The crisis taught us that we are capable of accountability and action

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By Howard Feldman

It was no doubt a crisis. News that the president was about to resign last week Thursday, filtered through to South Africans, who struggled to comprehend how the next few months would look. Each scenario appeared more concerning than the one prior, and although most accepted that the president needed to be held to a high moral standard, the alternatives within the ANC were less than ideal. Opposition parties rushed to assure the nation that there was another way, and that the country was not about to slide back into the hands of the more corrupt.

Many were unconvinced.

The need for information insatiable. As a result, live trackers popped up on many local news outlets so that consumers of news could receive a minute-by-minute updates of the events as they unfolded.

There was the overwhelming sense that once again South Africa was at the precipice and that the next few hours would determine our future.

Throughout the day, like many South Africans, I became more and more anxious. Which is why I decided to send myself an email that I thought I needed to read.

“Dear Howard.

There are days when anxiety is in the air. When it’s palpable and present. 

Today is one of them. The news that the President is likely to resign, is unnerving and no doubt adds to the discomfort that we are all feeling. 

It is worth remembering that a country is more than its president. It is a complex system with checks and balances that have proven over and over again to withstand political turmoil. 

Whether the president resigns or not, tomorrow will be Friday. We will wake up, make coffee, go to the radio station and have a laugh with listeners, family and friends. 

We will be ok. Even if we are anxious. 

Regards, Howard.”

It is an unusual thing to do, but as a writer I am aware that I process my world and my emotions through words. In my defense, I didn’t respond to the email, because that would have been even more odd than sending myself one in the first place. Nor did I attach a “read receipt” because that would have been very irritating.

And then, just as we thought it was about to “get real”, the crisis seemed to avert itself. The anticipated resignation announcement was delayed while options were considered. The President, we were told, was convinced that he should not vacate office, that he should challenge the Section 89 report and was assured the support of the African National Congress. The tension eased, opposition parties became less vocal, and the “live trackers” receded to wherever it is they live when they are not updating us hourly. Which is both a good thing and a bad thing.

I couldn’t help but imagine if the sense of urgency exhibited last week at a time of political crisis could be applied to address some of the other challenges faced by the country. Imagine a live news update on the electricity crisis where South Africans were updated constantly on the execution of the plan to acquire new sources of supply … and where ministers were held to account for delivery. Imagine the pressure on the Minister of Police to account for an increase in crime and for him to be held to account for nonperformance. Or live updates linked to unemployment figures as well as job creation where the finance of minister is expected to justify results.

Imagine opposition parties stepping forward with a vision not simply of a country without an ANC leadership, but with a material plan to take South Africa forward. And whereas I am not suggesting that they don’t have either a vision or a plan, I often wonder if the focus is too much on the ANC and their failures and not enough on the alternatives.

After all, South Africans hardly need to be reminded that they have been let down by the ruling party. Most days they are reminded of that in two-hour intervals when visited by the darkness of loadshedding.

There is a well-known aphorism that one should never let good crises go to waste. Whereas some might suggest that the current crisis should have resulted in the end of a Ramaphosa presidency, for me it is about demanding immediacy, accountability and action.

If the crisis taught us anything, it is that we are capable of it.