South Africa – Cape Town – 4 September 2019 – A large group of mostly students took to the streets under the hashtag, aminext(#aminext). They protested at the World Economic Forum(WEF) taking place at the Cape Town International Convention Centre and later moved through Cape Town CBD. Whilst trying to block the N1 and N2 highways, police used stun grenades and water canons to clear the roads of protestors. Picture Courtney Africa/African News Agency(ANA)

If anyone were to walk up to me this morning and ask me to describe the country I live in, I would be at a loss for words.

What have we become over the past 25 years?

A fizzled-out rainbow nation?

A corrupted generation of Struggle icons?

The most unequal society in the world?

A xenophobic and racist society?

The most violent country in the world?

An unsafe place for women and children?

A political elite out of touch with the people they serve?

A society where class, privilege and corruption rule instead of its Constitution?

Yes, tragically the brilliant and beautiful nation, born in 1994 in a blaze of hope, has become all these and more.

It’s time for South Africa to take a long hard look in the mirror of daily life and see its angry, unemployed people, its dirty streets, its violent behaviour, its murders and its well-heeled politicians rushing past all this in black cars with blue lights. Everything about this speaks of a political class out of touch with its people. Despite the power they have, they continue to act as if they are drugged with massive doses of self-importance instead of being fuelled by a desire to build the South Africa we all wish to live in.

Our democratic system, designed during a time of transition and not taking into account the type of government system our future prosperity would require, now needs urgent review. One such problem is how we elect those who represent us. Despite our brilliant Constitution, our party representation system inflicts (yes, that’s the right word in some cases) on us people who represent us in local, provincial and national government – from all parties – that would not win an election for a seat if they were the only candidate on the poster.

South Africa’s progress as a democracy is held hostage by a system that does not give people the voice they so desperately need right now – to choose who must represent them at all levels of decision making.

The maturing of our democracy requires of us to review this system.

For example, given the violence in our society, let’s begin by electing provincial police chiefs that are not appointed by government but who are voted in by the people based on their track record to reduce crime and violence and prosecute the guilty – or on the actual data of how many women and children were murdered on their watch.

As I said last week, South Africa needs to reignite its transformation agenda with radical decisions. Our democracy requires brave leadership that replaces the protocols that guided our transition as a new democracy to a new protocol which will now guide our prosperity and safety.

From the 17-year-old Anene Booysen, who was gang-raped and disembowelled at a construction site in Bredasdorp in 2013, to UCT student Uyinene Mrwetyana, who was brutally raped and murdered at the Clareinch post office in Claremont in 2019 – we, the people, say we have had enough. Our public representatives – politicians and public servants – owe us leadership and action or else they must leave office. We, the people, need representatives who don’t wallow in inertia while receiving our petitions and simultaneously witnessing our mothers’ and daughters’ deaths.

It is time for us to condemn all murders – those of women, children, farmers and politicians – with equal outrage. It’s time for our representatives to do the actual work of advancing legislation and creating opportunities that will enhance our safety and prosperity. It is time for a call to establish a national set of values – which every child will learn in school and every office will display in its foyers and boardrooms.

In the deep recesses of this trauma there are men and women who have always held the candle to lead us out of this darkness. It’s time we convened with them.

* Lorenzo A Davids is chief executive of the Community Chest. 

* Originally, published in the Cape Argus