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11/05/2018 04:43 SAST | Updated 11/05/2018 04:43 SAST

It Feels Like Things Are Falling Apart, But Are They Really?

South Africa is the Drama Nation, and it feels slightly unhinged very often.

AFP Contributor via Getty Images

There's a premier gone AWOL (North West's Supra Mahumapelo). A mayor on the loose (Cape Town's Patricia de Lille). Another on the tightrope (Nelson Mandela Bay's Athol Trollip). And a councillor in jail. (Nelson Mandela Bay's Andile Lungisa).

There are angry protests around the country. Alexandra. Soweto. Johannesburg central. All across North West. Grabouw, Pelican Park and Mitchells Plain in Western Cape. Land occupations around Johannesburg and Cape Town.

Siphiwe Sibeko / Reuters
Protesters in Mahikeng, North West, continue their call for premier Supra Mahumapelo to resign, April 20 2018.

And strikes too. The public-service wage round is grinding on with no resolution in sight. That's 1.2-million people who could go on strike. The bus strike is a queue of intransigence. Strikes loom if the minimum wage is implemented at its current levels.

It can feel like chaos. South Africa is the Drama Nation, and it feels slightly unhinged very often. The news here is urgent and laden with drama — and it's loud.

And it's nearly always like that — with among the highest rates of protest in the world and with a strong labour movement, the struggle can feel like it has never ended.

One reason is our history: a country whose freedom was won on the street (marches, protests, strikes) has this in its DNA. Every year, winter marks an anxious round of protests and the zenith of wage negotiation rounds. While the commitment to mediation and conciliation are meant to have stemmed labour conflict, the data on strikes shows it is ticking upward.

Protests and land occupations are high, but steadily so — it's how we roll, especially in winter, which has just started. Every year we feel as if we are in an endless winter of discontent.

It can feel like things are falling apart, but are they really?

Because our political system is based on party politics, the nation is consumed by the antics of personalities within the parties, rather than by finding policy solutions to strikes and protests remaining so intransigently high.

This season those personalities are Mahumapelo, De Lille and Trollip. It will change next season, but it will always be about personalities, because of the system of representation we have chosen.

It can feel like things are falling apart, but are they really?

Perhaps. But I would much rather be here now, than there last year.

South Africa is exiting its era of impunity and state capture because we, the people, put up a ferocious fight against state capture. It is not fully over, but there are now theatres of accountability everywhere. There are at least three parliamentary inquiries into different aspects of state capture at state-owned enterprises; the judicial commission of inquiry into state capture is about to start, and the presidency will soon issue terms of reference for an inquiry into tax administration at the SA Revenue Service.

In the course of turning back kleptocracy, South Africa's key institutions like the media, the judiciary and Parliament proved themselves resilient, strong and independent.

I found it deeply energising — and continue to feel that way, even though the mad, bad Drama Nation has careened off into new crises.

We have a good president who seems determined to make things work — not the laughing, jeering man who took us down the path to failure for a decade.

It can be an exhausting country to live in and to cover, but it remains beloved. As a media facing an enormous and existential recession, coverage is neither deep nor long, so we tend to amplify the sense of drama — and do not temper it with long, slow reporting which might provide a more nuanced and measured state of the nation.

This happens because we pick the low-hanging fruit: the premier gone AWOL; the angry and scalded mayor; the fires of the protestors and the rhetoric of the union bosses leading the strikes. This kind of coverage, aided by the virality of social media, makes roller-coaster South Africa seem out of control, but in fact many indicators point in the right direction.

Growth is headed up; so is justice; so is governance; so are our discussions on land, with the urgency that social justice demands. We have a good president who seems determined to make things work — not the laughing, jeering man who took us down the path to failure for a decade.

In a country of searing inequality and joblessness so deep it cuts across everything, we would be abnormal if things did not provoke anxiety. These are anxious times, to be sure — but they are times of greater hope than I've witnessed in our past lost decade.

And in these times, there are no shortcuts. As a citizen, what I do see is a determination to do something about it — and not wallow in the drama we seem to suckle on, as if addicted to its high.