting a ribbon there.

Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, as his recent biography by Ebrahim Harvey shows, has grave concerns about the running of South Africa but feels constrained to speak out lest he be seen as "populist".

But the deputy president's general attitude of not wanting to rock the boat means there is a lot that happens on his watch for which he will have to take responsibility.

But if he lives in the hope that one day, somehow, these problems will be solved, he is misguided. They might be solved, but it will be too late for the ANC. The lesson from the Western Cape and certain African countries is that once the liberation movement loses its grip it is very, very difficult to get it back.

The American fighter for civil rights, Martin Luther King Jr, was once asked by the white clergy to be patient in the fight against segregation because things would eventually change. His response was telling: "Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time itself that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively … human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability."

To bring the point closer home, Motlanthe is quoted in the biography as arguing that "a person dies when he or she does not stand up for what is right. If you remain quiet you become part of the problem and that negative force grows, but if you stand up and fight there is a possibility that you can win the war eventually."

Yet, deputy president, we are not seeing you fight. We are seeing you keep quiet and become part of the problem.

As for the president himself, can he risk making major interventions or pronouncements that may jeopardise the strong prospect that he is coming back for a second term as ANC president? Given his history, I suspect not.

So we will all wake up, go about our daily chores and pretend it is all okay. Crisis? What crisis?

Rapule Tabane

Rapule Tabane

Rapule Tabane is the Mail & Guardian's politics editor. He sometimes worries that he is a sports fanatic, but is in fact just crazy about Orlando Pirates. While he used to love reading only fiction, he is now gradually starting to enjoy political biographies. He was a big fan of Barack Obama, but now accepts that even he is only mortal. Read more from Rapule Tabane

Client Media Releases

NWU specialist receives innovation management award
Reduce packaging waste: Ipsos poll
What is transactional SMS?
MTN on data pricing