On Tuesday, democratic South Africa turns 27. It’s an age when our country can no longer be considered young and when we would have been expected to deal with many of the problems we inherited from our apartheid past.
When I think of the number 27, two instances come to mind. The first is that 27 is the number of the prison gang which, according to criminologists, are the guardians of gang law and responsible for peacekeeping in prisons. The second is that the 27 Club is a group of talented musicians who all died at the age of 27, after already making their mark on the music industry.
South Africa is not a prison gang and is too young to die, even though, with the state of the economy and the rampant corruption that we hear about almost on a daily basis at the Zondo Commission into state capture, there are some political analysts who believe that our democracy is seriously if not fatally under threat. There is always a need for our democracy to be guarded against those who are trying to subvert it.
South Africa is in crisis, but, in my humble opinion, this too shall pass. We have overcome worse under apartheid and we shall overcome this tumultuous period as well.
The mistake that many make when they talk about South Africa is to talk only about politics and the economy. While these two things are important, they are not what makes up our society in totality.
There are so many aspects of our society to consider: arts and culture, sport, education, housing, social cohesion, civil society, but most importantly, the people of South Africa. We have some of the most resilient people in the world.
Politically, South Africa is facing a difficult period with the national governing party, the ANC, facing an identity crisis with two factions fighting for control of the organisation. Both factions, which would like to be known for promoting certain policies, are strongly based on support for prominent ANC leaders: President Cyril Ramaphosa on the one side, with former president Jacob Zuma and/or general-secretary Ace Magashule on the other.
On the face of it, this is a battle for the soul of the ANC, but whether the ANC’s soul can still be saved is debatable. The party appears to have moved too far away from the one that had leaders of the calibre of Oliver Tambo, Chris Hani, Walter Sisulu and Nelson Mandela.
The choices for voters outside of the ANC is rather barren, with the DA appearing to be going back to what they know: appealing to white voters; and the EFF trying hard to be revolutionary while enjoying middle- and upper-class luxuries not normally associated with revolution.
South Africa’s economy, which was already battered and bruised after the last global economic recession, was given more serious blows by the coronavirus pandemic which all but crippled the country and the economy over the past year and a bit.
The unemployment rate has gone through the roof with, depending on who you speak with, figures of between 30 and 60% being bandied about.
Several industries have been severely affected by the pandemic, including tourism, events and arts and culture, as people who depended on audiences for income had to find ways of reinventing themselves.
The demise of tourism, in particular, has been felt greatly in South Africa, where it was seen as one of the pillars of our economic growth strategy. The great fear is that the sector will take several years to recover, even if Covid is defeated and everyone is successfully vaccinated.
The government’s response has been to throw little bits of money at the problems, for instance the R350 monthly grant which is meant to support people who lost their livelihood because of Covid.
Government has not been helped by the ineptitude of officials in certain sectors, such as arts and culture, where a mixture of corruption and inefficiency meant that many artists did not get the money they were supposed to get to help them deal with the pandemic.
Government has vacillated, with a succession of economic plans to take the country forward. It stared with the Reconstruction and Development Plan, which was headed up by special ministry led by Jay Naidoo in 1994. This quickly gave way to the Growth, Employment and Redistribution Plan in 1996, but this also did not last long.
Government began to implement the National Development Plan (NDP) in 2013 with the noble aim of eliminating poverty and reducing inequality by 2030. Even before Covid, the NDP appeared to be heading into trouble and began to look increasingly impossible to implement.
Twenty-seven years into our democracy – remember the long queues when we voted for the first time on April 27, 1994 – South Africa has not made much progress in delivering the country we were promised at the time.
Corruption and an inefficient public service are easy to blame for this lack of basic service delivery. A bigger and more sinister reason could be a lack of political will.
* Ryland Fisher is an independent media professional and former newspaper editor.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.