Democratic South Africa turns 21 in April 2015. Our democracy will have reached the age of majority, but how much reason will we have to celebrate?
Those of us raised in apartheid South Africa know that this country is far better off than it was 21 years ago. But, as we look back at the year gone by, and forward to the year ahead, we see too many persistent problems, from the desperation evinced by the poorest of the poor and the restiveness of an increasingly worried middle class to the malfeasance and bad governance at the top.
There is a real sense that we are regressing. Key institutions of state have been either undermined by the powerful or saddled with dodgy leaders. The sorry saga of a national broadcaster headed by people without qualifications, about which they lied, is one of last year’s most notable cases. The year, too, saw an apparently politically inspired implosion in the upper echelons of the South African Revenue Service.
Our criminal justice system remains dysfunctional. Most state-owned enterprises are a model of ineptitude. Chairpersons and chief executives come and go, usually amid an orgy of backstabbing, but little in the running of these enterprises seems to improve. Like the SABC, SAA and Eskom need ever more money to keep going, but no turnaround plan seems to work or even to be put properly into action.
Millions of South Africans are still mired in poverty. Inequality persists, joblessness grows and racism flourishes. Our president and many of his Cabinet appear to be more concerned about keeping their snouts in the trough than in righting these wrongs.
Entering 2015, it feels as though we should be a nation on tranquillisers. But, at the same time, there are encouraging signs that South Africans, particularly in urban centres, are moving beyond a sentimental attachment to the party of liberation and are questioning the path we have taken and the leaders we have chosen.
As we reported on December 19, the ANC has admitted that perhaps its triumphalist attitude that it will rule until the Second Coming is not realistic. This realisation should be healthy for a movement that has become myopic, losing its way in the plays of power and self-aggrandisement. The test will be how the ANC chooses to deal with a more demanding citizenry in a country that has come of age. It can look at itself and correct its internal weaknesses, or it can seek external scapegoats in a doomed attempt to delay the inevitable.
We suggest that the ANC’s New Year’s resolution should be simple: Put the health of our nation first and stop making excuses for a few self-centred individuals.