The prophet Jeremiah foresaw a really dark period for the nation of Judah. It was to be probably the lowest point in the history of that nation (including the Nazi genocide). Instead of buying an air ticket, or getting his money out, or stocking up in sardines, he did a rather extraordinary thing. The context was the Babylonian exile, when the chosen people of God (I am talking from the perspective of the Bible) had their land taken away from them. Whoosh. The entire nation (or very large sections of it) were taken away into exile. Their treasures were looted, their sacred institutions were decimated and their king, Hezekiah, was deposed and taken off to Babylon. It seemed that all the previous promises of stability, of certainty and security, were dissolved in an instant, vanished in a flash.
Now, when the Babylonian armies were actually in the process of besieging Jerusalem, Jeremiah bought a piece of land at a place called Anathoth. It certainly seemed like a strange thing to do and I am fairly sure that he would have battled to get a bond from today’s financial institutions had they been around at the time. But he did so, because he could see beyond the present state of affairs, to a future which was not so bleak. He could see to a dawn beyond midnight.
I think it was with this model in my mind that I went back to attending branch meetings of the ANC recently. I noted the puzzled looks on the faces of several of my friends, and I have to say that the thought of fighting an election in the Western Cape fills me with a fair amount of dread. But I have gone back anyway.
And what did I find there? Look, I don’t know what ANC branch meetings are like in Langa or
Khayelitsha — but in Rondebosch they are fairly civilised. To my knowledge, there have been no stabbings of people you don’t happen to like — no deliberate exclusion of people whom you think may vote against your position. What you see there are people who think before they speak; who work hard for the organisation; who are fair and disciplined. Some of them have had a very long history with the organisation. There is a very good racial and gender mix and people are neither afraid nor shy to speak their minds.
Why did I go back, besides being Jeremianic? I went back because I feel that we all need to roll up our sleeves and work our way out of the mess. For weeks now I have been getting distressed SMSes and e-mails from friends, family and sundry people who seem to think that I have some kind of inside track on the politics of the moment.
I get asked things like: “Do you think I should be booking my flight out of here?” and “OMG! Is Trevor Manuel really going to resign?” (As if I would know the answer.) What it reflects, simply, is the anxiety of a whole range of people, because of the political turmoil. They are looking for someone to give them some kind of answer — some kind of certainty, even some kind of guarantee.
Of course, there is no guarantee. There is no guarantee that politicians are not going to be stupid, or crooked, or devious. There is no guarantee that the rand is not going to nose dive, and there is no guarantee that Zimbabwe is going to come right. There are no guarantees and if you are looking for them you’re silly.
But some things remain a pretty safe bet. While I would not hazard a guess on what is going to happen in the Western Cape, elsewhere, I think there can be no doubt that the ANC will still command a majority. It may be a reduced majority. It may even be a slim majority — but it will be a majority. And let’s be very honest. It is precisely that majority that has made this country as stable as it has been over the past few years, post-apartheid.
For myself, the question is not will Jacob Zuma be president? The question for me is “what will Zuma do differently if he is the next president?” Because without housing for this country’s poor, without jobs, without health care, without education — who cares, quite frankly? What I care about, fundamentally, is that. And the reality is that the ANC under Thabo Mbeki has not done thunderingly well in those areas. Or let me put it less negatively — it could have done a whole lot better.
But just a word of advice to all the worriers out there. Don’t. Not about the politics of the moment, anyway. Politics is just politics. It should not frighten us as much as it seems to. What we should be scared to death about is that little list in the paragraph above.