On Thursday 13th November, South African politics reached a turning point. We watched, with morbid fascination, as parliament erupted into pandemonium. Liberal doses of name-calling were followed by some argy-bargy, then fisticuffs, all of which was beamed live, on TV. When the TV feed was cut (ie: censored) we simply switched to social media where the soap opera continued.
Parliament has never been this riveting, but most South Africans were horrified by what took place in those hallowed halls and media channels were filled with opinions & analysis debating whether or not this is the beginning of the end of our fledgling democracy. However, from a trend spotter’s point of view this is not just a localized occurrence, but part of a global trend of disorder – the growing pains of a new world order.
Step back for a minute. We are at a most interesting juncture in history. At the turn of the last century the world moved from an agricultural into an industrial era. Similarly, we are now transitioning from that industrial era into a technological era, and with that comes the conflict and unease as new business templates, changed value systems and new social norms recalibrate themselves for the journey ahead. It’s cold comfort for the doomsday evangelists, but it might put things into perspective.
Take for example the global brouhaha surrounding the Uber taxi phenomenon. Traditional taxi associations are up in arms over this new system (born and driven by disruptive technology) and in some countries the service has even been banned. When London cab drivers protested about the unregulated system, the Financial Times covered the protests but ran a parallel story on how the same outrage erupted when automobiles began replacing horse drawn carriages at the turn of the last century. Point taken.
In the global political arena it is certainly no longer “business as usual”, and here the disorder is much more sinister. “Non-state” combatants like Boko Haram and ISIS who flout the Geneva Convention (the international law for the humanitarian treatment of war), now have to be dealt with as “equal” players politically, even though they don’t adhere to the same rulebook. Western Jihad recruits are no longer identified by a foreign nationality, because they are now the “enemy within”, born and bred in the country they now fight against. Disorder is spreading: from the economic crisis in 2008, to the Arab Spring in 2010 and the Occupy movements of 2011 to the political conflicts in 2014. Just last week in Paris the Musée d’Art Moderne called for entries for the 6th annual Prix Pictet (a prestigious photography award) – and this year’s theme? Disorder.
Disorder has even seeped into the art world.
But back to the disorder in our own back yard. A parliamentary correspondent for a radio station made an interesting comment the morning after the chaos erupted. She said that although it might look – from the outside – as if parliament had descended into anarchy, from the inside a very different message was being conveyed. For the first time, opposition parties were uniting to disrupt and challenge the arrogant behaviour of the ruling party. A line was being drawn and the message was clear – enough is enough – and the straw that broke the camel’s back, was the ad hoc committee’s report on Nkandla.
Before this turning point, a friend (and struggle veteran) commented that she felt “impotent” as a citizen in her own country. The ongoing issues of corruption and cronyism, ineptitude of parastatals and non-delivery of municipal services had left her feeling powerless to effect any change through official channels. I pointed out that what was playing out in parliament was the very same frustration that she was feeling, but there the frustration had come to a head – spectacularly. Similarly, in townships and informal settlements, violent service delivery protests were a result of that same frustration. The disorder in parliament was just a more “genteel” protest, but a protest nevertheless – it’s all relative.
Similarly, the civil disobedience campaign against eTolls is again part of a growing frustration that unites law-abiding citizens and spurs them on to create disorder. The recent actions by private individuals to take on big business (a cell phone network and a bank) to protest about bad service are also part of the ripple effect of this prevailing mood.
The common thread in all these cases is a tipping point of pent up frustrations: the final realisation that “enough is enough” and unexpectedly, the will of the people suddenly overrides decorum. This is of course a slippery slope to anarchy. Changing the status quo is always messy by nature but we managed to transition into a democratic South Africa with relative decorum.
We can do it again, but first, something’s got to give.
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