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Pay back the money not strictly about Nkandla

Feb 13 2015 12:33
Mandi Smallhorne

YOU KNOW who got punched and manhandled and thrown out of Parliament on Thursday night? It was not just those red-clad EFF MPs, it was the people who voted for them. (And let’s remember that the less-than-glittering star of last night’s show was NOT elected by us; we voted for the parties, not the president.)

Those one million-plus people include several whom I know. They are young, urban and have tertiary education. They have no confidence in the ANC and they don’t feel they’d be at home in the DA.

They understand clearly that the famous question, “When will you pay the money back?” is not strictly about Nkandla; it’s about the lack of accountability broadly across government (with some shining but small exceptions, of course). They don’t adore Julius Malema, but they do see the EFF as a means to express their anger at the failure to account to the nation.

The EFF action was theatre, in a sense; scripted and choreographed, anticipated… and since it was so widely expected, the question is, why had the ruling party not brainstormed and rehearsed their response to take the wind out of the EFF’s sails, instead of doing exactly what they forecast, and giving them the martyrs’ roles they sought?

The answer lies in the State of the Nation address itself: this government has run out of – in fact never had – innovation and fresh thinking. It could be accused of insanity on the basis of the famous saying, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results,” (widely and wrongly attributed to Einstein).

What was different and exciting and inspiring about the Laughing One’s speech? I found myself accidentally reading the full text of last year’s Sona and it took quite a while to sink in that I was reading the wrong document.

“Siyaqhuba. Siyasebenza. We are a nation at work,” he said, and the remaining members of parly, almost all of whom owe their jobs to him, clapped and cheered.

No, we are not. We are a nation 25% of whom are not at work; we are already divided by massive inequality and other factors (such as xenophobia) that are driven by the factors that underpin that inequality: lack of jobs, lack of growth, lack of services, lack of opportunities. If our president had his ears to the ground, he would have understood that Sona should address these issues, substantially and with practical application.

I have little to no confidence in a government whose leader gives a State of the Nation address and does NOT address:

• Education – two mentions? Give me a break. Education is crucial to build an empowered and employable youth, and it is in absolute crisis.

• Health. Good grief, sir, health is also in crisis; a state employee in one of your major state hospitals says 25% of the people who pass through his under-resourced wards die, and you say, “We will continue to promote healthy lifestyles and to urge citizens to refrain from smoking and the abuse of alcohol and drugs”? You should have been saying that Dr Aaron Motsoaledi has your full support and you will take harsh action against any and all who obstruct his genuine attempts to solve this massive problem.

• Safety and security – your people no longer trust the police and the justice system. How are you and your government going to rebuild trust in a police force which is perceived to be riddled with corruption and other problems (such as a failure to understand their jobs – see the police walking right past the looters in recent xenophobic violence)?

• Economic participation. Forget the people who are voting DA. The young people I know who voted EFF – whose elected representatives you and your government dealt with so uninspiredly – are a very real danger to you and to all of us. They have done everything they were told would win them the world: they have risen from very poor circumstances, they have fought and struggled and in some cases gone hungry to get a good tertiary education; and they are sitting at home clutching their degrees, jobless and hopeless. ‘Work opportunities’? That’s a fudge, as Ben Turok says. They want jobs, a real chance to contribute to the country and live a better life (which will, of course, drive the economy).

• Polarisation and disaffection. “The police successfully brought under control thirteen thousand five hundred and seventy five recorded public order incidents,” you say calmly. Mein Gott. That’s one incident per every 4000 or so citizens, you know? Where’s the serious attention to this dangerous state of affairs?

We are cursed with an inept and uninspired leadership (once again, with some honourable exceptions) that has no idea how to cope with the cracks in the national fabric.

The economy, the nation, can’t afford to wait another few years to get a chance to kick them out. Anybody interested in starting a citizen-driven vote of no confidence?

*Mandi Smallhorne is a versatile journalist and editor. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on twitter.



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