As an outside observer in South Africa where every day seems to present scandal, impunity, ineptitude and corruption as headlines, nothing better exemplifies a fundamental dysfunction in this society than the sight of refuse strewn over the streets in Johannesburg City centre.
For weeks, there has been a workers’ dispute with their employers, the waste management company, Pikitup and basically, no waste or rubbish has been picked up for quite a while.
The problem is not so much that the rubbish has piled up on the pavements and at lampposts, but that to exacerbate a seriously deteriorating situation, some agents of anarchy have taken to a kind of muck-racking that involves spreading the heaps of rubbish out onto the roads in a deliberate attempt to accentuate the inconvenient sights and create a reprehensible eyesore.
Yet, all is not at ease in South Africa in what appears to be a problem with placemen in charge of various organisations who appear to have lost the confidence of both their staff and the public.
At South African Airlines, the South African Broadcasting Corporation and the South African Weather Service, people have been demanding the heads of the chiefs and none either by the hand of the government or by plain indifference in defending the indefensible is ready to leave.
In another dispute, the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa (Prasa) wants its money back for a train deal that looks as murky as it is incredible along with their attempt to reclaim all remuneration paid to their ex-chief engineer who allegedly falsified his qualifications within the broader issue of the trains being ordered not suitable for South African train lines.
The list goes on about falsification, misrepresentation, dodgy deals, corruption, incompetence, ineptitude, lethargy, obfuscation, impunity and the comedy. Yes, the comedy most exemplified in President Jacob Zuma laughing off the seriousness of giving an account of his stewardship in parliament that it has become part of a skit on television where the idea that leaders are solving the people’s problems is met with that laughter.
It makes you wonder if this is the same South Africa that gave us such world respected figures as Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
Invariably, it appears people are being promoted beyond their competence, others are unable to grow into the responsibilities they have assumed and there is a crisis of leadership that ensures disputes become the norm where no amount of arbitration is possible except where it leads to disaster until the parties exhaust themselves in the squabbles.
I watch South Africa as a land of great promise on the verge of a greater disappointment and loss of opportunity, the symptoms are deeper than anyone is ready to accept, yet, one must commend the judiciary, the public defenders and the watchdogs who seem to be the most able preservers of the democracy at play in this country, loudly seeking accountability and responsibility of those who hold power in all spheres of society.
What South Africa needs the most is great minds given the opportunity to steer this amazing country, but as long as politics, expediency and mediocre minds shown up by more competent people remain in charge, you can expect that the rubbish on the streets is only a symptom of the rubbish in the deeper recesses of the national psyche, and that is a great shame.