JUDITH FEBRUARY: Trust has been broken between the state and citizens


How can things continue as before? That was the cry last week in what really was a trying week. South Africa has had many of those, but last week felt like a high watermark.

A lot happened. We raged. We raged against the high rate of rape and murder of women and children. We raged against toxic masculinity. We raged against our criminal justice system, which has failed us all.

Uyinene Mrwetyana went to collect a parcel.

Jesse Hess and Lynette Volschenk were in their homes.

We wept for all those who will never return, taken by a society in which killing is routine.

Thousands protested. Young men and women at schools marched, wearing black, they protested against gender-based violence. They marched against that which young people should not be concerned about in their ‘salad days’.

But this is a country that demands much from those who live in it, young and old.

As the rage played itself out on the streets in Cape Town right to the doors of the WEF Africa event, eventually a tired looking President Ramaphosa addressed the nation in a pre-recorded message.

One wonders what his advisors were thinking? Someone needed to whisper in his ear that his country was enraged. It was also burning in many inner cities as xenophobic violence claimed lives and livelihoods. The tragic scenes in Johannesburg and other cities unfolded in real time on our television screens, after all.

Ramaphosa’s address was a few days too late. It was pragmatic and weary at the same time. Promises were made that time was up for rapists and murderers, but the trust has been broken between the state and citizens in such a deep way that cynicism was all that was left by Thursday last week.

After all the protests and rage, Ramaphosa visited Uyinene’s broken parents. How are words enough to replace a murdered daughter? Her funeral in the Eastern Cape was broadcast live. And so the grief travelled across our country and within us all.

Appropriately, the rage still continues.

In the midst of this national crisis, we learnt of the passing of rugby player Chester Williams on Friday evening at the age of 49.

They say that only the good die young.

Williams was the only black member of the winning 1995 Rugby World Cup team. That could not have been easy and yet, as Francois Pienaar held the Web Ellis trophy aloft, all our differences seemed behind us. We celebrated in true South African style as if there was no tomorrow. Madiba cheered us on and Joel Stransky dropkicked his way in to the hearts of millions.

It was a different time, a time in which we papered over the cracks of our divisions. Williams represented the hope we held then. As television crews descended on his hometown of Paarl this week, locals rightly hailed him as a hero. "He did it for us in 1995 and we hope Cheslyn Kolbe and others will do it for us this year."

As we mourn Williams’s passing, we also mourn what has passed and we lament the state of our country. But complexity was always going to be part and parcel of our future despite the exaggerated euphoria of 1994. We didn’t foresee the Zuma years (perhaps we should have?), the corruption, the wasted opportunity and ruin it would leave as its legacy. Everywhere we are now picking up the pieces and rebuilding that which has been broken.

Rebuild we must, hard though it is.

In 1993, singer Claire Johnston and her band Mango Groove wrote Another Country. Chris Hani had been assassinated and the country was at the edge of the abyss. It spoke to a time and place in our fraught history.

The song was re-recorded in 2016 with Zolani Mohala and speaks to us again for another state of grace.

But let's begin

To look within

To where the future lies

And find a strength to live beneath

Another country's skies

Another time

Another place

Another country

Another state of grace

Judith February is based at the Institute for Security Studies and is also a Visiting Fellow at the Wits School of Governance. She is the author of 'Turning and turning: exploring the complexities of South Africa’s democracy' which is available. Follow her on Twitter: @judith_february