the other side is always you

It's State-of-the-Nation time again when our leaders tell us why we should be happy with the state we're in. President Thabo Mbeki will do so early next month and at some stage so will ruling party president Jacob Zuma. Some will agree with our leaders, but of course others are sceptical: they have made up their own minds about what's to like and what's not to like.

It's State-of-the-Nation time again when our leaders tell us why we should be happy with the state we're in. President Thabo Mbeki will do so early next month and at some stage so will ruling party president Jacob Zuma. Some will agree with our leaders, but of course others are sceptical: they have made up their own minds about what's to like and what's not to like.

Having made up their minds, some citizens prefer to pack for Perth. Alternatively they have just repacked and replenished - with long-life milk and tinned foods - the concrete bunkers that they built under their houses in anticipation of the "doomsday" election of 1994.

Still others prefer to find out for themselves what is happening. The Internet is usually the first port of call for these types. So a trawl of the Internet was conducted this week. The results of the search found some interesting headlines.

"Murky political scene awaits Congress," says one headline, about politicians returning after the Christmas and New Year break and facing new battles within their own parties for their country's leadership.

"Bloody reality bears no relation to the delusions of this president," says another headline about a "lame duck" president on an international tour.

"Most seek leader who will chart a new course," says another, making reference to a poll of how badly the masses need a new invigorated leadership

"Women used their votes to fight back," reads another, on how women have joined the political fray, using their power to determine who will be their new leader.

"It's the economy, stupid," says the headline of an opinion piece that bluntly points out what's at the root of all the trouble; while another header provides further input into money matters by proclaiming that "Cities need rescuing from fiscal jam".

That's just on the political front. In other spheres results are similarly distressing: "Fee paying schools must take poor pupils," says one headline, talking about the disparity in education between the haves and the have-nots.

"House prices go into a tailspin," is the story of how the property bubble appears to have burst, causing much anguish to estate agents and others.

"Court to rule if banks overcharged customers with 'punitive fees'," says another.

Corruption continues unabated as a "Land ministry official held for taking bribes"; though the police are making some headway as "Provincial police roll up huge toilet paper scam".

Crime remains a problem as "Father assaults 3-year-old son" and "Youth who killed mother stuffed doll in her stomach".

Health is always in the news, as "200 hospitals end emergency care" and "Patients risk death in our sick hospitals". In addition, a "Nuclear safety chief fired" is about a high-ranking official who closed a nuclear reactor resulting in a shortage of life-saving medical isotopes used for cancer and cardiac diagnosis and other treatment.

This is but a sample of the news out there, but there are many more such examples on the worldwide Net. A cautionary note though, before any conclusions are drawn about the state of this nation: none of these headlines are taken from the South African media or refer to events in this country. They are directly from news sources around the world, referring to news events within those nations - from The Telegraph in the UK, USA Today, The Independent in the UK,Japan Today, the Gazette in Canada and The Australian.

The politicians returning to work refers to the US' house of representatives' members returning to Congress amid a battle for the leadership of their parties and their country. The "delusional" "lame duck" president is George Bush, who is lambasted by journalist Robert Fisk for his "tourist jaunt" in the Middle East when he has no prospect of making any headway for peace and seems simply there to sell arms. The headline about the people who seek new leadership also refers to events in the US.

The fee-paying schools story is in Britain about how rich children get superior education at private schools while excluding poor students. The house prices headline refers to how the growth of prices is sliding after 15 years in the UK. The land ministry official arrested for taking bribes took place in Japan, while the Canadian police had to deal with a crook that ran a scam selling army surplus at flea markets.

The crime headlines both come from Japan, including the hospital story about the end of emergency care at 200 hospitals. The sick hospitals headline comes from Australia. The nuclear chief who was fired is a story that comes from Canada. The women voters headline is about how Hillary Clinton is getting more support from women voters in American Democratic Party nomination process. And the headline about the economy refers to the debate taking place in the US.

What conclusions to draw from all this? Perhaps there are only more questions to be asked. Are we better off here than over there? What parallels with other countries can be drawn about our politics, health, social development, crime and corruption? Is the state of the nation best viewed from one's own vantage point: from say the doorway of a township shack or the balcony of a luxury seaside bungalow? Who knows?

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