Africa

JUDITH FEBRUARY: Despite SA’s problems, we must still hold on to our dreams

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2020 is winding down. In many respects it has been a brutal year. The COVID-19 pandemic has provided a health challenge and has ravaged our economy, with 2.2 million people losing their jobs.

Balancing lives and livelihoods has never been as difficult. Putting in place the economic recovery will be as fraught as ever given the dysfunction within the governing ANC and the glacial pace at which the state moves to implement anything.

Last night President Ramaphosa again addressed the nation on COVID-19. Ramaphosa’s announcement was as expected. The national state of disaster would be extended. That provides government with the legal cover to implement curfews, restrict large gatherings at churches and funerals, prohibit initiation ceremonies and limit alcohol sales.

Nelson Mandela Bay is the country’s COVID-19 hotspot and will see special restrictions implemented. Ahead of the announcement there was much dramatic speculation about stricter lockdown rules across the country. The bottom line is that the pandemic will be with us for a while yet. At this point government needed to be pragmatic. Putting the country in Christmas lockdown was never on the cards, nor was it necessary.

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Ramaphosa took the sensible and pragmatic option and, after consultation, decided on localised lockdowns, specifically in the Eastern Cape.

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For the rest of the country, level 1 restrictions remain. That means social distancing in public spaces, masking up, sanitising and behaving sensibly.

Locking down the country again would have been akin to taking a sledgehammer to a gnat given all our other challenges. Besides, which President really wants to be the grinch who stole Christmas?

COVID-19 aside, on any given day one can be forgiven for being overwhelmed by South Africa’s challenges. From a limping economy, the ANC’s internal squabbles, truck drivers’ xenophobic violence on our highways, crime and corruption, there seems to be little time to see what is positive or to find those things which actually do work.

After nearly a decade of state capture, our democratic institutions have been hollowed out. Repurposing them will take time and the combined effort of a society which demands it and then those in public service to put their collective shoulder to the wheel.

As we have seen in another Chapter 9 institution, the Public Protector’s office, it is easy for the wrong person to be selected for the job and equally easy for that person to be captured by corrupt forces within the society.

The damage to the Public Protector’s office under Busisiwe Mkhwebane is untold as she has weaponised it for narrow political interests. Along with that came its own mediocrity in the application of the law and facts.

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Mkhwebane has been involved in a running legal battle with President Ramaphosa and one cannot help but feel that she is being rather selective in the matters she takes on. It is another sad tale of institutional capture.

In contrast, this past week saw the first woman Auditor-General, Tsakani Maluleke, taking office. She has big shoes to fill, of course. Her predecessor, the late Kimi Makwetu’s life stood in sharp contrast to the tawdriness we see all around us.

His tenure as Auditor-General was marked by integrity, an unstinting dedication to his constitutional mandate and a desire to leave the office even better than he found it.

South Africans should be grateful to Makwetu for holding the line despite the many pressures his office faced at a tricky time for our democracy.

The very impressive Maluleke worked alongside Makwetu and understands her brief. We can only wish her well as she will require the courage and integrity of her predecessors in dealing with the country’s finances.

On Tuesday she was welcomed in song as she walked into her new office. Out belted an old South African favourite, African dream.

It was strangely touching that in the midst of all the stories of democratic degradation, this important office stands as a beacon of excellence in a sea of mediocrity. Now, an outstanding woman is at the helm.

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Langston Hughes would also have been apposite. Here we can still hold on to dreams.

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

Judith February is a lawyer, governance specialist and Visiting Fellow at the Wits School of Governance. She is the author of ‘Turning and turning: exploring the complexities of South Africa’s democracy’. Follow her on Twitter: @judith_february

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