South Africans seem to be in a bit of a foul and restless mood, with the gyrations of our philandering president and the rather large potholes on our roads being the subjects enjoying the attention of raspier tongues, especially among the chattering classes.
by Barney Mthombothi: Editor of Financial Mail.
Jacob Zuma is, frankly, not worth our breath. He's best left alone. He's digging his own grave. Potholes - and the general decline of our infrastructure - are another matter, however. They are a serious matter, but only the tip of the iceberg.
Travelling around the country, one cannot but be shocked at the state of our towns and cities. The streets are a sorry mess, squalid, with overgrown verges, paint peeling off buildings - a general state of neglect and decay. It's as if nobody is in charge. It is as though since the last apartheid apparatchik was chased out of town nobody has cared to lift a finger even to sweep the place. And with the current obsession with renaming things, one is often even confused as to which town or street one is in.
In days yonder, a perfect date for a township dude, dressed to the nines of course, was taking her to the movies, and thereafter some "window-shopping" in town. Not anymore. It's all boarded up now. Whether it's Johannesburg , Pretoria , Durban , or any of the many small towns across the land, some parts of the CBD have become a jungle, and even a health hazard. No longer a place to dare to venture, let alone take a leisurely stroll. Capital has also taken flight.
The ANC woke up quite late in the day to the crucial role played by local government in the life of a nation. After the election in 1994, most of the organisation's bright sparks scrambled for seats in the national parliament. Positions in city and town councils were seen as nothing but crumbs from the table. It was left to its third string to run our towns and cities. And they've run them down.
Also, in trying to merge towns and townships and do away with the old apartheid boundaries, the ANC has lumped everything together to create huge metropolises which its hand-picked, often incompetent, mandarins have found almost impossible to govern. It created a gulf between rate-payers and city halls, hence the alienation.
But the biggest problem, which probably explains the nationwide protests over service delivery, is our system of local government, which ensures that town mayors and managers whose actions and decisions have a huge impact on people's lives are imposed by party bosses without any say by the governed. Such a system is obviously undemocratic, and is no credit to our much-vaunted constitution.
People in such positions are often not sensitive to ordinary citizens' concerns because they are not appointed or elected by them. They are accountable to those who appointed them, the party bosses. Which is why Amos Masondo, the dozy mayor of Johannesburg , can easily pooh-pooh the outrage caused by the potholes which have disfigured the streets of this metropolis. He's not bothered by the outrage. He was imposed by the ANC. And as long as the ANC is happy with this sort of incompetence, so is he.
The country holds yet another local government election next year. It will improve or solve nothing. We will exchange one group of incompetents for yet another bunch of ineffectual individuals. They're not to blame either. It's simply the outcome of an inappropriate system of government.
It's not surprising that as we approach next year's election, none of the political parties has suggested making the system more accountable. They won't. The current system suits them just fine.
If you want clean streets and refuse that's removed on time, agitate for elected representatives at local government. It's called democracy.