IS the tragedy of Marikana, bad as it is, really the pinnacle of poor leadership and the final clarion call to society to come to its senses? Without downplaying what happened at Marikana, the question should be asked why this incident is now having every second person pondering the future of the country. Let us place some figures in perspective:
- Should we now have 365 days of mourning since the daily death toll on our roads has averaged 34 to 40 the last number of years?
- In September last year Police Minister Nathi Mthethwa proudly announced that for 2010/11 the number of murders in South Africa had dropped to 15940. That is equivalent to 43 murders daily;
- In June it suddenly dawned on South Africa that the schools in the Limpopo province were still without handbooks with an everlasting impact on thousands of pupils (it will be an untruth to call them learners). The impact of this enormous institutional failure will ripple out for more than 40 years in both the workplace and idle haunting grounds of the unemployed.
Why is it then that we don't see the uproar and public indignation about road deaths or murder statistics that are daily as ugly and damning as what happened on that one single tragic day at Marikana? Is it perhaps because, unlike in the case of the platinum mines, blaming the unscrupulous bosses and the drivers of the taxi industry would of necessity include the scolding of several politicians and highly placed officials?
Why now a national mourning for a single incident, given the complacency with which these horrible statistics are accepted as part of the South African fibre? Why is there not a period of national mourning for the blatant disregard of the rights and future livelihoods of thousands of pupils?
This gives rise to some cynical questions:
- Is the uproar and indignation, and special debate in parliament and national mourning with flags flying half-mast a real response of compassion because of the circumstances, or an opportunity to take the attention away from the absolute failure of the ANC government in the field of education, as the schoolbook saga has pointed out?
- Or is it simply political manoeuvring to bolster positions prior to the Mangaung electoral conference, knowing that a climate of mourning and dealing with a national tragedy is not conducive to lobbying and that would in itself strengthen the incumbents in their position? And they only need some additional weeks to make it almost impossible for potential challengers to run a decent campaign;
- Is the behaviour at the ill-functioning health clinics that are plagued by drug shortages and inefficient healthcare, where patients are often send home with no treatment, really fundamentally different from the actions of a muti man who gives protection against bullets? Are the schools where tuition and books are non-existent, sending out school leavers with a fragile grasp of what skills and values a modern globalising economy demand, more effective than the "dark fluid applied to cuts"?
Of course the Marikana deaths are deplorable and everything should be mobilised to prevent a recurrence. A good way to start sensible policing would be avoiding appointing further tragic-clownish commissioners like Jackie Selebi and Bheki Cele, as well as ensuring proper training for policemen.
If the mines have to stop their attempts to get the shafts in production by honouring the period of mourning, why not declare that taxis (given that they cause on average many more deaths than in this incident) should for a year not operate out of respect for the death and destruction caused by them? Likewise, if the mines are to fork out funds for the funerals, are the taxi owners and drivers going to be held accountable for the funeral costs of all their victims in future?
Will the politicians and the officials, who through their incompetence sold out the future of thousands of children, out of their own pockets, and not the taxpayers', stand in for the wasted cost?
Why isn't there also a national mourning for a failing education system where the consequences of another wasted generation is to be with us for 20 to 30 years of unemployment and under-employment, and below par productivity? Or is Angie Motshegka's inability to grapple with the fundamental problems (a lack of management in schools and in education departments, and the substandard tuition in the classrooms) not too dissimilar from how one behaves during a wake?
I fail to think it is even-handed that public schools can continue to malfunction without the teachers, headmasters, officials and politicians assuming any responsibility.
It is time that we acknowledge the entrenched fault lines and failures, and become really indignant about the political failure – no, it is worse, since failure implies an inherent capacity to perform better. The signals are actually pointing to an almost government-wide inability to perform better – to deal with these institutional implosions, rather than to lament tearfully about an incident that is not as systemic as the dangerous everyday public failures that we have been forced to become accustomed to.
Johannes Wessels, Port Elizabeth