As a recently converted member of the “twitterati”, I was checking what was trending on the micro blogging site and found “#the Economist” on heavy re-tweet, so to speak. So I proceeded to satisfy my curiosity and came across the now (in)famous Economist piece “Cry, The Beloved Country: South Africa is sliding downhill while much of the rest of the continent is clawing its way up”. The title borrowed from the Alan Paton literary classic.
As expected there were those who passionately agreed with the critical article and those who vehemently disagreed with it. Its impact on South Africa’s reputation has since been debated from social media platform to radio stations. The underlying theme of responses could perhaps be best summed up by Langston Hughes’ poem, “A Dream Deferred”, wherein he asks “what happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore?” For a lot of South Africans who’ve yet to taste the fruits of our famed constitutional order, I suspect the latter of Hughes’ sentiments aptly encapsulates their post- 1994 experience. While it’s true that the prolonged unprotected strikes that have engulfed the mining industry are likely to have negative bearing on the country’s ability to attract foreign direct investment, the genuine grievances of mining workers can’t be dismissed as impediments in the South Africa’s pursuit of an internationally attractive image. It can’t be workers alone who ought to consider the nation’s global standing. When President Zuma urges the public to tighten their belts while his multimillion rand estate/compound is being built, isn’t that the most crude expression of social solidarity with the very people in whose interests he ought to act on whose behalf? The president’s conduct is creating the perception that he isn’t at all bothered by the plight of much of the electorate, especially in these recessionary times.
The country’s criminal justice system has so many loopholes that are exposed in instance that seemingly favour moneyed citizens. That essentially means that the constitutional ideal that everyone is equal before the law is exactly that, an ideal. How else would you explain the case of the convicted former estate agent Wendy Machanik, who pleaded guilty to stealing R27million of money held in trust, being given only a R1, 5million fine as punishment? Is that justice? The same can be said of politically connected criminals who seldom complete their sentences because their kidneys qualify them for parole as we’ve seen with Zuma’s former financial advisor, Shabir Shaik, and disgraced former police commissioner, Jackie Selebi, have demonstrated. This effectively means the law applies differently to you when you’re poor and lack struggle credentials, whatever those are. Are poorer people expected to have confidence in a system whose ability to come to your aid is determined by the depth of your pockets?
The barbaric scene that played themselves out in Marikana are indicative of the fact that South Africa has lost its “global sweetheart” appeal of the Nelson Mandela presidency. In fact, the “rainbow nation” idea should’ve been long discarded because it created an impression that all was well with our democratic order, meanwhile behind a new anthem; flag and an idolised, if not sanctified, president the land question remained unresolved; racially characterised inequalities grew and the economic empowerment of a clique of political aligned people saw the sore in Hughes’ lament that’s the real state of the Republic turn more septic. If indeed “South Africa belongs to all who live in it” as the Constitution stipulates then there ought to be more consideration for those whose voices rarely command the attention of the dispensers of economic and political. The De Doorns and other farm workers that have erupted in the Western Cape speak to the neglect of workers, whose sweat also oils the economic machinery of the country. Although not excusable, the violence that has characterised those strikes has to do a lot with the workers’ desperate circumstances. Is it not in the interest of the nation and the employer to remunerate the employee adequately so as to ensure fruitful returns in due course?
Articles like that one in the Economist can’t bemoan the country only when there are threats to the interests of big business but must be equally vociferous when it comes to the astronomical economic disparities between white men, the greatest beneficiaries of the old order, and African women, the most burdened grouping of the Apartheid era. There must be scathing pieces regarding the capital flight problem in the country or when cartels fix prices with scant regard of the extent of their avaricious conduct like they did in the bread; tyre and construction industries. The cries of a beloved country can’t only be those from chattering classes because an undeniable fact is that working class people have never ceased crying in a country that ought to true “belongs to all who live in it” but who experience, whether financially; politically; culturally and socially, almost always contradicts the nobility of that constitutional value.