By Saliem Fakir · 21 May 2008
First came Zuma, which seemed to scare a lot of people, then the atrocious matric results, then Eskom, the slow disappearance of the Scorpions, the Zimbabwe crisis, then the disgraceful saga at the SABC, the anarchy at the ANC Youth League conference, racism at Free State university, the food crisis and now xenophobia.
There are a few other issues not worth adding to this litany as the point has been made. Everywhere we look is a seemingly unending verve of one crisis after another. Every-time we think we're building, we seem to be deepening and widening the potholes on our road to success.
Are the signs of our time the bad omens of our future? Are we entering the Biblical period’s seven lean years?
It is often said, to lump all things that may have separate lives and reasons as belonging to the same thing is to simplify the world and reduce what is complex to that which is superficial and absurd.
But when you are bombarded with so much at one go you must wonder whether such a wise trope needs re-examination.
When one crisis after another cascades with such regularity and the reactions to them seem disorderly and contradictory, the picture of the world is stark and dim. Who can blame us for looking at things simplistically and seeing one gloomy picture when looking out through the window at the present world before us?
The crisis over power and legitimacy as evidenced in the on-going conflicts between the Zuma and Mbeki camps may well contribute to the less than satisfactory ways in which other crises are dealt with.
The focus on power has kept our leaders' eyes off every other ball flying their way. There simply is no reserve capacity to deal with other (more important) things.
One can perhaps stomach Zuma a little because he is largely the victim of a negative campaign and the new breed of ANC showed that internal democracy within the ANC can work. There certainly seemed to be some promise and hope in the aftermath of Polokwane, but the optimism that came with that watershed event seems to be fading fast.
Eskom’s woes began eight years ago as a result of indecision and poor planning. But it doesn't help that the management of the crisis is being done rather shoddily and costing the economy enormously, not to mention, faith in the country’s leadership.
The SABC's conflict seems to have little to do with public interest, but with ongoing conflicts between the Mbeki and Zuma camps over the control of the SABC and other unsettled scores.
The recent incidents of xenophobic violence, which are rapidly engulfing the whole country makes one wonder if anybody is in charge anymore.
Once again, one crisis after another is being dealt with through big summits or special committees. Yet key decisions and leadership seem lacking. In the public eye there is no seeming decisiveness, certainly not the kind of decisiveness with which the Scorpions are being disbanded.
In the case of xenophobic riots and attacks, officials have blamed the occurrences on ‘third forces’ and the unruly 'generation X' that have been accused of knowing nothing about our traditions. Blame has also been passed on to criminals.
There is complete denial about the fact that xenophobia is inherent in the lack of safeguard policies for foreigners, including the way that our police have systematically harassed foreigners over the years and turned a blind eye to malicious attacks on them.
Xenophobia is not only in the streets but also in our institutions and general attitude towards others. To deny this is to obfuscate responsibility as a nation. We simply have done nothing to integrate foreigners into our society, whether as legitimate job-seekers, economic migrants or political refugees.
Just like the Free State students are not lone actors or aberrations but products of a certain culture, so the violence in the streets against foreigners is rooted in a culture of dismissiveness that we collectively encourage in one way or another.
This in the end lends a hand to the beatings, murder, the looting, destruction and burning of the possessions of foreigners. Those who do these deeds are not today nor tomorrow not from our own – we are all culpable for their conduct.
Is it that 14 years are showing the South African miracle to be a big farce, that we have a leadership without a rudder, that we are not really a nation, and if we cannot be a nation that we are incapable of any form of solidarity for our own or others?
We may just be entering a period where it is literally every man, woman and child for him or herself – a Hobbesian world that will quickly put-to-pay any romantic notion of our country being a rising star of living democracy.
Yet the crises cannot take away the great things that have happened, the enormity of the change and the hope it has brought for many people. Many white people may be grumpy about change, but for the majority of black people, change was necessary and a very positive experience.
Whatever the reasons behind this latest crisis, they do point to the fact that whatever happened in Polokwane has somehow led to the lack of will to govern. Confusion in who makes decisions and the spill-over of conflicts at various levels of public life and decision making is crippling the country.
It is not clear who is in charge: is it the government or Luthuli House because the one says one thing and the other another?
The way forward should not be a plethora of bold statements during crisis management, but clarity about where we are all heading. That is simply nowhere to be seen, not at the Presidency nor at Luthuli House.
Every crisis becomes a whirlpool of activity, engaging, disrupting and consistently tearing at the future because it saps so much energy of the country’s already overstretched resources as well as the concentration span of its leadership.
Citizens in the meantime feel despair and a growing sense that the country’s leadership no longer has a handle on things. There is too much looseness and no firmness to be seen. It is an image that is not endearing - not for the leadership nor for the country.
What is needed more than ever is responsibility, decisive leadership and less navel gazing through more and more committees.
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