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Docility: our society’s quiet calamity




Remember the threats by thousands during the anti-apartheid struggle to make the country “ungovernable”? It seemed sure that after apartheid’s defeat, protest against injustice would be embedded into this country’s DNA. But it appears that docility has won, that the self-indulgence of staring into cell phones for Tweets has replaced action.

What a pity. In 2015 – not that long ago – we had the intense #FeesMustFall movement to stop increasing student fees, and the “Rhodes Must Fall” movement to remove a statue of Cecil John Rhodes, a symbol of British colonialism, at the University of Cape Town. Whether one agreed with all the actions of the angry protestors or not, what was important was the passion they displayed to correct things.

Why is corruption on the gigantic scale revealed by the Gupta and Agrizzi sagas, and the theft of billions in public money designated for poor South Africans, not enough to get the blood of the youth boiling? Is it too abstract and removed from most people’s daily lives?

Leaders call for a calm approach, to “let the law take its course”. And the ANC, many of whose senior members face corruption allegations, continues to deploy them on its campaign trail, including tainted former President Jacob Zuma. The party says they have not been legally convicted, so there is no reason for them not to be its public face.

But most South Africans don’t believe those guilty of corruption will ever suffer any consequences. If they are charged in court, they will drag out the process endlessly, with appeal after appeal, as Zuma did with the charges against him.

What if a person has had enough of the charade, and wants to protest individually, and not wait for a movement? While South African and Israeli issues differ, there was an example of such an individual act on Sunday in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square. Controversial Israeli performance artist and playwright, Ariel Bronz, chained himself by the neck with a lock and chains to a steel beam that is part of a Holocaust memorial sculpture.

He said he was protesting what he called the “substandard treatment” received in Israel by Holocaust survivors. He was staging an “anti-event” on the 74th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. He was injured in the process and hospitalised.

What would be an equivalent individual act in South Africa? Would young people be prepared to chain themselves to the wheels of the expensive cars, paid from the public purse, of corrupt officials who should be working to serve the country rather than driving such cars?

Last Sunday, there was a major cricket match at the Wanderers Stadium in Johannesburg. Cars filled the streets, and happy cricket fans watched the game as if everything was well in the land. But it’s like a fourth monkey in the proverbial set of three brass monkeys who see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil, respectively. The fourth one neither sees, hears, nor speaks, he just gazes smilingly at his cell phone, proclaiming, “All is well.”

Most people in any society just want to get on with their lives, educate their children, pay the rent and so on. It takes something special to get them riled up, to be a “trouble-maker”. This society badly needs some of those.

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