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Remote Mbeki presides over dying dream

By unknown | Feb 05, 2007 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

President Thabo Mbeki will receive copious advice before he addresses the opening of parliament this Friday. People will beg him to speak on crime, Aids, poverty and a plethora of other issues.

President Thabo Mbeki will receive copious advice before he addresses the opening of parliament this Friday. People will beg him to speak on crime, Aids, poverty and a plethora of other issues.

But Mbeki's problem is deeper and far more frightening than many realise. His problem is that the people of South Africa in general and the ANC in particular have lost direction and purpose during his presidency.

From a once proud and purpose-driven nation, we are now a people shouting at each other with little or no meaningful debate taking place.

Mbeki's challenge is to put into the public sphere the kind of unifying, animating message that can bring us all back together again to face the challenges of the country together.

Let us examine the problem.

Does anyone know where we are today as a country? Are we a people united in any way?

If you are travelling in India, Nigeria or Brazil, is your South Africanness truly representative of this country?

I ask these questions because 12 years after the advent of democracy in South Africa it is clear that the one thing we once again lack is a defining identity, a unifying leader and a common vision for the country.

Scanning the headlines in South African media over the past two years, it is once again becoming clear that we are a country drifting dangerously apart along racial, economic, social and ideological lines.

Most importantly, though, we are losing - or we have lost totally - the consensual nature of our democracy in which all of us tried to emerge from engagements as winners.

We have lost the dream.

In the 1980s, through the United Democratic Front inside the country and the ANC outside, the dream of a united, non-racial country animated young and old alike. Former apartheid apologists, businesspeople, poor and rich, blacks and whites, all came together under this dream.

Think back to 1989 and to the UDF's defiance campaign. Hundreds of thousands of people - black and white - came together to defy apartheid laws on an unprecedented scale.

Beaches and other whites-only areas were invaded, marches were held in centres from Cape Town to Polokwane.

The most important thing about these events was that they were driven by leaders who articulated a clear idea and purpose.

Ordinary men and women could embrace this idea and feel it belonged to them. It was an idea whose time had come, articulated by leaders who believed in it.

Alas, not so today. Mbeki and the ANC he leads are often at odds with the rump of the people. Whether on crime, Aids or many other issues, Mbeki acts like a man living somewhere else than in a country whose people are dying.

That would be fine if people could ignore these scourges while embracing something that Mbeki was articulating and leading.

But the ANC today is devoid of a single hopeful idea for the country. Instead, as illustrated recently in a devastating report in the Financial Mail magazine, the ANC is now a place where leaders go so that they can position themselves for lucrative tender and black economic empowerment deals.

The party's top echelons are no longer known as "the leadership", but as a "dealership".

The truth of the matter is that the ANC is rotting. Many of its top leaders are engaged in so many overt and covert business deals that the party is no longer a vehicle for change, but a vehicle for self-enrichment.

The only thing ordinary members can do is look on while top leaders swan around in fancy cars and live it up.

This situation makes ordinary citizens feel cynical about what their leaders say and do.

We are quickly reaching a point where many of our people, who very recently regarded politicians as part of the solution to our problems, will begin to see them as part of the problem.

These things have been illustrated by events where Mbeki, himself, has been booed and some of his cabinet members have been shown the door by angry residents.

In essence, Mbeki's words when he asked what happens when a people's dream is deferred, are coming back to haunt him.

People will explode in anger.

What does Mbeki need to do?

He needs to give his people hope again. He needs to give them a dream of what this society is and where it is going. Crucially, he needs to give them hope that their problems, their cries, are heard by someone.

Mbeki has had a tendency in the past of denying and even denigrating the well-founded wishes of many citizens of the country.

If he chooses to continue on this path he will find that the current depression in the country - where large parts of the nation are turning against him - will continue. He may stick his fist in the air and be defiant, but I do not know of any democratic country in the world where people have continued to support a leader who does not give them a convincing blueprint for the future.

Mbeki's challenge is clear. Don't wait for an election campaign. Listen to the people. Hear their cries. Then fashion a dream for them, give them hope again and give them purpose. Only in this way can you make South Africa successful.


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