The inability of the public sector to deliver service such
as fixing potholes harms the majority of South Africans. (Leon Sadiki/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
The movie Da Vinci Code, (based on Dan Brown’s novel) tells a story of a dramatic quest for the Holy Grail. Initially, this relic is believed to be the cup with which Jesus shared wine with his disciples at the Last Supper. But it is later discovered that the Holy Grail might be anything but divine. It could be a carnally conceived artefact, capable of contradicting the Church’s claims of its divine foundation. Finding it may well be the genesis of unravelling the future of the Church.
This is fiction, of course. But fiction sometimes lends us ideas and cognitive modalities to think about real issues.
But why the need to intuit symbolism into our contemporary political thought?
The answer is multidimensional. First, the ANC government did a monumental act by challenging a sovereign state in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) — and on a grave charge of genocide at that. Second, this is an election year in which the ANC can no longer assume the outcome will be a slam-dunk for the party.
The offspring of these two important events is an electoral ambiguity, the best that can be said to describe the ANC’s prospects shy of speculating an abysmal underperformance.
That is all the party earned from the ICJ victory, when taking into account the lower levels of the moral and political investment in its own people.
That means it is still highly probable that the cumulative effect of that disinvestment will minimise the party’s maximum hope for electoral dominance.
Any mood to the contrary will be delusional. After all, the popularity index for the ANC is 45% to 47%. That’s according to the surveys by Ipsos, the Social Research Foundation and the Brenthurst Foundation/Sabi Strategy Group. All things being equal in terms of their research methodologies, their figures are not trivially speculative. There is enough evidence from the socio-economic deterioration that has disfigured the face of our country.
Unfortunately, none of the post-ICJ foreign admirers will be on South Africa’s voters’ roll. The equilibrium of the upcoming chess game is based on local pawns that are not in the mood for indirect dividends from the ANC government’s offshore moral investment.
I suspect that they would be more eager to take the ANC government to the ICJ than to give it a hero’s welcome. The litany of grievances is too overwhelming to believe that the voters can afford to give the ANC a discounted price.
One such grievous action is the ruling party’s treatment of elections as a numbers game instead of taking it as a moment to renew its pact with the voters. And even if the latter was the case, the viability of the pact is not independent of the level of fidelity to its contents.
At any rate, it should not be easy to celebrate the numbers against the backdrop of the surrounding turmoil. If anything, the ANC should be ashamed of receiving support from the same people for whom it has created hell on earth.
Add to that some ANC councillors’ attitude towards voters and defending the party becomes a complicated business.
In rural areas, the ANC councillors are spitefully playing the usual sleight of hand.
If Brenda Fassie was still alive, she might have qualified the point with a remix of her song I’m Not Your Weekend Special. Our politicians don’t visit between elections; we are their election specials.
One such Prince Charming is the invisible councillor of Ward 13 in the Mgwali rural area of the Eastern Cape’s Amahlathi local municipality. He has gained a sudden surge of election-induced energy and is only now delivering the emergency housing structures the villagers have been waiting to receive for what must have felt like centuries.
The mud structures in which the poor people live regularly collapse under the intensity of summer rains and the strong winds in July and August.
Excuses can hide the lies if evidence to the contrary is inaccessible. But the gerrymandering demarcation that created two councillors for Mgwali makes it harder for one councillor to explain why they are outperformed by their colleague and comrade.
Under ordinary circumstances the villagers would surely turn away these election year “incredible happenings”. Playing the role of an arsonist and a firefighter simultaneously can eventually catch up with the culprits. But the circumstances of these villagers are not ordinary. Their dire need for roofs over their heads often outweigh their pride and sense of dignity.
This mountain of evidence of the human rights violations should caution the ANC against over-emphasising the ICJ victory to garner electoral support. The act of chivalry may have been the Holy Grail if the party was more humane in its relationship with the people of this country.
But the party councillors cannot illustrate humanity throughout their tenure if they show people that it is easier to visit during the election season, when the apple is ripe for the plucking.
That’s partly why an emphasis on the ICJ victory could backfire. A show of humanity elsewhere can worsen the resentment of the people who have been denied humanity. That is the unholiness of a selective Holy Grail.
The Bill of Rights is as much about human rights as the case against Israel for its inhumane treatment of Palestinians. Perhaps we should re-examine Albert Einstein’s relativity of time and space. The five minutes it takes for ambulances to arrive in urban areas can take four to five hours to arrive in rural areas and townships.
The hideous state of rural and township roads makes emergency vehicles move slower. In Einsteinian terms, spatial topography can facilitate or limit motion and time. These two dimensions determine the difference between surviving shortness of breath and dying from the consequent deficiency of oxygen in the brain.
It is, of course, preposterous to suggest that the ANC government is as genocidal as the Israelis. But poor service delivery has mortal consequences the further we move away from the civilisation of big cities.
The ANC government did take a tremendous risk by throwing down the gauntlet at the foot of the Israeli government in full view of their bullish big brother, the United States. That ought to be appreciated in a world dominated by a neo-cold war of assured economic destruction if a small country upsets the one with the biggest muscles.
Nonetheless, it would be a cruel irony to expect a standing ovation from all South Africans in celebration of the victory at the ICJ.
So the best leverage from the ICJ events is for the ANC to re-enact this international heroism by dealing with corruption, and to do so in public view of the local stage.
Now is the time to approach corruption with the same courage and tough talk the party’s government pulled off against Israel. In that way, the ANC might be able to convince the nation that its actions against Israel were inspired by the party’s renewal.
Perhaps this time the party will develop the confidence to call its renewal “moral regeneration”. It’s a term the party seems to be avoiding. It would be more appropriate because “renewal” is also what came out of the Polokwane conference in 2007 that led to Jacob Zuma being elected president.
The ANC may not need to turn the ICJ event into a Holy Grail if it shows care for its citizens by getting rid of the party members who do not. There is no turning back from being the defender of the defenceless if the cost of double standards is too high.
Charity does not have to begin at home but it should be practised at home with the same energy when it was practised at the ICJ.
Mzwandile Manto is a thinker and community activist.