Speaking at the recent 2012 Flux Trends Review, City Press editor Ferial Haffajee presented two contrasting impressions of the state of the nation. We’ve condensed her powerful speech here.
In State of the Nation 1, I see collapse everywhere. It’s Youth Month and three million youths are either unemployed or unemployable.
This world of ours, this iPad-tapping, Blackberry-tagging, water-sipping, canapé-dipping world, is like looking through the looking glass into a mirage. It is desirable, totally inaccessible, unpredictable and unreachable. Add to that the three million adult unemployed and I figure Moeletsi Mbeki may well be right, by 2024, perhaps before, surely there will be another rebellion here, a revolution perhaps, unless we get our young people into work, into the system, and to offer them lives of meaning.
The angry youth bulge is perfectly unsustainable and they won’t be placated by grants, not when you look through the looking glass at all of this.
I do think that already there is a rebellion of young people underway. Every day there’s a protest somewhere. There were about nine of them the other week and the media only got to Diepsloot and that is probably the only one you heard of. It’s happening already and the only time you notice is when the flames lick too close and my advice to you would be watch it, watch it, read the Daily Sun.
Why are people so very angry? We’ve done our work and usually it’s about water, electricity, jobs, tender corruption, unbuilt police stations, councillors more interested in blue lights than sewerage pipes – the stuff that we here take for granted.
If you look at the basics of the developmental state – schools, hospitals, councils – it’s a story of decline by any measure.
The purpose of the present education system is surely not to make our children hewers of wood and drawers of water, but the practice has done so.
Public hospitals are a disaster zone in general and so we, in the middle classes, get fleeced by a private system which is bizarrely and disproportionately expensive according to work by Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi.
Get fleeced or die – those are terrible options to live by. We have more people on grants than we have employed people, more people working in the public sector than the private sector, ballooning state wage bill crowding out investment spending for our children. That means hospital equipment, schools, textbooks, police officers – all the public rights and common goods that should come with the responsibilities of being a citizen. But they do not.
The state of nation is in decline. Even the area that is the lifeblood of democracy – and one that is precious to me – free expression. I’ve always waxed lyrical about our world-class freedom because I worked as a journalist back then. I know what it was like to work with a jackboot waiting to kick you. So no, don’t tell me about media freedom being threatened, I used to say. We can fight the Protection of State Information Bill, we can oppose a Media Tribunal…That’s how I felt until last week.
Sitting across from the Film and Publications Board for over 10 hours across two days I can truly say to you, watch it people. That public board, meant to protect largely against child pornography and excessive on-screen violence, turned political censor. Its outcome of 16N was totally predetermined; its method was decidedly partisan. From listening to Brett Murray being called a racist for painting a painting to City Press being called immoral for publishing a review of an art exhibition – watching it all descend so quickly into an orgy of pain and vengeance, I cried the beloved country and I felt the jackboot.
State of the Nation 2. It’s said that revolutions in the arts – re-awakenings, flourishings – reflect the growth of nations, the progress of countries. Look at film – Otelo Burning, Vryheid, Intersexions, Man on the Ground, the global casting for Mandela. Cape Town is on the top 10 list of all the world’s coolest places in the world’s coolest magazines. Tlale is large, very large. Mary Sibande is larger. Zanele Muholi is at Documenta and in The New Yorker this month. Brett, well he’s on Wikipedia front page when last I looked. So it is true that this country has birthed movements anew, arts that have made Jozi as much of a cultural A-listers’ dream as the Big Apple, as Dakar as Lagos. So could it be that this renaissance in the arts is presaging a much, much larger one?
I wonder to myself sometimes, is it all really about potholes or do we also have highways that put India to shame, ports for growing exports, rail links to shape the economy in radical, bold new ways, new infrastructure to build towns around the commodities deposits with which we are so blessed – titanium, platinum, steel and gold.
This economy is not a basket case by any means and that is no accident. Our economic managers, Pravin Gordhan, Trevor Manuel, Gill Marcus, Lesetja Kganyago, are undoubtedly world-class people and so recognised. Would Greece not have loved them for the foresight and hindsight they have exercised for helping us escape the worst of the global recession?
We are at the developed south of a continent of great, great hope. Africa is the new cool, home to seven of the world’s fastest growing economies. Broadband is bringing down the cost of doing business and so is democracy. Oil and gas finds are stoking a real African renaissance. So, can you imagine the impact on our continent of 200 millon people just like you; a middle class of massive potential. SA need not be a bully-boy throwing our size around but we can be one of several ways onto this new growth node and it’s a position which we must exploit cleverly.
On education and health in SA I see great strides, that Limpopo tree school notwithstanding. The matric pass rate is picking up steadily. SA has a developed NGO sector of best practice feeding into the national system. Our civil society is unbending in its principle and commitment to this land.
South Africans are hysterically and notoriously tjatjarag people. I know. Having being told off by hundreds of people for publishing The Spear, I was then told off by hundreds more for taking it down. But what do you do besides tweet to make the nation better. I hope I have taken leaves from others’ books to show that there is a helluva lot to do, to join, to help to say ‘yes’ and to say ‘no’.
The image of The Spear, tough to look at now after reading Justice Malala, S’thembiso Msomi, Anton Harber and Duduzile Zuma. Each have thrown up a challenge to free expression, either artistic or media. What is the minimum standard of dignity we afford a head of state.? What do we do with our historic humiliation and present pain?
The good news is that we have had the debate. A few of us are a little bruised and battered, but we are not jailed or exiled, and I am not about to be bundled out of here for putting up that image – I hope.