MICHAEL MORRIS: Fatalism about ANC reign is the pothole shredding progress - BusinessLIVE

At my teenage son’s creditable instigation I spent some sweaty, grubby hours with him over the holidays fixing potholes in the street outside my wife’s old family home in Bloemfontein.

At my teenage son’s creditable instigation I spent some sweaty, grubby hours with him over the holidays fixing potholes in the street outside my wife’s old family home in Bloemfontein.

In many ways the Free State capital is another world, certainly a world away from where we live in Cape Town. (If I ever had the urge to fill a pothole near our home, I’d have to hunt around a bit, and even then I might be beaten to it by a city repair team … though equally, apartheid’s residual effects in the urban landscape of Bloemfontein are similarly legible in Cape Town’s).

About the time my son and I were toiling away with broom and mallet, cold asphalt and heavy stamper (which gave me a blister in five minutes and took off the skin in the next five, without my even knowing it), my Daily Friend colleague Jonathan Katzenellenbogen highlighted what is, in effect, the difference between Cape Town and Bloemfontein in his January 5 piece headline “SA: constraints and possibilities”.

Citing the auditor-general’s latest figures — that only 41 of SA’s 257 municipalities had clean audits — he notes that while a clean audit does not prove service excellence, “it is often a sign that a municipality is doing a number of things right. Failure to provide basic services like road repair, garbage collection and water provision has forced many municipalities into a cycle of decline, resulting in businesses closing down and fleeing, and lower revenue from rates.”

Elsewhere in the piece Katzenellenbogen observes: “Our deteriorating infrastructure and the absence of reform means we will struggle to grow and create jobs. All this must lead to further economic decline but could also lay the way open to the ANC’s eviction at the polls, and reform. It will also lead to a further huge shift away from reliance on the state.”

Immiserated majority

The ANC, he judges, “must know that it cannot get votes on its poor record in building infrastructure and delivering services and jobs. Promises and expanding grants are its only way out with the voters.”

In 2023, can it be doubted that one need have only the slightest empathy with the immiserated majority of South Africans to recognise the hopefulness in the prospect of an ANC defeat?

Yet, in reflecting on our street-mending efforts in Bloemfontein, it would be delusionary not to mention a salutary conversation it prompted with a domestic worker of our long acquaintance.

She was, I think, half impressed, half bemused by our seemingly voluntarist efforts (though, to be honest, perhaps self-interest drove our unpaid labouring). Of greater import, however, was her grasp of the greater scale of things.

A downpour the night before had given the garden a welcome drench, all excess water flowing rapidly out of sight into the stormwater drains. But the same replenishing summer rain had rendered her suburb almost impassable.

“There was so much water and mud … it took me a long time to get to the taxi,” she complained. “Everything’s got worse, nothing is ever fixed.” She added with what I saw as ominous fatalism: “We are going to end up like Zimbabwe.”

“No,” I countered, “not if the voters throw the ANC out.” To which she responded: “But who else can really make a government?”

As I had half imagined it might, pothole-fixing brimmed with lessons, moral, material and political — chiefly that if there is one thing SA must achieve, it is emasculating fatalism and showing that democratic choices really can be meaningful.

• Morris is head of media at the SA Institute of Race Relations.