As we steadily move closer to Mangaung – the conference which has now become overly popular and politically laced – a lot of concern, speculation and outright misinformation about the future of South Africa has taken grip on its citizenry. From the millions of rands being used to build our president something akin to a luxury resort, to the seemingly never-ending strikes where sitting on the fence as one of the workers can easily get you killed, the South African psyche certainly has a lot to deal with.
Politicians on any given day are not telling us what is wrong with our country and how it can be fixed. Their well of political rhetoric, it would appear, runs to unimaginable depths. We are almost 18 years into our democracy, and despite the very real positive gains that have been made there remains a lot more to be done. Don’t get me wrong, I am not of the unrealistic mind-set that assumes South Africa should, in 18 years, have overcome what took far longer than that to meticulously put into place. I am, however, equally realistic enough to recognise that our constitutionally democratic and socio-economic machine is not running as smoothly is it could, thanks to a few stubborn cogs that have it stalling on occasion, if not coming to an outright standstill.
Last week I listened with curious comprehension as our beloved president chastised us for "talking our country down", and the week before that when he made an impassioned plea for executive salaries to be frozen as part of government's response to the crisis in the mining sector and inequality at large. On both occasions he had the poker face of a man who seemed to fully understand his position and the weight of seriousness implied by it. I must admit though, I am still not sure where in his words the irony begins and the contradiction ends.
But to be fair, my gripe is not with the president per se, even if he consistently and unwittingly demands it. I am more concerned with the level at which ordinary citizens are aware of exactly how much of a role they too play in the building up and sustaining of this country. Yes, we vote a government into power so that it may represent us and do what is best for our collective interests. But what else do we do to ensure government is aware of our scrutiny of it?
We know there are public institutions whose job it is to keep an eye on government but what are we as citizens doing? Do we merely read the eye-grabbing "bad news" on the front pages, tweet about it, and then move on with our lives, or do we do more? How can we do more, and do our various public intellectuals and analysts offer solutions that can be implemented, or are they like the architect who can draught a beautiful house but has no clue what to do with a pile of bricks?
South Africa is arguably in that phase where active citizenship should be coming into its own. We can only commend and take heart in the work of organisations such as Equal Education, Section27 and the Treatment Action Campaign, among many others, which take government on regarding problems they have with the state's service delivery. It really should not take court orders to make government fulfil its obligations but it has, and some of these organisations have stepped up to the plate to ensure something is done. The Limpopo education debacle has been anything but embarrassing despite Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga's nonchalant response to it.
One thing is certain though: we cannot continue to simply put our faith in politicians to solve every single problem that faces us because they won't. While Julius Malema has gone on and on about "economic freedom in our lifetime and nationalisation", he has conveniently said very little about the education crisis and municipal maladministration that continues to besiege his own home province. We definitely cannot look to people such as him for plausible solutions. So I'd say, you know those little cracks that we can fill? Let us fill them.
Let us take part in the work of those organisations that have made it a point to contribute to the wellbeing of our country and its future. Let us lessen the rhetorical clamour of political parties – ok, one party – that always want to demand and proclaim "saviour status" but are too reluctant and preoccupied with selfish deeds to do the work that we expect of them. Shaping a country takes more than its government and to paraphrase John F Kennedy: we should ask not what the ANC can do for our country, but rather what we can do for our country.
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