Sunday, April 19, 2009



Apr 19, 2009

On Wednesday millions of South Africans will stream to polling stations to have their say in the governance of their nation.

Many will vote their fears — fears of a country they believe is falling into a morass of crime, corruption and disrepair.

Many will vote their disgust — disgust at what they see as the undermining of the rule of law by the incumbent ruling party and the likely installation of a president with a thick cumulonimbus cloud hanging over him. Many will vote their hopes — hopes that their lives will be better tomorrow than they are today. Many will vote their gratitude — gratitude that their lives have changed for the better since the advent of democracy.

This general election is in many ways a referendum on where we are as a country. It also provides us a chance to examine our record of the past 15 years and determine what we can do better.

This election comes at a time when questions are being asked about the direction this republic is taking. Are we still the country that the tens of thousands of martyrs paid the ultimate sacrifice for, that many more were jailed for and that many young people gave up youthful years to fight for? Is this still the country that the founding fathers and mothers who negotiated and drafted our constitution envisaged? Is this the country that we want to bequeath to future generations?

Sadly, we have to say that we are not yet that country. We have lost our way somewhere. We have fallen behind on the great ambitions of creating a society, which in the words of the Reconstruction and Development Programme would “mobilise all our people and our country’s resources towards the final eradication of apartheid and the building of a democratic, non-racial and non-sexist future”.

Yes, we praise the housing of millions who had no shelter, the provision of potable water and the extension of electricity to many who were deprived these basics by the apartheid government. We applaud the extension of social security to millions who live in grinding poverty. We appreciate the fact that we are a democracy with freedoms.

But there are areas where South Africans, particularly the poor ones, have been badly failed. And it is these areas that this newspaper would like the incoming government to prioritise over the next five years. We will hold them accountable for everything they have been elected to do but we believe prioritisation is of the essence.

Education: the South African child has been failed by dysfunctional schools, including unnecessary experimentation, reluctance to make teachers teach and appalling resourcing.

Health: as in many other areas the middle classes have simply opted out of the public health system, which the pickled-liver former minister of health ran down. But the poor of our country have no choice.

Local government: this an area that has been given plenty of lip service but hardly enough attention. The mess in local government has ignited nationwide protests as communities turned on the very government they voted for.

Unemployment: we do not need to reiterate the obvious fact this is the greatest contributor to poverty and one of the biggest contributors to crime.

Telecommunications: our country is a sophisticated one that should be competing with the emerging giants that are India and Brazil in this area. But we gave the captaincy of this crucial sector to a reserve player and fell way behind. This sector will be most crucial if we are to achieve modest growth levels in the current climate.

Crime: The new government will have to clean up the police force, and get citizens to become active in crime prevention and detection

Corruption: more than anything this is the cancer that will kill our society. We will be looking to the prospective new president to lead the fight against it and to live up to his promise that he will lead an honest government.

As the Sunday Times we will play our part, as should all private and corporate citizens, in reversing the legacy of apartheid and the shortcomings of the past 15 years. We will also continue to be the alert watchdog that will hold the authorities accountable to an agenda that serves South Africans, particularly the poor and vulnerable.

This newspaper will not be so condescending as to suggest who our readers should vote for. We know the 3.9 million members of the Sunday Times family will be guided by their values, principles and beliefs.

What we will be firm on, though, is the need for every registered voter to cast their ballot.