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Probing SA’s problems in one easy podcast



We all complain frequently about the corruption of the African National Congress (ANC), but what really caused it? Could Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s ban on cigarettes and alcohol be the result of a puritanical education? What can we really do to change the way South Africa is run?

These are just some of the questions veteran journalist Toby Shapshak and academic Dr Ivor Chipkin have set out to grapple with in their recently launched podcast. The “Filling the Gapp” project was launched this month to go beyond the typical discussions about misgovernance and incompetence and get to the heart of what truly ails our beloved country.

“There is always a need for solid and reliable information in South Africa, but we must also understand how the things we hear about came to be, and what caused them,” Shapshak told the SA Jewish Report this week.

“We can all say that our government is corrupt, but do we consider how exactly it all unravelled? How did we really get to where we are? If we can understand this, perhaps we can figure out how to rebuild what we have, and better understand the country we live in.”

A seasoned technology journalist, Shapshak teamed up with Chipkin to create the podcast after the two contemplated the idea for almost 15 years. Friends for almost 20 years, they share a common interest in South Africa’s political reality and are both sons of parents renowned for their architectural genius.

Says Shapshak, “Ivor’s father, Clive, was well-known for his books about architecture in Johannesburg, and my grandfather, Rene Shapshak, actually appeared in one of his books. My mother was an architect and a role model at a time when women hardly entered the profession. She was a Jewish, English speaking woman. She broke the mould at the University of Pretoria.”

He continues, “Beyond our shared backgrounds, Ivor and I have been talking for years about the kinds of things we think should be introducing into the political discourse.

“Ivor wants to go past knee-jerk responses to corruption, and look at the deeper causes. Although my day job isn’t political news, I’m just as concerned, and together we hope to shed some light.”

Understanding the political background and context is key to resolving the issues we face as a country, Shapshak says.

“Without context, it’s hard to understand the real causes and shifts. If we look at the roots of corruption in South Africa, we could perhaps unpack the profound shifts we’ve seen over the past few years and better equip ourselves to deal with the challenges.”

Although only one podcast has been released to date, Chipkin and Shapshak have already jumped into the deep end.

“When the ANC took over in 1994, apartheid-era legislation allowed municipal councillors to own businesses,” says Shapshak. “This was only amended in 2000, meaning that for the first five years of our democracy, the practice wasn’t illegal, though it was unethical.

“A fact like this allows you to look back at our problems and understand how networks of government enrichment became so established in the country, where they started, and perhaps suggest how we can deal with them.”

Also discussed is the apparently bizarre ban on cigarettes and alcohol during the initial stages of lockdown, a move which might be explained by looking back at history.

Shapshak asks, “Could it be that the ANC elders backing it have educational backgrounds in a variety of very well-run mission schools defined by a puritanical element that marked their upbringing? Could that perhaps underlie the rationale for the ban and help us understand why it came into force?

“We’re not saying it’s a definitive answer but it’s part of our investigation into why things like this have come about.”

Given the extent to which the COVID-19 crisis has laid bare the extent of corruption in South Africa, the timing of the podcast’s pilot is especially appropriate.

“Our situation has shown us where we need to look to rebuild South Africa,” says Shapshak. “Our reality is now far more complicated than before. We have on our hands economic devastation which has made our corruption issue and the damage it causes far more pressing.

“We are now forced to ask: How do we return our public service to operational excellence and make the country work? Where did our leaders pick up their characteristics? If we know this, perhaps we can do something about it.”

And Shapshak remains hopeful. “My survival mechanism when I go through something tough is to think of something tougher someone else survived,” he says. “I look at people who went through the Holocaust and the camps and yet walked out alive, got married, had families, and carried on.”

He applies this philosophy to our current hardships. “The human condition is about surviving and evolving. It’s our best skillset. Our forebears survived the Holocaust, South Africa survived apartheid, and we’ll come through this in the end.

“We may be a lot poorer and our ANC politicians may continue to disappoint us, but humanity will always survive what gets thrown at it.”

  • Filling the Gapp is available on all major online podcast platforms including Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

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