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What did you ignore today, daddy?

“Govt was warned about power” — the lead headline on News24 trumpeted this morning. Apparently some municipal boffin warned last century that darkness was on the way and would hit by 2007.

The news in that is when the warning was made. The content is nothing new. Perhaps the warning should have been expanded to include all other kinds of power, for they too are fickle concubines and when their beauty turns to wrinkles and liver spots, they wreak the Valkyries’ vengeance.

And that set me to thinking of the scores, no, hundreds of warnings this “sardine run” government has been given, and chose — yes, chose — to ignore (for we would never dare suggest it was just too stupid to understand them, now would we?). And today we are reaping the whirlwind. Or should we say hurricane?

OK, the government can’t be held responsible for the fact that in the middle of sunny South Africa’s summer, Jo’burg hasn’t seen the sun for seven days. I guess that’s what they mean about a country alive with possibilities. Or maybe there’s a closer relationship between the heart of our solar system and Eskom than we thought. There are too many in power today who still believe, passionately, that the sun shines out of their astronomical posteriors.

Experts have been warning the government for five years about global warming and a litany of other environmental crises-in-waiting, but the ANC has chosen to ignore them all. After all, it can’t give the people electricity, as it promised, so let them carry on ring-barking every tree in sight so they can cook their food and warm themselves in winter.

I am not denigrating the rural people for that. They have no choice. The ANC rulers have — but choose to ignore it.

Commentators such as the erudite and perspicacious group that populates Thought Leader have been called cyber-prophets. Now that’s a description with which many would have problems. On the atheistic science-is-god side, they would object to the term as irrelevant. The commies and socialist colonialists would object because the mere notion of individual prophets offends the hive mentality, and Christian, Islamic and Jewish fundamentalists would hold the prophets were only Elijah, Isaiah, Mohamed and Saul and maybe a dozen other dead people.

Ever the maverick, I say phooey on you, infidels. We are all prophets. With careful thought, insight, training in research, a knack for being able to see beyond the billboards and policy documents, among the best communication skills and a nuggety talent for connecting apparently disparate threads in the grander panorama, we do exactly what Elijah once did — if in a different way.

OK, so we don’t literally toddle off into the desert, chat to the braai or eat grasshoppers, but in common with the Nevi’im and later prophets, we stand up to the abuse of power, hold mirrors up to the authorities of the day and warn them of the consequences of their folly and their sin. We’re not the only ones, and often we only report what others say.

But the “membership” of Thought Leader has been chosen precisely because of our kinship with the prophets of old. Let’s not get into arguments about divinity, callings, anointing, visions and voices. Let’s stick to the warnings.

I would suggest, with apologies to Winston Churchill, that seldom in the history of mankind have so many warnings been ignored by so few to the detriment of so many. Maybe you can add — or subtract.

  • Our current (pun intended) electricity crisis
  • Zimbabwe
  • HIV/Aids
  • State healthcare shambles
  • Thabo’s absenteeism in pursuit of showing Africa how it’s done (by the way, our chairmanship of the UN Security Council has me totally flummoxed. Did George W have the deciding vote or what?)
  • Service-delivery failures and the resultant riots
  • Corruption
  • Nepotism and cronyism
  • The perils of centralisation of power over local priorities
  • The follies of affirmative action
  • The brain-drain and specialist skills crisis
  • Tribalism within the ANC
  • Taxis, trains and the transport fiasco
  • The inherent dangers of inflation targeting
  • The fragmentation and demoralisation of the judiciary
  • Destructive tensions within the police, and the chasm that has been allowed to grow between the tippy-top echelons and the cop in the community
  • International perceptions of Africa and their ignorant tendency to tar all states with the same brush. I call this the Giraffe Pack idea — tell you about it another time.
  • Organised crime and drug and human trafficking via South Africa
  • Did I mention corruption?
  • Lowering the standards in primary and secondary education
  • The inherent perils of unmonitored public-private partnerships in a global economy
  • The disintegration of family
  • Unemployment and under-employment
  • The rise of black elites, but failing to absorb school-leavers and graduates
  • Food and fuel price inflation
  • The failure to respond timeously and adequately to TB, MDR-TB and XDR-TB, as well as cholera and diarrhoea outbreaks and malaria surges
  • A prolonged failure to face up to the realities of mental health crises
  • The refugee crisis in Limpopo
  • Desertification (especially in the Northern Cape)
  • The social implications of fear and the fortress mentality in the face of runaway crime
  • The failure to address critical niche needs (for example the pay of nurses, police officers and teachers; urban sprawl; critical skills)
  • The collapse of moral leadership and governance
  • The failure to demonstrate decisive, visible leadership
  • The failure of state security systems to prevent information leaks
  • The general lack of transparency, sincerity and honesty in favour of a daddy-knows-best mindset
  • The list just goes on and on and on.

    I grant that a great many of these failures can be attributed to a greater or lesser degree to the inherited and historic faults of apartheid coupled with a wild-eyed and euphoric liberation movement that bravely took over. The exceptional achievements in fiscal discipline and revenue gathering are conspicuous against the epic backdrop of malaise, criminality, self-enrichment and abject failure by a cast of thousands.

    Attempts have been made to address some of these, but, tragically, it’s usually been too little, too late. And, no matter the reasons for failure, the nettle-rash reaction to scratch some unrelated itch — change place names, play the race card, threaten the Springbok emblem — simply makes the government look like a bunch of caterwauling kids. The persistent heel (and knuckle) dragging on serious issues such as Travelgate and the arms scandal (and now Selebi and the disbanding of one of the only high-profile success stories, the Scorpions) make the country look like just another Third World basket case.

    And, the common thread that runs through all of these is: we told you so. Not just TL, but hundreds and hundreds of others too.

    If you extend the reams of warnings from central government to local levels, they probably number in the tens of millions. That’s many warnings to ignore. And here I was, silly me, thinking the ANC had done nothing this century. Ah well, just shows how wrong one can be.