Sipho Hlongwane
Sipho Hlongwane

Why David Smith should write on Thought Leader

It was with a great deal of sadness that I read David Smith’s piece, announcing his intention to stick his head into the sand, which I took mean that he would no longer engage us in intellectually stimulating writing. Of the political sort, I mean.

I understand my friend’s fatigue. South Africa is a madly frustrating country if you are a person who cares. And David very clearly cares. It’s tiring. The temptation to shout, “aah, to hell with it” looms large.

There is much to be disappointed about in the Beloved Country. I personally don’t remember the last time I wrote a positive column about the South African government. I’ve wrung my hands, shook my head, stomped my feet, and mounted the pig barrel — all to no avail. Nothing seems to get better.

We’re saddled with the worst president that the country has seen in 17 years. He has tried to tamper with judicial independence. He has ignored the repeated warnings from the Public Protector. The only reason that Zuma doesn’t seem to be worse than certain ministers on his Cabinet is that our president’s excesses in his private life match those committed as a public servant.

Corruption allegations heap on corruption allegations, both in the private and public sectors, without let.

We are seeing a re-racialisation of the national discourse. Julius Malema confidently states, without the delicacy of nuance that is so crucial, before the local elections that whites are criminals for stealing the land from the blacks. In government, the likes of Jimmy Manyi speak in sweeping, cutting racial terms. Gone are the reconciliation days. The rainbow in the Rainbow Nation seems to be fading.

It’s easy to give up. There are reasons enough.

But that’s precisely why we can’t ever be silent. The extremists in our midst are moving into the public space at a rapid rate. It’s not just those who would like to settle old grievances by the sword. It’s those who put themselves and their comfort ahead of the country. It’s those who believe that they are above the law. They won’t ever be silent. But they can eventually become the overriding narrators of our discourse because the centrists – the normal people – choose to shut up instead of speaking up.

South Africa will descend into chaos when the average person – not the crazies on the extremes – is presented with a choice of one extremity over the other. History is littered with tales of countries that fell apart like this. In almost all of them, the voices of reason had chosen to shut up rather than speaking out. And when the reasonable people shut up, the extremists take up the public discourse in its entirety.

This is why we can never, ever give up on South Africa. We love this place too much to see a few nuts destroy it. As deluded and angry and self-destructive as my beloved South Africans can be, they want a good place to live in too. Nobody wants to live in a hell.

I’m glad to see that David hasn’t given up on his country. “I will never give up my claim to South African-ness. I will always defend my country like a bulldog when people question it,” he said. I ask him not to give up on his crazy fellow South Africans too.

Sipho Hlongwane is a writer and columnist for the Daily Maverick. He considers masochism to be a top requirement for citizenship in South Africa.

  • David Smith

    Nice one dude. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts, I appreciate it.

    I agree SA politics is in a weird place at the moment. But I’m not sure any of us should be engaging the sorts of thoughts coming out of the mouths of people like Eric Miyeni and Julius Malema.

    They rely on the media to broadcast their message, to respond in an indignant way. I would love it if the media smothered them with a blanket of silence. By denying firebrands the oxygen that they so desperately crave, it may help to extinguish their flames.

    This probably flies in the face of journalistic principle, but maybe it could work.

  • LG

    *just pressed the ‘like’ button* I read David’s column and understood where he is coming from. Some of us are even questioning whether we should still stick it out in the NGO sector. The situation is really depressing and it does look like we are following on the footsteps of other African countries.

  • Jason Norwood-Young

    Wow. Powerful piece Sipho. David, don’t ever stop writing. You’re the best on ThoughtLeader. (Sorry Sipho, you’re Number 3, although this piece must be the best opinion article I’ve read in a long time.)

  • Justin

    Fabulous article, Sipho. I’ll share with you my coping with SA mechanism! I have worked for a small music distribution company (CDs and DVDs)for 30 years. Before democracy the 10 us in the business (about equal black and white) decided that as we were not going to get any help from the facist authorities or any other political party, we were going to have look after each other; by sharing profits, saving wisely, talking through problems rather than firing, and generally tending the business as one would a garden. We have had almost no staff turnover since. Due to the apalling state of a morally bankrupt government,and the extremists who would bring us down, we have collectively decided to renew our vows to look after one another. And have fun.

  • Balt Verhagen

    Dear Sipho

    You wrote, and far more eloquently than I could have done, exactly what I felt about David’s intention to withdraw from ThoughtLeader.

    What makes this blog site so worthwhile and fascinating is its multiplicity of voices, and David’s has been one of the those I always looked forward to hearing. I would like to join you in pleading with David to “pull his head out of the sand” and keep the multiplicity of voices alive and vibrant.

    One of the reasons, perhaps, for NOT voicing these feelings was that one mlungu should be pleading for another. This may sound naive, and out of date, but with the “re-racialisation” of our discourse I, as an aging representative of the ruling class from the apartheid era, have sensitivities in this regard.

    Thanks, Sipho. In the encircling gloom, the bright lights that shine – or to stick to the previous metaphore, clear voices sounding above the develish cacophony – are exactly those of the truly liberated younger black generation. By not hiding your lights beneath the bushel, by not being silenced, you are staking your claim in, and helping to ensure, the great future that should be South Africa’s.

  • MLH

    I felt the same sadness at David’s post and wondered why he didn’t see the potential for writing comparisons about his present situation and here, as Rod Mackenzie often did while in NZ. I think we’ve reached a stage where most of us are preaching to the converted, but still debating right and wrong (and may the rudest win the argument). Our frustration comes from never reaching the next point in the debate: possible solutions! While I doubt that many of us would find the perfect 5-point plan for each of the country’s ills, I do think that contributing our ideas could be helpful. Clearly the ANC’s creative thinking is sadly lacking. One idea can spawn another and good ideas can be refined by others. Come on, David, give it a whirl. You will find good and bad on that side of the marsh; some of it couls at least broaden our perspectives.

  • X Cepting

    “I swear by God this sacred oath that to the Leader of the ANC empire and people, Jacob Zuma , supreme commander of the armed forces, I shall render unconditional obedience and that as a brave soldier I shall at all times be prepared to give my life for this oath.”

    This is the problem. I see David Smith’s point. If one currently do not carry an ANC membership card, shouting simply serves to wear out one’s vocal cords, or in the case of the police or municipality, gets one the “frequent complainer” tag after which one is ignored.

  • Sean

    Sipho, your article warms my heart and gives hope.
    As an expat for the past 8 years I still have my one proverbial foot in South Africa. I closely follow what’s happening and am still proudly South African.
    My wish is for the country to break through the shackles of racism and for everyone to be accountable for their actions.

  • Lulama

    David, can afford to give up on South Africa, he lives in Australia. for some of us that live here we definately cannot afford to give up.

    as sad and true all you and David wrote, This is our Country . we ought not to give up!

  • Anke

    I think that all who care about our beloved country go through these patches, I feel for David and am grateful that many haven’t succumbed to that gnawing feel of hopelessness. I studied African Studies and I also feel that I only blog about the plights of Africa and South African in particular. We must never give up and fight for our country.

  • cyberdog

    Incredible piece, straight from the heart. You have hit he nail on the head. Though, just a question that really bugs me… Is being verbal about the problems really enough, if not, than how can we do more? How can we make this a better land for all, not just a select elite few?

  • Verashni Pillay

    Hear hear! I miss David’s blogs terribly. And yours Sipho 😉


    Bravo! We all need to speak up when we see things that are wrong. Starting on our own backyards … a groundswell for what is honest, just and not self-serving.

  • Mark Peach

    Agree with all you and David say, but I notice (perhaps too quickly) that the blame is afforded to the government. It should be, but there are other culprits who should be added to the laundry list: business that turns a blind eye to poverty; media who cannot bring themselves to report on business issues from a third world perspective; and so on. There are, in other words, many players in our general frustration, not just government.

  • Makhaya

    Smith’s piece, although depressing, is genuine and realist. I appreciate Hlongwane’s (youthful? naive?) enthusiasm, but I’m sure, sadly, that it too will wane.

    There’s a certain truth in Smith’s piece: no matter what anyone does, they will be unable to change the status quo in a meaningful way. ‘Whingeing’ (because that’s what it really is) will never do much.

    I fully endorse Smith’s decision to leave, and would do so for weaker reasons, too. I wish all (incl poor) people could do the same if they wanted to. They should also have the opportunity to contribute to a system that appreciates their existence and rewards them with opportunity and membership of something important, by giving them (at least one) worthy reason(s) for living.

    SA is a deeply depressing place to live. Government continually stifles collective flourishing. This is widely agreed upon by intelligent people.

    Halting “extremists” is something best left to people who actually want to do it. I, for one, can think of many, many more things I’d rather be doing than reining in the stupidity and selfishness of those who should know better.

    So bravo, Sipho. Good on ya’. You’re young, black and smart. Be the Obama. Be the Mandela. Be the Lincoln.

    I love this land too, but I doubt I’ll have the courage to hang around to witness the inexorable “chaos” should it begin to unfold.

  • Brendan

    at some point in the past (circa 1960) the executive council of the ANC realised that a purely non-violent approach towards the self-seeking, fascist, apartheid regime would no longer work.

    i am wondering how long before the people of this beautiful land are once more faced with this same predicament vis-á-vis our new self-seeking, fascist, “deomcratic” regime??

  • benzo

    After 30 years in SA, I was -6 months ago, at the tender age of 74- given the option to return to my country of birth.

    I decided against it. I will stay in SA.

    The general trend in this conversation is one of desperation, not knowing what to do, pessimism and sadness about an incompetent and selfish leadership that is bordering on criminality without shame.

    The last chance for a relatively peaceful change is the next years election. If all opposition parties could stand together and tell the “voting public” that their future is to
    (1) “vote for any party that is not ANC related”, regardless their program or religeous liaisons. (2) Non voters do not count when all votes have been counted.
    (3) they have less than 12 months to spread this message.

    Start NOW with your nanny, your gardener, your staff in the shop and your factory.
    Complaining about the ANC does not help, showing people the more positive aspects of a more democratic (multi party?) government with better checks and balances is a safe future before sliding into “dictatorship” and eventually a civil war to get rid of the dictator.
    I wish you all intelligence and luck.

  • ShelaghF

    What an outstanding piece of writing. You’re right, Sipho, we must never let the voices of ‘a few nuts’ drown out the voices of those of us who really care about the future of this country and its people. The thing is to make sure that our voices are heard, not to just sit back and grumble into our cornflakes; or, worse, to pretend that we’re still doing okay.

  • GarethV

    The New SA Sipho Dlamini died earlier in the week, while under police custody. Dlamini had accidently dropped a canapé on the shoe of South African President Julius Malema while attending a wedding ceremony of an MP.Malema was not available for comment as he left for Bolivia and Chile to discuss further policy on the nationalisation of mines and how to attract capital inflows into the country.
    Deputy President Floyd Shivambu said: “This man, Dlamini, he died of natural causes. Our President, Mr Malema is overseas to discuss how to maximise mining opportunities as part of the countries nationalisation policy. Shivambu would not comment on the ailing rand, which peaked at 37 against the euro, nor would he give clarity on the double digit interest rates or the 62% unemployment rate. Shivambu urged South Africans to read the newly launched national newspaper, ANC Today, a joint initiative between the Government and Murdoch Corp.
    The ANC said it was also currently putting into place, a white paper on how to up the current Grade 12 pass rate, currently at 31%, without dumbing down the education system. The ruling party denied rumours that 214 out of the 247 Municipalities in South Africa were bankrupt, and also denied that the road fund was empty. “We have the money, that’s what toll roads are for,” a spokesperson said.
    In the democratic Republic of Cape Town, 15 men were arrested for breaking through the fenced border and not carrying a passport.

  • Thembinkosi Masinga

    The main reason anyone can give up on writing is because one can not sustain being a complainant all the time. One way to overcome this problem is for one to do self introspection and fix what is wrong with oneself. Secondly, one would try and be progressive by actively making a meaningful contribution in or out of politics. Try it and see how much anger is unleashed

  • Sara Gon

    This was an intensely lonely week – until I read your response to David. It was a week when the GATVOL factor threatened to overwhelm my home. I have 19 and 16 year old sons who attended government schools through out their schooling.

    My husband and I are professionals (medicine and law). We have been active in civic issues all our lives. I have also worked in the NGO sector in the arts, education, early childhood development etc.

    I have voted in every election I was eligible for and written letters to newspapers on every subject under the sun.

    This week’s continuing lack of leadership, government-inspired racism, the never ending nationalisation circus, the delay in appointing a new chief justice, the failure to respond to the Public Protector’s report, the human rights abuse that is our economic policy etc, etc, left me feeling that it wasn’t worth it anymore.

    Civil society in this country works damn hard to make South Africa a better place. It threatens, however, to be swamped by poor governance.

    Sipho, you are helping me to hang on by a thin, frayed thread.

  • http://charcoal Charlotte

    Well written! Well said!
    This is not the ‘ANC’ of Nelson Mandela: It has simply hi-jacked the name.
    Whereas the ANC, 14 years ago, meant the African National Congress, this ‘ANC’ stands for Arrogance, Nepotism and Corruption….
    – wish it also included the initals for ‘Racist, Inept, Lazy, and Self-enriching.’
    There you have it! The perfect acronym: ANCRILS
    – perfectly summing up the political party that is currently ruling this country.
    Whatever name it disguises itself and hides under, as you so rightly say: ‘We’re saddled with the worst president that the country has seen in 17 years.’

    I fully endorse what Benzo said:
    The last chance for a relatively peaceful change is the next years election. If all opposition parties could stand together and tell the “voting public” that their future is to
    (1) “vote for any party that is not ANC related”, regardless their program or religeous liaisons. (2) Non voters do not count when all votes have been counted.
    (3) they have less than 12 months to spread this message.

    Start NOW with your nanny, your gardener, your staff in the shop and your factory.”

    We have got to do away with ANCRILS as a political party!

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