In 1653, controversial English statesman Oliver Cromwell scathingly dismissed the minimalist parliament he’d established to draft election plans for a new reformed parliament, which included the exasperated exhortation: ‘In the name of God, go’.
His full speech, which was understandably censored in the following years, was reconstructed by historian Thomas Carlyle two centuries later.
‘It is not fit that you should sit here any longer! You have been sat too long here for any good you have been doing lately. You shall now give place to better men!..You call yourselves a Parliament. You are no Parliament. Some of you are drunkards, some of you are living in open contempt of God’s commandments, following your own greedy appetites…Depart I say and let us have done with you.’
Cromwell’s words, (albeit with appropriate modern adjustments on the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion front so as not to trigger or afront the more sensitive nitpickers) probably come close to what many fed-up South Africans wish to tell our African National Congress government right now. But this is not the year we will be able to rid ourselves of our poxy government.
This year, the year before the national election year in which we will be able to give vent to our anger and frustration at the ‘stage’ at which we find ourselves this January, is likely to feel like the longest year ever.
It will be full of darkness and destruction. And it will be leaderless.
There is no real ‘leader’ in the present government, or in fact, the whole elected top structure of the (currently) majority party that has the guts to deviate sufficiently from party ideology and take the big step necessary to release Eskom to the private sector, liberate it from onerous restrictions, enable it and protect it so that it can do what it needs to do.
The darkness is assured. Instead of taking the energy crisis and its knock-on destruction with due seriousness, the President makes the usual time-worn promises, says his hands are tied and he cannot do anything about the coming 18% hike in electricity tariffs, then announces he is swanning off to the bright lights of Davos and the World Economic Forum. Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe proposes a laughable 6-month turnaround of our power crisis. Gauteng Premier Panyaza ‘Populist” Lesufi’s call to write off Soweto’s R5 billion in electricity arrears, a vote-catching strategy of note, further fuels the ire of the account-paying public. This is the third such write-off.
Whatever government doesn’t destroy, our special breed of vandalism-prone protesters will likely set on fire or stone. (One can only presume they stick to these old methods, rather than gluing themselves to bits of art or infrastructure because they prefer to sniff the glue, or because there’s little art in their lives or intact infrastructure left to target.)
So are we there yet? Have we finally all woken up to the need for a fundamental change in the way we operate and the people whom we task with governance; to the reality that this may be pretty damn close to our darkest hour? That we are just a few steps away from crossing the Rubicon?
You may dismiss me as a Sibyl mired in the slough of despond, over-dramatising the situation in the manner of royal author, Harry the Oversharer, but you’d be wrong to do so.
I am, on the contrary, a seeker of light or at the very least the end to this tunnel into which we have been drawn. I am constantly on the lookout to make this ‘nebbish’ year more endurable and conducive to the attainment of improved prospects.
There’s no escaping the facts. The situation we are in is dire. The solution is not simply a matter of ‘stopping the export of our coal’.
But what we do as we bide our time and endure 2023 may make all the difference to our survival in the future – and our mental health (which is apparently something that must be prioritised and central to all planning these days. However, my bet’s on blood pressure spikes being more relevant to this particular problem.)
There are calls and moves afoot for a citizens’ mass protest about the crisis. I’m all behind the idea of a peaceful march on symbols of government, like Parliament, or the Union Buildings, to help us counter the utter feeling of helplessness and the sense that we’re being brazenly fleeced. But there can be no illusion that the ruling party listens to anyone outside their magic circle.
Unless, perhaps, we, the people, do gather, united, in sufficient numbers to give them a good jolt.
You may recall that in the not-so-distant past, even some in the unaffiliated middle-classes, the endemic non-joiners, and the “I don’t do politics” brigade were stirred enough to come out in the streets over Zuma’s shenanigans.
Imagine if we do that again, only better and bigger. It is good to have dreams and aspirations. It’s practically an obligation for capitalists and free marketeers.
The Brenthurst Foundation’s recent phone survey of 1000 registered voters shows that 80 per cent of respondents believe South Africa is going in the wrong direction and 50% of respondents believe the government is the reason for the country’s problems.
66 % of the ANC voters interviewed in the survey conducted through interviews between 27 October and 10 November last year also believe the government is going in the wrong direction. The Brenthurst Foundation survey, however, revealed that 47 % of respondents definitely intended to vote for the ANC.
It seems there are still plenty of people who criticise the ANC but will give it their votes. A vast number of them are those who depend on grants to survive. The party has been extremely successful in conflating state and party in the minds of millions.
People being mad at government right now is no guarantee the ruling party will suffer a knock-out blow in the election ring next year. It could still pull off its survival with some rats and mice to prop it up.
It may be useful right now to again apply pressure for early elections, even though it is only a majority vote in parliament that can make this happen. A civic push, from all quarters, would test the ANC’s claims to being democratic.
In the meantime, in my persona of Little Ms Helpful, (an alter ego bestowed on me by a family who foolishly resists my advice and wise suggestions) here’s some other actions we can take, even as we install any energy alternatives we can afford.
As we wait for the next year and our next significant step, out of the widening gyre, on our journey to greater freedom and better prospects we can:
· Arm ourselves with information – and demand more of it from those currently in charge.
· Challenge and persuasively argue with those who may wish to vote foolishly.
· Begin to imagine what we could do and create given freedom from discriminatory laws and a centralised government mindset, to get the country working properly.
If none of my proposed actions appeal, you are of course at liberty to choose to lay yourself down and weep in a pitiful way or howl at the moon.
While looking up my schedule of allotted power hours this week (I fear we are already habituated to the enforced deprivations) I was intrigued by the signs of ordinary life continuing as normal, amid the stream of curses, cries for help, anger, despair and despondency to be found under the Electricity heading, as Stage 6 was announced. Under Good Vibes there was a simple appeal for a gaming partner. Another message came from someone searching for a sugar mama.
If that’s what you wish to do while things fall apart, remember to keep your computer and inverter charged. If it’s a sugar mama you’re after I suggest you go for one who has gone off grid.
The rest of us, meanwhile, will be busy trying to save the country.
[Photo: Sibonelo Zungu via Reuters]
The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR.
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