There is a growing tendency among hitherto committed and well-intentioned South Africans to simply throw up their hands in despair when considering the state of the economy and the slow pace of reforms needed to liberate it from its current low-growth trap. There is also a rising emotional inclination to retreat from the problems rather than actively engage with them. In a number of cases, this withdrawal is more than psychological, with emigration seemingly on the rise again.
In the process, ground is being lost to a group of determined, but less well-intentioned, citizens – ones who are deeply cynical, even disdainful, of South Africa’s constitutional order. These individuals are more than happy, though, to use (or even abuse) the political and civil freedoms that arise directly from that order and to do so with no sense of irony.
Although these destructive forces are not organised into a single formation, they still manage to unite behind (typically through uncompromising and often obnoxious social-media posts) common themes and narratives, which then penetrate the daily national conversation. Equally troubling is the fact that their influence is being felt in key institutions, such as the Office of the Public Protector, as well as in pockets of the labour movement and even in the governing party itself.
Distilled down to its essence, the objective of these forces is to dislodge not only President Cyril Ramaphosa but also the Constitution, which is seen as an impediment to elite enrichment. In other words, South Africa’s democratic project truly does stand on some very dangerous ground.
As disturbing as the current situation is, however, it would be incorrect to write South Africa off as a lost cause. Notwithstanding the time-consuming and distracting skirmishes, there are definite indications that the fight-back is not only peaking but also, perhaps, even starting to self-destruct.
Society is already hugely sceptical of the former President and his divisive recent statements that made him appear increasingly desperate and isolated. The Public Protector has proven herself to be entirely unsuitable for the position and has been severely weakened by the recent Constitutional Court ruling against her. It’s doubtful that she will hold on to the position for her full term. The fight-back against the Public Enterprises Minister may be burning as intensely as a pinwheel firework for the moment, but is likely to end just as abruptly.
Sadly, there is far less certainty about how the African National Congress’s war with itself will end, but hostilities are, nevertheless, likely to abate as the secretary-general is forced to toe the line for a period, having overstepped the mark with recent rogue statements.
Therefore, instead of holding up our hands, it should really be all hands to the pump for those who genuinely want South Africa to reach its full potential. The enemy of that vision is far weaker than they appear.