By Pali Lehohla
THE OFFICER took one look at my passport and went into a war cry, “Afrique de Sud, Mandela Mandela, Bafana Bafana!”, and without further questions he stamped the passport and we entered Burkina Faso.
That was in August 1997 as the country rode the wave of goodwill Madiba generated and in the wake of the end of apartheid in 1994.
In October 1998 as Madiba was launching the Census ’96 Results, he said ordinary South Africans were being feted like kings across the world because of the miracle of peaceful transition that South Africa had achieved. But he cautioned that those in leadership should not disappoint the people who had placed them in this elevated space of respect and hope.
But we have to ask what Madiba would have thought today as President Cyril Ramaphosa stands before the Zondo Commission.
How has our leader done with the promise to Madiba to value, grow and protect South Africa, what “is now in our hands” and to answer Lembede on “freedom in our lifetime” ?
Yet it is not even 10 years since Madiba departed this world, that on the 27th anniversary of our freedom, South Africa resembles a 1957 American courtroom drama directed by Sidney Lumet, The 12 Angry Men, where the judge gave the jurors the task of coming with a verdict.
But in our context, it is ironically the judge who has to come with the verdict as the “jurors” are in an endless squabble over sleaze and dishonour. To our president on the question of a collective and the herd mentality of parties, Justice Zondo asked appropriately, “If that is so, why do we need the constitutional provisions, if everything can be dictated by the majority party outside the Parliament?”
The late ANC MP Ben Turok, in his book With My Head Above the Parapet: An insider account of the ANC in power, provides not only an analysis of the destructive nature of the seeds of herd mentality, but how he stood out and refused to follow the herd, but continued to do the principled work of ensuring that the constitutional imperatives are delivered to the South African populace who waited for a long time to enjoy the fruits of freedom. He departed this world with his boots on.
Only 30 days before his demise in 2019 he petitioned MPs against approving the Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement because it was not going to resolve the lacuna of poverty, inequality and unemployment.
Here we stand, 27 years into freedom, when we should be holding our heads high saying, “freedom at last”.
The government has previously mapped out scenarios for the future in its Memory of the Future Scenarios project, which mapped challenges South Africa faced in democracy.
In 2007 the Memory of the Future Scenarios was reviewed and discussed in Cabinet. It pointed out that should the country take the ‘skedonk’ route, by 2019 the ANC would be holding its head in shame.
The scene at the Zondo Commission this past week proved how precise predictions of the scenarios were as the president was a word shy of saying, we are sorry: “What I can say, deputy chief justice, you are absolutely right in saying the delayed reaction was not a correct way to handle matters. And I will concede that.”
Yes, it was this delayed reaction to herd mentality and clinging to uninformed economic policies that Ben Turok fought against. It is exactly the herd mentality of majoritarian arrogance that Madiba cautioned us against.
Dr Pali Lehohla is the former statistician-general of South Africa and former head of Statistics South Africa. Meet him at www.pie.org.za or @palilj01
*The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL or of title sites