Mon, 1 Oct, 2012
Grahamstown theologian Barney Pityana said today he was amazed at the media coverage given to his comments during the recent Neil Aggett Memorial Lecture, but was pleased the government had taken them to heart.
“I'm flattered, Pityana said of the reaction from the Presidency to his criticism of the government's lack of accountability. Presidency spokesperson Mac Maharaj's counter-attack was widely published last week.
In his hard-hitting speech at Kingswood College last Monday, the Rector of the College of the Transfiguration said South Africans had no one but themselves to blame for the tragedy of our education system, collapsing health care, inefficient civil service, crime and endemic corruption.
Pityana's theme for the lecture was 'Standing up against social injustice'. The annual event honours former Kingswood College pupil Neil Aggett - a struggle hero and labour activist who died in police custody in 1982.
South Africans had elected a government without collective intelligence, Pityana argued in his speech - which drew a sharp retort last week from the Presidency. The government is trapped in ideological blinkers and behaves like it is unaccountable, Pityana said.
There is a breakdown in trust in political life, and communities can no longer be taken for granted. Delving into the contradictions in South African society, Pityana said, In our country there are high levels of expectation, high levels of corruption, mediocre levels of education and generally bad public services.
Yet, South Africans complain, they express themselves in the Talk Shows on Radio; they toyi-toyi against government’s perceived failure of ‘service delivery’ and against corrupt officials.
Pityana said however evil apartheid may have been, the failure in our society was not just the fault of the system. "A great deal of the failure in our society today is of our own making. It is a failure of our own making, for which we must take responsibility as we continue to elect leaders without vision or basic competences of understanding the dimensions of democratic rule.
We must blame nobody but ourselves for the tragedy of our education system, a collapsing health care system, a bloated but inefficient civil service, pervasive crime, corruption that has become endemic," Pityana said.
But the very same complainants then go on and elect the same people, or the same party to government. How discerning and sophisticated are South African voters, therefore?
Pityana suggested society's capacity for discernment was being compromised by being subjected to competing one-dimensional theses. One is that of the ANC and its allies, that treats with suspicion and with hostility any ideas or processes that do not reinforce their own stereotypical reality.
Therefore Zapiro and the Spear, and even Julius Malema must be silenced. The truths that they seek to present to the people of South Africa must be suppressed.
It is not the fact that we indeed do have a President and Head of State who was charged with rape, was investigated for serious crimes of corruption and who proudly purveys as his trademark his propensity to surround himself with a multiplicity of wives, Pityana said in his lecture.
That is the truth that the ANC needs to address and what that says about the quality of leadership the party offers to the people of South Africa. We are now being told that we must expect to simply endorse the failed leadership.
The result can only be continued chaos, extending inequality, burgeoning unemployment, poverty and the social evils that have become characteristic of much of our society. The day after the lecture the Presidency issued a statement accusing Pityana's comments of stooping way below dignified public discourse and intellectual engagement and of promoting a culture of hurling insults.
For example, President Jacob Zuma's official spokesperson Mac Maharaj continues in his statement, Dr Pityana repeats the tale that government is building a new city in Nkandla, the emphasis being that the village is apparently the only one that receives attention from government.
This is incorrect. The statement continues to explain that Nkandla is one of 23 districts targeted for the government's intervention programme for impoverished areas scientifically established through thorough investigation.
Speaking to Grocott's Mail today, Pityana said Mac Maharaj took this very seriously. "It is much better to be heard than to be ignored. Second, his comments underline everything I have been saying, about the failure to understand the extent on misgovernance by the ANC administration."
"There is a lack of trust from the governed and the government. He has no sense of how the ordinary [people] feel. The situation is untenable and this really underlines what I have been saying. I am not unhappy at this reaction," Pityana said.
Pityana said he would respond in writing to Presidential spokesperson Mac Maharaj regarding his comments about the Neil Aggett lecture he gave last week at Kingswood College.
“The government is totally detached from where the people are, people are really fed up and they feel disempowered which is worse for government,” Pityana said. At last Monday's event, Pityana presented Kingswood matric pupil, Jason Woodley, with the Neil Aggett Award.
In his citation, principal Jon Trafford outlined Jason's investment in serving his school and the broader community and his courage, sense of justice and willingness to embrace those who have less. He is an example to others for the compassion and caring shown for this fellow man, Trafford said.
Jason is the second recipient of the award which was established in 2011 by the Kingswood Class of 1970, of which Neil Aggett was a member.