Over the last 150 days we have learned much about the power of the habitual in post-millennial, post-apartheid South Africa. We have heard it in the grumbling, cavilling, quarrelling and grousing about the logic (or lack of) of government decrees. We have also seen it in the defiance of logic among the many bourgeois folks who mistook their entitlement for rights, whether to go running, do yoga on the beach, surf, get takeaway coffees, or to purchase items subjected to restricted trade… We saw it in the contradictory messages relayed by official government channels, in the conflict between some experts advising government, between government officials and such experts, and in the ways in which opposition parties contradicted themselves as they opposed government proclamations.
We are a paranoid society — afraid of each other, afraid of the name-calling, afraid of losing business, afraid of our own shadows, and afraid of our own freedom.
This will not change for as long as the fundamentals of fear and intolerance are in place. Today it is FNB, and tomorrow it will be somebody else. The bottom line is that those who rule over us do not trust us or respect us enough to let us make up our own minds. Let FNB publish what they will, and trust us to decide whether to go along with it or not. That is the true meaning of freedom.
Of course President Mbeki and the intellectuals in his circle would argue that we do have much to be afraid of because in order to truly transform the state and society, we need to address and attack the hegemonic power of the old guard. Because the reactionary ideas and values of this old guard still hold sway and dictates public discourse to the detriment of true transformation, we ignore it and allow it to flourish at our peril.
Like Mr Mangcu I believe this is an unecessary defensive position to take. In a democracy we cannot by fiat change the balance of forces in society. We have to engage and argue with one another.
If one is the President of a powerful governing party one has a lot of scope to make an impact. But in a democracy one does not get one’s way all the time – even if one is the President.