In my thirtieth year peace came to the country I was born into. After decades of fighting a border war to protect its citizens from the “Rooi gevaar” (the threat of communism) and internally against urban terror, the government of national unity ushered in a new era for its battle weary citizens. After years of war time stress, we heaved a sigh of relief and looked forward to a new dispensation of peace and prosperity for all.
Twenty years along the line this dream did not materialize.
During this last week the country was rocked by President Jacob Zuma’s unilateral decision to remove the Minister of Finance, Nhlanhla Nene without consulting with his government or party officials and to replace him with an inexperienced, low ranking public servant only to change the appointment two days later. The local currency and stock market reacted negatively to the cabinet changes and caused a loss of billions of dollars to the economy. The people responded by uniting across racial, political and economic lines and through protest marches and petitions demanded the resignation of the President. As to date we are still waiting for this to happen.
For the last couple of years there has been a general sense of dissatisfaction with service rendering amongst the broader population with sporadic incidents of localized protest marches when residents in specific areas were specifically influenced by a lack of public services or inadequate infrastructure. Mr Zuma’s recent erratic behavior seemed to spark an even greater fire of discontent.
Part of the reality of living in South Africa is that we have come to expect poor public services on all levels as well as a steady decline in the conditions of vital infrastructure. In their customary way, the South African people mostly deal with it with humor, in every deteriorating situation finding a play of words or making a mockery of the parties involved. Although we complain a lot about our plight we also accept a lot of it as part of living in a developing country.
I personally, had developed the ability to be able to wait in line for hours only to be told to come back the next day, without getting upset or frustrated. Armed with my notebook and tablet, I will spend these times writing, observing the behavior of a diversity of people or chatting with them, getting their opinions on a wide variety of subjects. These situations proved to be a storehouse of information and inspiration.
Although I have come to accept some of the situations for what it is (namely beyond our control), there are others that I feel we still have control over, things close to home that influences the quality of our lives.
This very fact became highlighted the last couple of days as water supply to a large part of our neighborhood was cut off due to a leak in the main supply line. In the midst of an extremely hot summer holiday season and severe drought, a large part of the community suddenly found themselves without water. Many of these households have no emergency backup system in place which left them in a precarious position.
This was the second time in the last month that we have experienced an extended period of time without public water supply. We used these as a test run for our backup plan and were able to streamline the system and plan for small modifications where necessary.
What surprised and saddened me however, was the reaction of a large number of the residents involved. The local municipality’s Facebook page was inundated with messages by disgruntled residents who demanded a speedy solution to the problem despite the messages from ward counselors keeping them up to date with the progress on the repairs. Here was a population of people who only twenty years earlier fought a bloody war to keep communism and socialism outside of our country’s borders, now completely reliant on government for the fulfillment of their most basic needs.
We are complaining about poor services while we have voluntarily abdicated our own independence and self-governance by allowing government full control over the most basic aspects of our lives. We have abdicated the education of our children, the health care of our families, the curatorship of our traditions and culture, our economic freedom and participation in a fair and equal trade system into the hands of the powers to be. We fully rely on outside agencies for the fulfillment of almost all our needs. Then I ask the question: why did we fight the war against communism only to surrender to it clothed in a different jacket a few years along the line? Why did so many families sacrifice loved ones and then surrender to a system of convenience? Were we so battle weary that when peace presented itself to us, we did not have the strength left to look a little bit deeper and a bit further into the future? Did we grab hold of peace by forfeiting the very thing that we fought for – our independence and right to self-governance?
Why do we need government to supply us with water and energy when there are other alternatives available? Why do we allow government to dictate to us what, where and how we should school our children? Why do we look towards national government for the maintenance and development of our local communities? When and how did we buy into the whole socialist mindset of government taking care of us? When did we hand over our personal power to national leaders who have showed themselves concerned only with their own concerns? More importantly, are we willing to take back our personal power and if so, HOW?
If this is not the reality, why then are we complaining about poor services and the state of the nation‘s affairs?
©Copyright Micelle Coetsee 2015