OPINION: How will history judge us?

It's been a pretty dismal week all around the world.

Last Friday was no ordinary day as Britain voted to leave the European Union. The immediate aftermath on the markets was brutal and the instability regarding precisely how this exit will be managed will doubtless fuel more economic uncertainty.

Possibly the most worrying knock-on effect of the 'Leave' vote was the increase in racial hatred that is now being seen on UK streets. But then the distasteful pictures of a crowing Nigel Farage will do that. One could easily argue that Farage and company were quite comfortable stirring emotions with posters depicting Syrian immigrants ostensibly about to enter the UK. In fact, the immigrant queue was in Slovenia, but what's in the detail, really?

It turns out too that Project Leave seems to have no discernible plan on how to deal with the consequences of the fervour it stoked. As the days go by citizens are slowly realising the narcissistic and unethical Boris Johnson and his sidekick Michael Gove have duped them. The leadership contest is now in full swing in both the Conservative and Labour parties following Jeremy Corbyn's own reluctance to really fight for the 'Remain' vote.

Whatever happens, it won't end well for Project Leave. They have unleashed what might be a global financial crisis akin to 2008 without much thought. For Johnson, one gets the sense that politics, like his often tawdry life story, is a bit of a game. Except this time he won't be able to have his cake and eat it. Mrs Merkel will probably see to that. He will need to sit down at the banquet of consequences eventually.

If he becomes Prime Minister he will forever be remembered for triggering Article 50.

Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, GOP presumptive nominee Donald Trump was spewing forth on economic policy in what can only be described as a stream of consciousness. So isolationist in his views, Trump cannot seem to desist from conflating running a business with running a country. He also doesn't quite seem to grasp that starting some sort of mini trade war with China might not be such a good idea. Be that as it may, in a world turned upside down, his message will resonate, even with its casual relationship with the facts. One senses a Trump presidency will make Brexit look like a Sunday picnic.

In Turkey more than 40 people were killed in a bombing at Ataturk airport. Again, fear has overtaken hope and rejuvenation.

Here in South Africa we continue to stare down our own very specific challenges, although much of the violence and protesting can in some way be connected to global disaffection. Globalisation has worked for some, but not for others. Deepening inequality has brought about increased instability and a fear of the future. Here a young, unemployed population with poor levels of education exacerbates our challenges. The ripeness to respond to a message of anarchy and anti-establishment rage are writ large on our political landscape. And so in these times of being seriously adrift, we need to keep calm heads and to anchor our country to our democratic institutions and the constitutional values which underpin them. The line must be held somehow.

Corruption Watch has been doing sterling work in promoting awareness of the process to nominate and select a new Public Protector. This has resulted in a long list of 59 nominees. The list, full of hopefuls, some known, others not, will be whittled down to a shortlist. That is where civil society monitoring and the raising of awareness will be key. The devil is often in that space between the long list and the shortlist, as we have seen so many times before in parliamentary and other selection processes.

To be eligible for the long list one has to fulfill the following criteria in terms of the Public Protector Act.

"The candidate must be

  • a South African citizen who is a fit and proper person to hold such office, and who is a judge of a high court; or

  • is admitted as an advocate or an attorney and has, for a cumulative period of at least 10 years after having been so admitted, practised as an advocate or an attorney; or

  • is qualified to be admitted as an advocate or an attorney and has, for a cumulative period of at least 10 years after having so qualified, lectured in law at a university; or

  • has specialised knowledge of or experience, for a cumulative period of at least 10 years, in the administration of justice, public administration or public finance; or

  • has, for a cumulative period of at least 10 years, been a member of Parliament; or

  • has acquired any combination of experience mentioned in paragraphs (1) to (5) for a cumulative period of at least 10 years."

The long list is therefore long and there has been no sifting. Anyone could be nominated. So what will be crucial in the next days will be scrutinising the relevant CVs and trying to gain some insight into where perhaps a pro-Zuma, compromised candidate may lie. Or indeed where a potentially weak and compliant individual may be lurking. It's one thing fulfilling the requirements of the Act, quite another dealing with the president and his merry band of destroyers ahead of a 2017 ANC elective conference and a 2019 general election. This is no time for naiveté. The next Madonsela will need to similarly have a backbone of steel and the gravitas to speak truth to power. The faint of heart need not proceed.

We need only look at the disastrous state of the SABC to understand how very ruthless President Zuma truly is. A new Public Protector might well need to again deal with the Two Ms - Muthambi and Motsoeneng. Hlaudi Motsoeneng is straight out of the Goebbels playbook, as is Faith Muthambi who claimed 'concern' regarding journalists protesting the undermining of press freedom at the SABC. Such are the times we live in that the ANC itself also blasted Jimi Matthews for resigning. We have all seen this before during apartheid. Motsoeneng remains in his job despite court orders saying he needs to vacate the position. But then again, 'uBaba loves him' and uBaba himself has scant regard for the Constitution. And so Motsoeneng, the holder of a fake matric certificate, remains untouchable. This week he claimed not to know what censorship was "because it is an English thing". Parading ignorance, a lack of skill and education have somehow become badges of honour in a society driven by mediocrity.

But what is happening at the SABC could have a serious impact on free and fair elections, as the Council for the Advancement of the Constitution (Casac) pointed out this week. It said, "To ensure free and fair elections, public broadcasters have a responsibility to ensure relatively equitable access to all political parties, and they should reflect fairly and objectively on what is going on in the country. Access to such information by the public is central to meaningfully exercising the right to vote, as well as free and fair elections. These are among the cornerstones of our democracy that we must guard fearlessly."

Icasa and the IEC now have a duty to step in to protect our constitutional rights and ensure that those institutions also fulfill their mandates. Critically, citizens also need to make their voices heard and support those brave journalists within the SABC who have stood firm and those who have been dismissed. It is also time for lily-livered Parliament to use its powers to summon Muthambi and Motsoeneng and stop the madness. As SABC parliamentary journalist Lukhanyo Calata, son of Fort Calata, one of the Cradock Four, said so powerfully this week, "Did I live without a father so that 31 years later, my own freedom and that of my colleagues is restricted within an institution that is meant to lead in media freedom? What do I say to the son I have today about what his grandfather and great grandfather James Arthur Calata fought for?"

Indeed, what will history say we all did?

_Judith February is based at the Institute for Security Studies. Follow her on Twitter: _ @judithfebruary_