Crises in SA: Situation normal (you know the rest)

South Africa is a country made for drama and controversy. (Madelene Cronjé, M&G)

South Africa is a country made for drama and controversy. (Madelene Cronjé, M&G)

If a visitor arrived this week and wanted a brief summary of where this country was, I would say we were in the middle of a few crises.

I would quickly add, however, that this is nothing out of the ordinary for us in Mzansi.

We are a country made for drama and controversy, and our president, Jacob Zuma, best symbolises the unpredictability, the vulnerability and the endless fluidity. You have got to be tough to make it on this side of planet Earth.

I would have to report that the president, unlike his predecessor, was able to show a lot of empathy and presence of mind this week when he went to Eldorado Park, south of Johannesburg, to talk about their drug and crime problems – without really convincing anyone that he or his government would solve those problems.

I would have to report, too, that the leader of the official opposition, Helen Zille, was almost reduced to tears when it was pointed out to her that her white predecessors in her party had not really contributed to the liberation of South Africans.

I would also point to the now-familiar labour problems in the mining sector, where a new union is flexing its muscles over an old, displaced union. This power battle is happening as one of the employers prepares to shed 6 000 jobs. All this is complicated by the killing of mineworkers and their leaders.

And I would round off with the fascinating Soccer City stadium heist made famous by its timing, just after the Justin Bieber concert.

But how would my overseas visitor make sense of all this and have a full grasp of the implications of the events? As the Gauteng ANC did this week, when it distributed a manual of standard responses its volunteers should give to potential members asking questions about the party, I thought of my own manual of explanations for the welcome visitor to this country.

JZ charm offensive
The president decided to visit the area after receiving a heart-wrenching letter from a mother about problems there – a place designated by the apartheid government as a coloured area. The president was there with Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa, surely a demonstration that he wanted a police crackdown on the drug dealing and the killings that take place in the township.

I would commend him for having taken along Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini, because many of the problems in such areas are also ascribed to a breakdown in families, alcohol abuse and children's exposure to violence and drugs at an early age.

The reports from "Eldos" indicated that several of the residents were sceptical about the president returning to address their issues. It was a legitimate concern, because our president can sometimes be more style than substance. It is a distinguishing mark of his and was at one time a useful counter to then-president Thabo Mbeki, who was deeply into analysing and drawing up plans rather than performing for the cameras.

So, if I were a resident of Eldos, I would not pitch my expectations too high. Not because the president is dishonest or unreliable, but mainly because the social problems identified are historical, wide-ranging, embedded and cannot be solved by the government camping out there for a few months.

Many, including the Democratic Alliance's former leader Tony Leon, have warned the party that it is better advised to project forwards than look backwards. But the party's "Know Your DA" campaign makes sense in the context of trying to prove that, whereas it may be a historically white party, it is not the white party that practised apartheid.

It is a fact that most black people view the DA with some suspicion and the party had to do something about that. Hence it is working to destroy the myth that it's a white party and that it had anything to do with apartheid.

But the ANC is enjoying this guilt-ridden trip of the DA's, pointing out that, although the DA's forebears may not have supported apartheid, they have no history of actually fighting it. The DA and Zille would do well to learn that, when it comes to liberation history, no one has a more illustrious record than the ANC, and it will always have the upper hand.

Marikana 2
This represents the ticking bomb often referred to by Zwelinzima Vavi, Cosatu's general secretary. The impending job losses and the economic devastation that accompany them are a real concern. The possibility of a protracted strike over the retrenchments means further instability and the potential of more job cuts. But the fight between the two unions – the National Union of Mineworkers and the Association for Mineworkers and Construction Union – for domination of the platinum belt is more dangerous to lives than is the loss of jobs. It is a desperate, mindless territorial fight.

So I would tell my visitor that we are going along in our usual resilient way. In the words of the late singer Isaac Hayes, we are one, big, unhappy family.

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

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