OPINION: Officials are treating us like fools

There's been a heavy cloud sitting over South Africa for the past week. The anger and shame is pervasive and we feel it at every turn. I hear it on radio talk shows and in coffee shops, I see it on Twitter and on Facebook and I feel it on the streets and in the malls. We are embarrassed by recent events in South Africa and we are frustrated that we feel disempowered to act against them.

More and more, it feels as though our elected officials are not only taking us for granted, but are treating us like fools.

For a week, government played down the seriousness of a wave of xenophobia gripping the country and did little to condemn alleged inciteful comments from King Goodwill Zwelithini and President Jacob Zuma's son Edward. It was only when the international glare began to fall on us, that the government was pressured into acting. President Zuma finally made a public statement, he appointed an inter-ministerial task team, he cancelled a planned trip to Indonesia and he went walkabout himself. At first, it appeared that government officials were finding reasons not to deploy the army and giving assurances it was not necessary.

Then a week later, coincidently after the murder of Emmanuel Sithole was published on the front page of the Sunday Times newspaper causing an outcry, the SANDF was sent in in a show of force. Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula stressed the necessity for the army step in and 'exert the authority of the state' and 'reclaim the streets'.

Government has been at pains to make it appear as if it has been in control from the outset, that they haven't acted under pressure and that they weren't shamed into calling in the army to allay international fears. Instead of bearing responsibility, Zuma has blamed the media for fueling xenophobia and making the country look bad.

There have also been repeated rumblings about a shadowy secret 'third force' driving the violence. It is as though he cannot hear the cacophony of outrage at government and cannot see the very obvious fact that arguably the root cause of xenophobia is the state's failure to provide jobs, alleviate poverty and plug porous borders.

With a leadership vacuum and in the absence of the ability to really do anything tangible to combat the situation, the public has vented through peace marches, candle-lit vigils and hashtags. In my opinion, these have provided an outlet for our fury but are unlikely to make any real difference on the streets where violence lurks. But what else can we do when it feels like our officials are just ignoring us and treating us like fools?

And it's not just in the sphere of xenophobic violence that this is happening.

When the President consistently refuses to acknowledge public anger about the upgrades to his compound in Nkandla and take accountability for the implications of the scandal, we are being treated like fools.

When an administrative official is forced to carry responsibility for the politically connected Gupta family landing a plane full of wedding guests at Waterkloof Air Force Base, we are being treated like fools.

When absolutely no action is taken against senior members of the National Prosecuting Authority despite court judgments finding they are dishonest and unfit for office, we are being treated like fools.

When officials don't acknowledge the damage being done to our crime-fighting agencies by personal agendas and turf-wars despite ongoing court battles and litigation, we are being treated like fools.

When Cricket South Africa assures fans there was no political interference or meddling in team selection during the World Cup despite a slew of off-the-record confirmations, we are being treated like fools.

And that is why the fury and shame is so pervasive - not only are we embarrassed by the violence itself, but we are angry that we feel disempowered to act against it. No one in authority is listening to us when we speak and instead there is a sense of indifference and an air of arrogance.

We voted officials into power and they should be accountable to the electorate, not ignore us or take us for granted. They must know that the angrier we become, the less peace marches, candle-lit vigils and hashtags will suffice as suitable outlets.

Mandy Wiener is a freelance journalist and author working for Eyewitness News . Follow her on Twitter: @mandywiener