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Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Des Van Rooyen. Picture Credit: Gallo Images
Van Rooyen suddenly withdraws his interdict

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Our democracy now asks us to find consensus beyond fighting

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

We fight a lot, we South Africans. Sometimes we fight so much that one would think it was our national sport.

We fight a lot, we South Africans. Sometimes we fight so much that one would think it was our national sport.

We fight and fight and forget that the point about fights - I mean intellectual, political, policy fights here - are the pursuit of a goal, a solution of some sort. We get into fight mode and forget to stop and see where we are on the issue we are fighting about.

I am tired of fighting. I think we are all tired of fighting. We are tired of fighting President Thabo Mbeki on a plethora of issues, and we are tired of fighting Tony Leon on the same. The problem is that nothing comes out of it. There are no solutions, no new guidelines drawn, no lessons learnt.

Let us take, for example, the issue of Zimbabwe. President Mbeki and his ministers have been attacked repeatedly by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, by Cosatu secretary-general Zwelinzima Vavi and by numerous others for their disgraceful, inexplicable silence on the horror up north.

Mbeki and his ministers have in the same breath used all sorts of language to call people such as Tutu and Vavi coconuts, Johnny- come- latelies to the struggle or some other such epithets. Nearly 10 years since Zimbabwe slid into the doldrums, no solution has come of it. Mbeki still refuses to listen to the voices of his people, and his critics on the issue still lambaste him.

Take crime. An 80-year-old white woman wrote to DA leader Tony Leon explaining that she will never run South Africa down, that she will always champion its democracy and its beauty, but she has been forced to leave the country because of crime.

Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota, instead of listening to what was clearly a cry for help from a patriotic white South African, chose to play the race card and accused her of all sorts of things. In doing so, he was following in the footsteps of Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula, who said those whocomplain about crime should pack their bags and go.

There are many other examples of this sort of thing. We are all shouting, all feeling angry and under attack. We are all - from Mbeki down to the smallest among us - afraid. Mbeki is afraid that he is being judged unfairly, we are afraid that he is not listening to us - the people who voted him into power.

So we scream and shout at each other. What is the result? There are no solutions, no voice of reason. Crime remains a massive problem despite all this finger-pointing. Zimbabweans are roaming our streets, desperate and in need of jobs and food, while Mugabe flourishes and taunts Mbeki. Meanwhile, we hate each other more and continue to see each other as enemies.

Look, we have had 13 years of a joyous ride in which we have built a country envied across the continent and in many parts of the world. When many thought we would destroy each other, we embraced each other. When many thought we would burst into flames, we doused whatever anger we had against each other.

But 13 years is a long time. The honeymoon is over. Marriage is a tough institution. Democracy is an even rougher institution. It comes with failures by the government and, with the failures, intense scrutiny from the press and the opposition parties. And so the shouting starts.

But fighting and jostling and shouting can only work to a certain degree. At some point we need leaders and a nation that can stop and listen to each other. We need now to see a Nelson Mandela, even an FW de Klerk, who will say, let us all stop and talk.

That leader cannot and must not presume that he has all the answers. That leader must not assume that his party, by virtue of having won the majority of votes cast in the last election, has all the answers. That leader must say yes, there are issues being raised by my fellow citizens and let me listen and act on those.

An example of this is the proposal by Independent Democrats leader Patricia de Lille that there be a crime summit involving all parties and civil society to thrash out a solution to the problem. When young children like Thato Radebe are maimed and killed, when the MEC for Community Safety in Gauteng does not even bother to report a crime, surely we have reached a crisis point. It is time to talk.

Can our leaders see this point? A consensual approach to the most pressing problems of our time is needed. One of the most compelling things about President Mbeki, for example, is his insistence on putting poverty at the centre of his decision and policy-making. Yet many in the opposition benches do not listen or join him in this quest to rid our country of the scourge of poverty. A consensual approach would get them on board, just as he would be on board with numerous other initiatives.

We fight a lot in this country. We fight over the big issues and over the small ones. Sometimes we fight even when there is absolutely no need. But it is time to stop for a while now.

We need a leader who will bring us all together and say: "Let us talk about a few of the big things". Let's stop shouting over and across each other. Let's talk. Let's come up with solutions to just three of these major problems.

President Mbeki, are you there?


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