Two things happened on Monday that made me realise we might be in a spot of trouble.
Firstly, I had to listen to my president take the tried and trite blame route in explaining why we can’t get right the run-of-the-mill stuff like education and the delivery of basic services.
According to President Jacob Zuma, it’s all Hendrik Verwoerd’s fault — no, not the fellow who does the motor racing on television, but his relative, the one who introduced apartheid to South Africa.
And please don’t misunderstand me: this is no flippant issue. What apartheid and the National Party did to this nation was correctly declared a crime against humanity.
The legacies of apartheid will endure for a long time, and it is obvious that we continue to be the inheritors of a country spliced up according to race; of a nation artificially created according to the colour of our skins and the classification bestowed upon us by Afrikaner officialdom.
But I find this hackneyed response to all our ills deeply disturbing and utterly disrespectful of the millions of South Africans who have continued to vote for the ANC since 1994. Surely they, at the very least, need straight answers about the problems that beset us in 2012?
Secondly, on this same Monday, Auditor-General Terence Nombembe released his 2010-2011 local government audit report — and it made a mockery of Zuma’s apartheid excuses. The report is a depressing, bleak and damning indictment, not of the past, but very much of the present ANC government that has been in power for 18 years.
Only 5% of all municipalities across South Africa received clean audits. In assessing the financial management of the country’s municipalities, Nombembe’s report addresses two crucial failures of the ANC administration: a debilitating lack of leadership, and a lack of accountability.
This is evident, for example, in the number of municipalities that couldn’t even manage to get their financial records completed on time in order to be audited.
But this sorry state of affairs is, unfortunately, not a recent phenomenon and raises the deeply troublesome question of why it has been allowed to continue for so long.
Neither is it a surprise revelation that local government has persistently been vulnerable to exploitation and corruption.
The information is abundant and available in government reports: the nepotism, the fraudulent awarding of tenders, and the circumvention of procurement processes.
Fortunately for Zuma, it appears that others in his government realise just how bad things are. When Nombembe released his findings, he was flanked by Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, local government’s Richard Baloyi and Collins Chabane, the minister who works in Zuma’s office.
They came to offer solutions to the municipal crisis, talking about establishing a unit to remove useless officials and of changing legislation to hold underperforming and rudderless senior administrators accountable.
It’s a pity, though, that they have managed to ignore the evidence of discontent for such a long time. Surely they noticed the escalation of attacks on ANC councillors and the destruction of government property by very ordinary and very angry citizens?
It cannot be too complex an issue to deduce that the violent service-delivery protests are the expressions of dissatisfaction, disappointment and despair by South Africans who have seen little or no change in their lives.
Is it possible that ANC leaders did not hear about a man called Andries Tatane who met a violent death when he marched for better services in his township in the Free State last year?
If we were to imagine South Africa as a corporation, a JSE-listed company, where would it find itself now? How long would shareholders allow a chief executive to stand before them and blame the company’s performance on past owners, when new management had been in charge for 18 years?
Never mind the CEO being escorted out of his office by the head of security, would the company even exist?
But I forget, this is not the real world, and political survival and accountability is an entirely different matter.
So forgive me while I suspend hope that things will change just because three ministers said so.
It is, as our president has just proved, far easier to blame the past than engineer changes for the future.
In the meantime, I’m going to follow Zuma’s sterling example.
Tonight, I’m going to do lines, writing out: “Everything that happens is apartheid’s fault.”
Perhaps by the time I’m finished with the 1000th line, I’ll be able to say it with a straight face too.