Llewellyn Kriel
Llewellyn Kriel

Why make it so hard to be proudly South African?

There is a temptation to see South Africa as a self-cannibalising charity case. Given the vast number of charitable causes, NGOs, NPOs and beggars on the streets, it seems everyone has a hand out.

And given the ANC government’s appalling record on social upliftment issues from health to housing to employment, even the ordinary individual feels she lives in the Republic of Gimme-gimme. One can barely walk to the corner cafe for a newspaper without being assailed by the ubiquitous begging bowl in one pathetic form or another.

And the persistent aching recession into which SA is simply sinking deeper and deeper declares our status as a nation on welfare with greater emphasis. Even more so as the list of countries emerging from the global recession grows.

The fact that this is an African continental phenomenon — and one which developed nations are increasingly taking a stronger stance against — doesn’t make the South African perception and experience any less real. Or relevant.

Friends of mine have been working in the DRC for the past several months. What they’ve had to tell not only underlines the view of veteran journalists such as Peter Fabricius who wrote in the Pretoria News a month or so ago, but dramatically reinforces the international perception that all African countries are funding black holes run by profoundly corrupt governments. Irrespective of whence the “foreign investor” comes, it is standard operating procedure to budget for all the backhanders they know they’re going to have to pay simply to do business. It’s nothing, but another form of tax.

“While the people in Washington or Geneva or Brussels talk about not funding corrupt governments, the reality on the ground is that you do it. Or you don’t do business. That’s just the mindset of the people you’re dealing with. Everybody wants his or her slice of the cake. They see the top people in flashy suits and fancy cars and they say, ‘Why shouldn’t I have some of that too?’ ” my friend told me. Hard to argue with that when even that erstwhile bastion of frugality, Trevor Manuel, now cruises the lunar landscape of our so-called “road” in a R1.2 million set of super-luxury wheels.

UN and World Bank reports along with those of numerous independent economic watchdogs and those of major foreign investors in mining, military and energy in sub-Saharan Africa repeatedly point to what can only be described as a destructive and rapacious way of doing things. It’s very politically incorrect, but business has never let political niceties between nations — diplomacy — stand in the way of turning a good profit. And if backhanders oil the wheels of profit, so what.

The hugely influential Mo Ibrahim Foundation even ranks South Africa, the biggest and most powerful economy in Africa at only fifth place as far as governance and leadership go, trailing with downcast eyes and drooping shoulders behind nations like Mauritius and Botswana — and island and a desert, for heaven’s sake!

However, some go even further suggesting more sinister motives on the part of the people on the receiving end. “We see it time and again,” says a Pentagon analyst, “And when we dig deeper, we’re hard-pressed not to come to the conclusion that these guys are genuinely convinced they’re entitled to every dollar they receive. That it’s not corruption; it’s just pay-back. And that makes it alright,” she says.

My initial reaction was, “Bullshit!” Maybe I’m naive. I know too many bright, enlightened, innovative, creative, artistic, moral and deep-thinking Africans.

But then I have to consider Jacob Zuma and Julius Malema and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and Zwelinzima Vavi and Blade Nzimande and suddenly a Pandora’s box of everything that is detestable, destructive and rapacious flies open. Greedy, self-aggrandising, inveterate, duplicitous and untrustworthy addicts of nepotism, cronyism and the empty-promise are being spotlighted in the South Gauteng High Court in the Selebi trial right now.

I am probably more sceptical, more glass half-empty than most, but even I am gobsmacked at the depth of criminality that has been allowed to permeate this country. We’ve all sensed that something is wrong, very, very wrong, but as each new day uncovers another sinister twist in the dark machinations of criminality and the ANC government, a kind of stunned this-can’t-be-happening silence I haven’t seen since TV
images showed the twin towers of the World Trade Centre collapsing back in 2001 emerges. Cormac McCarthy couldn’t even script this stuff. It is the ugly rancid visceral gore of shoot-em-up video games!

The fact that it is being uncovered is good. It speaks of a very rare judicial courage and the strength of our Constitution. It is also a roaring, thunderous wake-up call to each and every person who put a cross next to the ANC in April’s election. But us South Africans are tough. We’ve got rhino hides. This is called “democracy”. And we have become so sand-blasted by bullshit that we’ve rightly adopted the view that talk is cheap and money buys whisky. So we burn some more tyres in Diepsloot, beat up our wives and kids and stupefy our minds with the 25 litres of pure alcohol the Parry-Dewing Report found South African adults consume a year.

The moment the horrors of Agliotti, Selebi and their murderous network reaching into the uppermost sanctums of the ANC government are mentioned, the kneejerk response, born of thousands of hours of laborious court hearings, is heard: “Ya, but will anything ever come of it?”

I doubt it. Not if the shameful idiocy of Schabir Shaik, Nkola Motata, Tony Yengeni and the rest of them are any kind of yardstick. Coupled with that is the inevitable and inescapable reality of Africa time which makes the slow grinding of Earth’s tectonic plates seem positively turbo-charged. By the time any meaningful result comes of the Selebi disaster, humankind will have flown to distant planets and it just won’t matter any more, as Buddy Holly would have said.

Man, why do our own have to making it so fucking difficult to be proudly South African?