by David Oliphant

Agendas flow from one side of political parties to the next. Be it a party in a politician’s back yard or the party the politician claims to be a vehicle for positive social change. Whichever the type of party, no one, least of all me (which I am sure leaves many a South African wondering similar thoughts) knows how that politician came to be within such power of society, nor do we know what their intentions are (even though their mouths make it explicitly clear, their actions tell of other motives) and furthermore, this failure to instil faith within the communities who are directly affected by their choice of politician leaves me with bewilderment as to the decisions these heads of state might make in the future.

Although, in the strictest sense of the framework that politicians house themselves within, what are these martyrs for peace and equality if all they do is leave us with thoughts of bewilderment. I dare say the complete opposite of what is expected of their political acts. Trust is expected, social change is expected, a consciousness that creates social inclusion and sustainability is expected, except, from the vast majority of the winners and runners up on our diluted political podium, we only receive anxiety regarding our education system that fails in preparing scholars for tertiary education, a healthcare system that without the proper medical insurance in place, death might be a cold reality and with respect to a personal security on the streets of our country, it is more a matter of location, location, location – safe locations to raise our children are often the spoils of the haves and the wishes of the have-nots.

With this in mind, you would expect the urgency and willingness that was in the hearts of our forefathers to beat within the chests of the current group of political leaders staking claim to the potential that South Africa possesses. This however is not the case. Picking up any newspaper will tell a very different story to the one that the giants before us such as Govan Mbeki, Walter Sisulu, Steve Biko and and the great who recently drew his final breath, Nelson Mandela believed to be the future of our resource-rich country. The stories you will read are of hidden motives and blatant dishonours of social promise. These, a personal thought of mine, put a few great men in an early grave, be it Thabo Mbeki with respect to his political career in South Africa or the rapid decline of Nelson Mandela’s health following the many scandals of the current leadership of a continental movement which he and many others had pledged their life to orchestrate.

I will not dwell in the negative and rehash that which we all know. Rehash the corruptive nature that plagues wealth-seeking politicians. Rehash the tennis game played between seemingly school-yard enemies playing ping-pong with the lives of impoverished individuals. This I cannot do because, firstly, I do not have the patience to sort through scandal after scandal renaming key-players and defining moments and, secondly, it is not the reason why I am writing this piece to begin with. I am writing this to help foster understanding with regards to what it means to be a trustworthy politician and what makes this title such a difficult one to receive in our current political climate. Trust is such a fickle thing in the political context. The American pianist, Oscar Lavant famously made the following statement regarding trust within politics, “I once said cynically of a politician, ‘He’ll double-cross that bridge when he comes to it” – such is the nature of the beast we face. But face it we shall. Not by bathing in the promises of dirty office bearers or becoming complacent within the policies of hungry wealth seekers. No we will begin to trust and foster trustworthy politicians when we ourselves make the decision to become trustworthy citizens and begin to understand the worth we give another human being when making him or her our head of state. When we as a society finally decide the songs and dance for pleasure-seeking members of parliament must come to an end we will force those to listen to the questions that require answers. When indulgent politicians are removed from their platforms from which they, instead of providing realisable social change, only persecute rival parties for their failings and shortcomings.

Unfortunately, only the consequence of an economic and political backslide has forced South Africans and the world to take seriously what has happened over the past few years in what was promised to be one of the most developmentally- and diversity-friendly environments in which to live. These consequences have seen foreign investment rapidly leave local markets with exchange rates plummeting and the cost of living increasing. In the words of my lecturer of Innovation, Abimbola Windapo of the University of Cape Town, these events must be the catalyst to “awakening the giant”. An awakening of a change in social consciousness, a change in the thoughts of self-worth and a change in the desire for improved societal progress from what we call our heads of state. All these translate into the fostering of trust. When one understands this inherent self-worth and what is possible when this self-worth is achieved, then we as citizens will not allow our trust to be taken for granted and this, I am afraid, is what the situation between citizen and politician is currently.

This, unfortunately, is not isolated to South Africa but remains a long-standing cloud over the political structures of the African continent. Many Africans do not know their worth therefore desiring a consciousness of political and economic freedom is a difficult one because who knows where to start? My answer is to educate yourself; educate yourself in the natures of the organisations for which you vote, educate yourself to understand the weight that your “X” will hold and educate yourself to comprehend human intention which might have ulterior motives. Only then will you as a citizen emphasise the level of trust which you feel you deserve and only then will you as a citizen expel untrustworthy politicians from cabinet simply because we see through their political nature. In the words of the late American civil rights activist, Barbara Jordan, “Education remains the key to economic and political freedom” – in my opinion, no truer words have ever been spoken.
This premise goes some way towards establishing the grounds as to why the current political leadership still holds a stronghold on society – both the front-runners and their competitors. Education brings understanding to the grey which otherwise should have been seen as black or white – without it, our potential is forgotten, our desires are left unknown and our ignorance is taken advantage of. Education remains the levelling stick that asks questions that might have never been previously comprehended and consequently, in many developed countries, it is the prod that always requires progress of government officials.