The last few weeks have been brutal. They have forced me into a reflection about the systems that govern us and how they rely on humans, and therefore the flawed human condition, to govern, to protect and to safeguard the rights of people.
The main story that forced me into this reflection was the Life Esidimeni case. The health ombudsman concluded in his report last week that, despite expert advice, protests from families and civil society organisation and even legal action, the Gauteng Health Department moved patients who needed 24hour care from a healthcare facility to improperly vetted and inadequately qualified NGO's. This decision led to the deaths of at least 94 people. 94 is more than Nice truck driver terrorist attack. 94 is more than the Brussels attack, the Charlie Hebdo attack and the recent Berlin attack all put together. 94 is nearly three times Marikana. All, today, deceased at the hands of the very people who are charged with serving them as some of the most vulnerable in our communities.
This highlighted the simple reality that the fate of many, and importantly the fate of a vulnerable many, is in the hands of people. A fellow country man could be sentenced to death at the hands of officials without a crime, a trial, sentencing or an allowing constitution.
Public service by design, is an act of ultimate love. A love for country, so much so that it is felt as a duty to step up and serve the country, it's prosperity and growth being of primary concern. This love and duty can manifest differently in different parties but that is why we have a democratic system. So that we may align ourselves with those whose vision we agree with and challenge each other for the greater good. This system requires a presence not just from officials, but also from citizens in order to work. Citizens need to hold these officials accountable and demand that they be transparent and work with this greater good in mind.
I do not believe that the system is terminally flawed. I believe that the system lacks a rigour that should be standard. I believe that it is grossly under resourced and highly pressurised by politically and socially driven mandates which sometimes lead to poor decisions or bad mistakes. But I also believe that both sides are not adequately playing their part. In this case, these mistakes were being pointed out at every turn and in this case they should not have been made. At the same time, ordinary citizens have not sufficiently showed up to demand accountability and transparency enough.
Our love for country, the thing that makes goosebumps appear when we hear Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrica or see the flag flying high, is not just because of the beautiful landscapes or sporting teams. It should also be a fundamental love for its people and a need to see them thrive.
How is it that in this country 94 people die as a result of a government decision that should have been stopped and we have lukewarm standard responses from the highest branches of government? How is it that in this country, we the ones who are not vulnerable and are well resourced, pepper the streets of Braamfontein when our retirement savings are at risk but merely tweet when 34 and then 94 of our fellow countrymen die?
The main answer I have come to is the problem of otherness. We have created so much space between us and what is different from us that when horrific things like Marikana and Life Esidimeni happen, but they do not happen to those we closely identify with, we leave it to section 27 to deal with without even providing that organisation with additional support.
The trouble with otherness is that it is such a moveable affliction. Today it could poor, black, woman, gay, disabled but tomorrow it could very easily be minority, rich, privileged. By regarding or valuing others less because of some sort of otherness we have ascribed to them, is agreeing to be valued less by whatever your otherness may be to them.
So, while we're on the subject of love this month, I'm going to ask you, the not vulnerable and well resourced, to think about what love of country means to you. Below are three ideas on how to begin contributing:
· Donate your time or money to section 27: http://section27.org.za/
· Read up on how government works and how you could organise: http://www.etu.org.za/toolbox/government.html