It was with a great deal of sadness that I read David Smith’s piece, announcing his intention to stick his head into the sand, which I took mean that he would no longer engage us in intellectually stimulating writing. Of the political sort, I mean.
I understand my friend’s fatigue. South Africa is a madly frustrating country if you are a person who cares. And David very clearly cares. It’s tiring. The temptation to shout, “aah, to hell with it” looms large.
There is much to be disappointed about in the Beloved Country. I personally don’t remember the last time I wrote a positive column about the South African government. I’ve wrung my hands, shook my head, stomped my feet, and mounted the pig barrel — all to no avail. Nothing seems to get better.
We’re saddled with the worst president that the country has seen in 17 years. He has tried to tamper with judicial independence. He has ignored the repeated warnings from the Public Protector. The only reason that Zuma doesn’t seem to be worse than certain ministers on his Cabinet is that our president’s excesses in his private life match those committed as a public servant.
Corruption allegations heap on corruption allegations, both in the private and public sectors, without let.
We are seeing a re-racialisation of the national discourse. Julius Malema confidently states, without the delicacy of nuance that is so crucial, before the local elections that whites are criminals for stealing the land from the blacks. In government, the likes of Jimmy Manyi speak in sweeping, cutting racial terms. Gone are the reconciliation days. The rainbow in the Rainbow Nation seems to be fading.
It’s easy to give up. There are reasons enough.
But that’s precisely why we can’t ever be silent. The extremists in our midst are moving into the public space at a rapid rate. It’s not just those who would like to settle old grievances by the sword. It’s those who put themselves and their comfort ahead of the country. It’s those who believe that they are above the law. They won’t ever be silent. But they can eventually become the overriding narrators of our discourse because the centrists – the normal people – choose to shut up instead of speaking up.
South Africa will descend into chaos when the average person – not the crazies on the extremes – is presented with a choice of one extremity over the other. History is littered with tales of countries that fell apart like this. In almost all of them, the voices of reason had chosen to shut up rather than speaking out. And when the reasonable people shut up, the extremists take up the public discourse in its entirety.
This is why we can never, ever give up on South Africa. We love this place too much to see a few nuts destroy it. As deluded and angry and self-destructive as my beloved South Africans can be, they want a good place to live in too. Nobody wants to live in a hell.
I’m glad to see that David hasn’t given up on his country. “I will never give up my claim to South African-ness. I will always defend my country like a bulldog when people question it,” he said. I ask him not to give up on his crazy fellow South Africans too.
Sipho Hlongwane is a writer and columnist for the Daily Maverick. He considers masochism to be a top requirement for citizenship in South Africa.