Fast-forward to 2017 and we gaze into a country in decline.

For what seems like forever, the daily lives of many South Africans have been consumed by a diet of boldfaced lies, misdeeds and misdirections. The greater the attempt to glaze over the truth by some politicians and civil servants, the harder the response from civil society and the media to expose and ‘roast’ them in the courts of law, enabled by a robust Constitution.

The #GuptaLeaks opened a Pandora’s Box that is proving impossible to close. South Africans across race, class, ethnicity and other real and imagined divides have stridently condemned corruption and state capture and are demanding accountability. Civil society organisations refuse to be cowed. Sipho Pityana, of Save SA, outlined what he refers to as “a list of your accomplishments”, including the following:

  1. Brian Molefe and Ben Ngubane are no longer at the helm of Eskom
  2. KPMG, McKinsey and Bell Pottinger – Gupta’s professional enablers – are in deep trouble
  3. Our sleepy Parliament has been forced to hold inquiries into state capture
  4. PRASA saved millions from a corrupt contract
  5. Ntlemeza, Jiba and Mrwebi are gone
  6. Even politicians can no longer dispute the evidence of the capture of our state
  7. You made the removal of Zuma the central discussion of the ANC
  8. You’ve stopped the nuclear deal
  9. You have ensured South Africa remains part of the International Criminal Court
  10. You’ve stopped the capture of the SABC
  11. You’ve built consensus on social grants
  12. You’ve improved the independence of the Hawks and the IPID – we still have to ensure that the right person is appointed to head the Hawks but that’s a battle for another day
  13. You’ve exposed the SARS rogue unit narrative as a scam
  14. You’ve inspired Makhosi Khosa

Some of the above deserve a pat on the back while others are firmly work in progress and continue to simmer. Whether these will boil over in the run-up to the ANC’s December conference or its aftermath, is hard to tell. What is clear is that South Africans are not defeated.

For some, it is preferable to throw in the proverbial towel, in boxing parlance, yet for others, the journalist Mondli Makhanya sums it up in a recent op-ed in City Press (23 July 2017), “the tide is turning. It may not be time to start shouting from the rooftops that change is around the corner, but you can certainly sense that times are a-changing. The edifice of corruption, ineptitude, impunity and anti-constitutionalism is beginning to crumble”.

This sentiment was re-affirmed by a broad swathe of civil society organisations who gathered on Mandela Day (18 July 2017), under the leadership of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation and Save SA. They declared, at the Conference for the Future of South Africa, that, “it is our undying belief that a government based on the will of the majority must govern in a responsible and ethical manner, in the best social and economic interests of its people and must commit itself to a path that reduces poverty, narrows inequality and achieves social justice”. The nine-point list of demands in its declaration and particularly the key resolutions to, “campaign and organise and mobilise the people of the country in pursuit of our principal demands and to form a coordinating structure to ensure that our activities have maximum impact, and that we succeed in our mission to stop state capture, recapture the state and rebuild our country in the spirit of the Constitution”, bodes well.

Machiavelli’s words, never waste the opportunity offered by a good crisis and Winston Churchill’s remake of the sentiment, never let a good crisis go to waste, come to mind as we must contemplate how we define the arc of opportunity in the crisis confronting South Africa.

The current bare-boned approach to leadership has failed all South Africans. The country needs dollops of good sense to achieve turnaround, much of which exists, as evidenced by amongst others, Sipho Pityana’s outline of accomplishments. But we need to go beyond what Steven Friedman refers to as ‘gilding’ when he writes in an op-ed, “while some of us hope for a better future, others prefer to improve the past” (Business Day, 26 July 2017). The recent past has proved unviable, and the question to ask is, can the future wait?

By Ms Zohra Dawood, Director            

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