South Africans must take up the battle of patriotism

Let me admit it upfront: I am a patriotic and proud South African. I love this country almost unconditionally and have never considered living elsewhere for an extended or unlimited period. Whenever I travel overseas I can’t wait to get back home and get goose bumps when I see Table Mountain in the distance as our plane approaches Cape Town International Airport.

But my love for South Africa is not only restricted to Cape Town. I am fortunate to have travelled the length and breadth of our beautiful country and have seen something amazing in every little town or big metro that I have been privileged to visit.

I also have respect for the many offshoots of our democracy, such as the Chapter 9 institutions, the independent judiciary, but also Parliament and government departments. I also have respect for the Office of the Presidency.

It is with this respect in mind that I had no hesitation when I received a call about four years ago from the Presidency asking me whether I would be prepared to serve on the board of trustees of Brand South Africa, the organisation meant to promote a positive image of the country.

My agreeing to serve on Brand South Africa’s board had nothing to do with my attitude towards the present incumbent but was based on my respect for the Office of the Presidency. As a patriotic South African, I believe that, if the Presidency asks you to perform a certain task, you must do it because this is a request coming from the highest office in the land.

My biggest problem during my time on Brand South Africa’s board – which came to an end earlier this year after I had served a three-year term – was to reconcile the actions of individuals with my respect for their offices.

It became very clear to me that individuals, who we sometimes call leadership, can impact negatively on the image of the country, especially when they put their own interests, or the interests of political parties or factions, ahead of the interests of the country.

I’ve never been part of the “Zuma Must Go” brigade, even though I feel that our President could have done a lot better in his time in office. He has failed to live up to the high expectations we had when he was appointed.

Everyone, even former Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille, spoke about how charming he was and how much of a people’s person he was. This was in sharp contrast to the scholarly and aloof behaviour of former President Thabo Mbeki who tended to alienate many people with his apparent distant manner.

I don’t think the President has lost any of his charm, but the many scandals he has faced over the past few years have led to him dropping in many people’s estimation over the past few years especially. It has also seen a significant drop in support for the ANC especially in the past election.

Should the President go? And will that solve our problems?

I don’t believe that, if the President goes, he should be the only one to go. I agree partly with Jackson Mthembu when he says that the entire national executive committee of the ANC should resign.

However, I would go further: I think we need to look at what we require from our political leadership, across political parties. I don’t believe that only the ANC has a crisis of leadership. I think it stretches across political parties.

The EFF talks a good talk and performs some wonderful political party tricks, but do they have the vision for a society in which all South Africans will be able to flourish? The DA, in their desperation to shake off their privileged white image, promotes young blacks to top positions without them having served proper political apprenticeships. The Inkatha Freedom Party is holding on to the past, while COPE, Agang, the PAC and many others are holding on for dear life.

In any case, our politics has become so fluid with career politicians hopping from one political party to another with more ease than the Limpopo pastor spraying Doom on his congregant’s faces.

The President, in answering questions in Parliament this week, appeared very dismissive about a possible downgrade by ratings agencies. But it is something that we cannot dismiss lightly. A downgrade will, among others, see an increase in inflation and in unemployment figures which already came in at more than 27 percent this week.

South Africa is already in a very difficult situation economically and we can only get out of this situation if our politicians work together and admit to their own contribution in getting us into this predicament.

It is time for those of us who love this country and who care about our future, but who are not beholden on political parties for our income and economic survival, to think about what role we can play in making sure that our country gets back on track. We need to take the political battle in our country out of the hands of politicians.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday 26 November 2016)