THE BLOG
10/05/2018 09:42 SAST | Updated 10/05/2018 10:57 SAST

Max Du Preez: South Africa Needs Intensive Therapy

"If we had Cyril Ramaphosa or someone like him taking the baton from Mbeki in 2009, we would undoubtedly have been in a much better place with a very different national discourse today."

Mujahid Safodien/ AFP/ Getty Images

During a parliamentary debate in 1998 Thabo Mbeki famously quoted the poet Langston Hughes who asked in a poem: "What happens to a dream deferred?" Hughes contemplated whether it dries up or festers, but Mbeki answered the question himself: "It explodes."

After decades in the bush and in apartheid jails, the ANC leadership was never going to be able to run a traumatised country and a broken economy very efficiently from the start.

But its supporters, in fact, most South Africans, were hoping that with the good start under Nelson Mandela the party would quickly learn and evolve with experience and after a decade or so be up to the task of running an efficient, progressive state that would build a society where all could prosper.

STR New / Reuters
Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki celebrate Mbeki's election as President of the ANC in Mafikeng, December 17, 1997. REUTERS/Stringer

Looking back, that did start happening under Mandela and Thabo Mbeki, despite the well-known mistakes and shortcomings. But then this evolution, this upward curve was brutally interrupted and reversed by the catastrophic regime of Jacob Zuma, who became president in 2009.

The people didn't stop dreaming of a better life, of course. What we are witnessing around us in South Africa today is the explosion of that deferred dream.

If we had Cyril Ramaphosa or someone like him taking the baton from Mbeki in 2009, we would undoubtedly have been in a much better place with a very different national discourse today.

Lucky for us, and oh so unlucky for him, we now have a new president willing and able to pick up the slack and reverse the damage of the last decade. If we had Cyril Ramaphosa or someone like him taking the baton from Mbeki in 2009, we would undoubtedly have been in a much better place with a very different national discourse today. There would probably not be an EFF today, perhaps not even an AfriForum.

I say unlucky for Ramaphosa because the timing of his ascendancy could not have been worse. He knows what has to be done to get the country back on track to become a successful state and a fair society, but he would have to fight his own party to achieve that.

William F. Campbell via Getty Images
(L-R) NUM - Natl. Union of Mineworkers officials Mahlatsi, Ramaphosa & Golding during miners' strike talks w. Anglo- American mine reps. (Photo by William F. Campbell/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

I remember very clearly watching Ramaphosa from up close as he led the Mineworkers' Union and manoeuvred to get other unions to unify into what became Cosatu in the mid-1980s and realising: this man believes it is his destiny to become the president of a free South Africa.

It was a crazy idea at a time that oppression was at its worst and the regime of P.W. Botha firmly entrenched. But, as we can see with his political style again now, he is a man who believes that impatience is not always a virtue. A lion stalking its prey should trust its instincts and wait for the right moment to pounce rather than listen to its hunger pains and rush it.

But he might not have enough time to do it his way. He has to keep his party in one piece, ward off many onslaughts from his enemies within and deliver a good win in the 2019 general election, while at the same time managing a precarious state.

There can't be many South Africans who honestly think that Zuma was a good president, even when they say that in public. But the real damage his presidency has caused is only becoming apparent now.

We suffer from post-traumatic depression. We need intensive therapy.

We can all agree that his administration has seriously undermined economic growth and stability; that he has crippled and almost destroyed many key state institutions; that he seriously weakened parliament and turned it into a circus; that corruption became institutionalised during his time; and that political accountability was swept off the table. We can count the hundreds of billions of rand stolen and wasted and ponder what we could have done with those resources.

The Ramaphosa administration can fix all that, even though it may take time and a lot of tenacity, fancy footwork and wisdom.

But the Zuma era also changed the way citizens relate to each other and to the state; it sabotaged the very culture of the body politic; it wreaked havoc with our natural expectations and with how we imagine ourselves as a nation; it discredited and defiled our founding pillar, the constitution.

Over nine long years during a critical period of our development as a democratic nation, the machinations of the Zuma power bloc truly undermined our confidence and self-respect as a people.

There is a wonderful Afrikaans expression for what we feel now: skaam-kwaad, a toxic mix of shame and anger. So we lash out, we insult, we threaten, we break things. We suffer from post-traumatic depression. We need intensive therapy.