Don’t panic, be prepared, buy a red beret and keep it in the hallway
– Evita Bezuidenhout, Cape Times, 7 February 2019
(this Opinion piece also appeared in the Daily Maverick, 7 February 2019)
I stand at my stove in the Luthuli House kitchen and daydream. I don’t allow politics
in my kombuis, so it has become a national key point of my own making.
So while preparing the reconciliation bobotie for the NEC, what do I dream about,
other than a Louis Vuitton handbag? Oh, for the day when members of Parliament are
paid the basic minimal wage for their services to State and People. Oh, for the day
when corrupt officials can be fired without being put out to pasture for years on
full salary. Oh, for the day that bonuses and skyhigh salaries in both the public
and private sectors will be taxed 90%, as I remember happened in the UK during a
Labour government in the 1960s.
But as a cadre I know my job, I stick to my job and I deliver results: thanks to
my recent diet regime at Luthuli House, we can now see members of Cabinet, including
our president, fitting into economy class seats on SAA.
Discipline in a political structure is to lead by example. In 1994, there was delivery
and mutual respect in most parties, but as power became less of a famine and more
of a feast, the rot of entitlement set in. Cadres, don’t talk to the media; don’t
tweet like Zille; don’t gossip like Zuma; stop looking over the fence for the grass
that is greener.
As a mature citizen of a maturing democracy, I still demand my right to opinions.
And so what I articulate here is as a South African, a gogo and designer-democrat,
proud of my small contribution to the bigger picture.
My grandchildren challenged me to stand up and be counted as a protector of democracy.
I had all the prejudice that so many of us share for good reason: that everyone in
the ANC is corrupt, that everyone in ANC steals, that everyone in the ANC is a crook.
Daily I could put six names on a billboard to appear before the Zondo Commission
of Inquiry, but the majority of ANC members are not corrupt, trying to keep our fragile
democracy more or less balanced.
On a daily basis, we have political figures pleading their innocence, even while
the facts of their misdemeanours tower over them. They make up part of a democratically
elected government where they use democratically accepted ways to destroy democracy.
Will these present commissions of inquiry have any positive results to reinstate
the losses that have been committed to secret bank accounts? Most citizens doubt
it, most of the accused revel in it and many members of the legal profession are
grateful for it. As usual, the people foot all the bills.
Of course in a democracy, we are innocent until proven guilty, and thank heavens
for that. But maybe it is time to adapt some details. I suggest we treat politicians
and civil servants as guilty before proved innocent.
The innocent will be easily recognised, the guilty will have a problem. Those who
have left office under a cloud must still be held responsible for what they did as
servants of the people before leaving the scene of their crimes. No golden handshakes.
Every democracy deserves the government it gets. The core of the ANC celebrated with
Madiba, while eyeing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The same core stood
blankly by when Mbeki denied HIV while they knew better. That same core looked the
other way as Zuma giggled, while Sars, Eskom, Transnet, the Post Office, Prasa, Sassa
and SAA burned.
After the years of Mshowerlozi’s kleptocracy, the nation is traumatised and needs
urgent counselling. Time to take charge. If the people lead, the government will
follow. Politicians are supposed to clean up after the people have left a mess. At
the moment it’s the other way round.
We can’t change the headlines. Most of them are created to frighten us into silence.
We must not be manipulated by third-rate politicians with their fourth-rate ideas.
But there is so much that can be done among those around us: partners, husbands,
wives, children, grandchildren, the Zimbabwean maid’s offspring, neighbours, friends
and immigrants. Just looking at a local early childhood development school can help
one to appreciate the power of a community and make them the jewel in the crown of
Because if communities are supported to support themselves, service delivery will
start at home and not be a rumour from above.
Meanwhile, the cost of living rises, as does anger among taxpayers exploited by politicians
who should know better, education implodes while crime explodes. The disinterest
in climate change, the obsession with social media, the paralysis of government and
the pessimism within society are all real, tangible and, yes, as Donald Trump would
wax: “Bad, very bad.”
Expropriation of land without compensation is heading the list of fears, and for
good reason as small political gangs in red berets and BlackFirst-Brain-Last T-shirt
slogans spread confusion and fake promises among the people. But don’t panic! There
are enough good members of the human race to prevent a Zimbabwean or Venezuelan horror
story from emerging.
Just be prepared. Buy a red beret. Keep it in the hallway. So when you hear them
toyi-toying up the driveway and banging on your front door with shouts of Kill-the-this
and Viva-thethat, put on your red beret, open the door and say: “I got here first!”
Most of us have difficulty in finding the right words to put today’s political geography
into context, so let me end by quoting one of the most remarkable leading voices
of our time.
“As we look for new answers in this modern age, I, for one, prefer the tried and
tested recipes — like speaking well of each other and respecting different points
of view, coming together to seek out the common ground, and never losing sight of
the bigger picture.” Queen Elizabeth II could have been talking to South Africans.
* Bezuidenthout is the alter-ego of satirist Pieter-Dirk Uys. www.evita.co.za