The title of a book by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Why we can’t wait served as the starting point for my speech at the end of last week at the annual meeting of AfriForum’s relatively new Paarl branch.
King writes about the summer of 1963, a tipping point in black Americans’ struggle for civil rights, but I used the statement in his book title for our local context. Why we can’t wait, I told the audience, is because of the state of our country.
Citizens are therefore obliged to put their hands in their own bosoms, as civil rights and emergency relief organizations are already doing, to prevent local infrastructure from collapsing completely and to alleviate the plight of the poor. The work is a lot; the laborers few like Jaco Prins, chairman of the AfriForum’s Paarl branch, will be able to testify.
The speech was delivered the night before the now four-time World Champion Springboks were due to visit the Mother City to show their thanks to supporters. By the way, one would have hoped that the group would also visit a town like Paarl – and not just big cities, given the contribution of local stars (including Kurt-Lee Arendse) to the team’s success in France. But who am I to say?
In the Voortrekker Hall in Noorder-Paarl, I warned against the fact that what our national rugby heroes have achieved should not blind us to the dire position in which our country finds itself. Because while rugby commentators and TV presenters and newspaper writers are looking for more adjectives to describe the Boks’ exceptional performance, we don’t have to look for words for the national defeat we are currently suffering.
The scoreboard shows, like The citizen ‘s headline trumpeted this morning: “We are sinking into a debt trap”. This is due to an economy suffering from shortness of breath; unemployment running out from among us; crime is crippling us and the queue of social grant recipients outside the Ellis Park of poverty is getting longer and longer. And then I almost choked on the reaction of the Minister of Finance, Enoch Godongwana, when Heidi Giokos of eNCA asked him last Wednesday – after he had delivered the Medium Term Budget – if our country was broke: “No what,” laughs the minister, ” if the money runs out, then I’ll just tax you more.” And he laughs so good. But it was by no means funny because it clearly escaped him at that moment that there are only 5 million taxpayers out of the growing population of 60 million.
So I then told the AfriForum members that the celebrations we held since last weekend – and it is good to experience once again how the spirit of togetherness washes over us, but that can very easily change in six months when we hold election. It may sound exaggerated or alarmist to consider this a possibility, but the celebrations could then be replaced by flames of destruction.
We experienced this in July 2021 – without anyone being able to warn us about it in time; and one must not imagine that because it only happened in certain parts of Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, that it did not affect you. The fact is that our country’s economy has been dealt a heavy blow by the looting and rioting. The panel of experts, who afterwards led by prof. Sandy Africa had to conduct an investigation into the causes of the violence, offered poverty or a lack of economic opportunities as one reason. The other, more worrying reason was the total unpreparedness of our law enforcement agencies (the police service and the intelligence community) for the shocking events.
Now one would like to pres. Cyril Ramaphosa believes when he makes solemn promises, as we believed him in February 2018 when he took over the reins from Jacob Zuma. But alas, how many times since then has he not let us down? Anyway, he made the latest promise on Monday at the national congress of the trade union Popcru in Durban.
We should not worry, the president then told the Popcru delegates. The government, he assures them (and by implication also the rest of us), will ensure that critical services are protected at all times even though South Africa is currently experiencing enormous fiscal problems. These are services such as policing, healthcare and education. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Mercifully, there are still people, I say in my speech to the Paarl members of AfriForum, who are still willing to roll up their sleeves where the government is too bad (or let me put it better: too poorly prepared) to provide services liver. They are people who do not sit back in couches in front of the television (when there is no load shedding) as if everything is fine in South Africa, because everything is not fine in South Africa.
As in King’s book about the change in intensity in the civil rights struggle in America in 1963, it is also now time for us here in South Africa to tell ourselves that we can no longer wait for our government.