I’m a vulnerable so I’ve been at home, not even going out to shop, for even longer than the official lockdown. Despite a lurking fear that accompanies the soaring number of Gauteng infections and the hysteria fomented by much of the media, it’s all been quite pleasant. I still, for now, have an income from my pension, I have a home I own and a spouse I get on with. I have no desperate addictions. I have uncapped wi-fi and a generator to deal with troublesome blackouts both scheduled and unscheduled.

But life for most South Africans is not like this at all. The majority of people are desperately scrabbling, to keep their jobs or their businesses or farms going, to get food, to find work, a place to stay, someone trustworthy to care for their child, an uncrowded taxi. They’re doing all this currently while at risk of contracting Covid-19 and being unable to secure a hospital bed, medical care or the oxygen they may need.

So despite my idyll of isolation I am very angry. I know I am not alone.

We could have handled Corona so much better if we didn’t have a couple of decades of being crippled by government incompetence, corruption, failure to deliver on the basics or, in fact, to plan or manage anything effectively.  At the helm of this government (currently the National Coronavirus Command Council) is a riven ruling party that’s more concerned with driving an antiquated 1962 National Democratic Revolution and feathering its nest than focusing on the immediate problems faced by its citizens. Topping it all is its racial nationalism, dividing us back into racially defined camps we once briefly dreamed we’d ditch.

Every day it seems more obvious than ever that the country’s future was compromised, starting from the date when the African National Congress (ANC) was given enough of a majority to bleed support every national election but still stay in power.

I hope many of those voters who gave them the benefit of the doubt over the past few elections are taking a long hard look at their previous ballot choices.

Our economic situation and the past couple of months must surely have opened their eyes to the reality that this government is incapable of putting people ahead of party, has no wish to let people make their own choices and decisions and no desire to implement reforms.

If there’s any doubt, turn on your DSTV (if you can still afford it) to Channel 408. Ignore the antics of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and spend just one session listening, really listening, to the inanities and asinine utterances, speeches or questions of the majority of ANC MPs in parliament or a portfolio committee meeting on any given day.

Rote spouting of tired old slogans

Note the lazy lies, the arrogance, the racism, the disdain and disregard for other points of view. The rote spouting of tired old slogans.

There was a time long ago when I believed Cyril Ramaphosa could be a future leader and was a good communicator. That seems as foolish now as my teenage crush on Che Guevara.

Corona may have brought us the worst of times, but as the old phrase has it, there’s never an ill wind….

Ramaphoria is over. Even the mainstream media has turned lukewarm on their man. The once-gushing twitter groupies are silent.

There’s an opportunity now to harness the disgruntlement of the normally acquiescent, the apathetic non-voters, the perpetually silenced and intimidated. There’s a need to stiffen the spines of wussy liberals and persuade fence-sitters off the fence to rescue the remnants of liberal democracy and give us back individual agency.

In his response just over a year ago to the Financial Times’ exclusive interview with Vladimir Putin, in which the Russian leader dismissed the ‘liberal idea’ as having served its purpose, the paper’s Chief Economics Commentator, Martin Wolf, said liberalism ‘is not a precise philosophy, it is an attitude. All liberals share a belief in individual human agency. They trust in the capacity of human beings to decide things for themselves. This belief has radical implications. It implies the right to make their own plans, to express their own opinions and to participate in public life’.

Liberals who have slid away from opposition or who allowed their liberal tolerance to prevent them calling out creeping identity politics, taking a stand in the current culture war, or forcefully resisting cadre infiltration in nearly every important government and non-governmental institution under the guise of demographic transformation, should search their consciences with regard to that last sentence in the Wolf quote.

Time to get off the sidelines

It’s time to get off the sidelines and engage in the business of civic life and politics. To become a liberal activist. To stop being precious about finding a political party that’s perfect and the perfect fit, and opt for one that mostly shares one’s values. Get involved in rescuing our institutions. Volunteer to sit on industry bodies. Share and support alternative media. Defend your liberal values out loud with reason and with confidence wherever you can, wherever you operate. Staff writer and opinion editor Bari Weiss did it this week in her resignation letter to the New York Times, over the issue of free speech.

She may have failed in her effort to centre the paper or make it more tolerant editorially but she fired a powerful salvo at the censorious new orthodoxy, the new totalitarian bullies, cropping up everywhere.

Of course it’s rough out there.  ‘Cancel culture’ is cruel. Its favourite weapons are the labels ‘racist’ and ‘race traitor’. The ANC is as experienced in this type of warfare and uses it daily. Many liberals in South Africa have tended to play too nicely. It’s time to toughen up and take on the local bullies.

Liberalism is the best means we have to extricate ourselves from this government’s dependence on racism and to stave off the grand, catastrophic plans for greater state control of our health, our property, our pensions, our prospects and our thoughts.

If we are going to climb successfully out of debt and the plague pit, we will need entrepreneurship, innovation and more freedoms, something only a more liberal democracy headed by people who can implement and lead, can deliver. It’s imperative that enough people ready themselves to assert the liberal attitude in the 2021 and 2024 elections, bravely and confidently.

Our ‘new normal’ should be anything but our normal government of the past 20 years.

[Picture:  Sydney Rae on Unsplash]

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR

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Paddi Clay spent 40 years in journalism, as a reporter and consultant, manager, editor and trainer in radio, print and online. She was a correspondent for foreign networks during the 80s and 90s and, more recently, a judge on the Alan Paton Book Awards. She has an MA in Digital Journalism Leadership and received the Vodacom National Columnist award in 2007. Now retired she feels she has earned the right to indulge in her hobbies of politics, history, the arts, popular culture and good food. She values curiosity, humour, and freedom of speech, opinion and choice.