Thursday, September 24, 2020

LESSONS FROM VIOLENT PROTESTS AND LOOTING IN SOUTH AFRICA

First I wrote ‘Same tired expectations, blatant intimidations and naked rhetoric’ (Sunday Standard, April 13 2008), then I followed it with ‘We should lower our expectations on Khama’ (Sunday Standard, February 15 2009).
Both of the theses attempted to address the contentious issue of political promises and people’s expectations of political leaders. In the first essay I queried that most people in the BDP present President Khama as a leader with powers to bring us ready-to eat food from the sky.

I expressed worry that his presidency has excited many poor people who believes that they will soon accumulate massive wealth. I expressed my disappointment that President Khama even increased our expectation of him as he projected himself as an embodiment of rectitude, a mystical superman who could suddenly order a storm to disappear.

I warned that such unrealistic expectations on the Khama magic could in the long run obliterate his successes and make him an unpopular president especially when standards of living remains stagnant or decline due to a combination of factors some of which are beyond his control.

Unfortunately, I was rubbished off as a Khama hater with no business in proffering unsolicited advice. In the second piece, I pleaded with President Khama’s foot soldiers and rabid supporters to mobilize and sensitize people on the dangers of unrealistic and bloated expectations. I reasoned that experience shows that when people’s expectations are shattered, they feel cheated and taken for idiots.
I warned that when people’s hopes for a better life come to naught, they may resort to unsustainable and often unlawful ways of maintaining themselves and their families and ‘could lead to widespread protests and spontaneous demonstrations’ (Sunday Standard, 15 February 2009). It is within the BDP’s right to dismiss some of us as prophets of doom, but even as they do so, their arrogance and self-opinion should not blind them from appreciating rational and logical interpretations of reality.

They do not have to publicly acknowledge good advice especially from unwelcome sources but could rather quietly and intelligently take heed of some of our counsel and suggestions rather than become overly irrational and stubborn. Recent events in South Africa where protesters calling themselves the South African Unemployed People’s Movement stormed into food stores and helped themselves to food for free ostensibly to highlight hunger and desperation should act as a wake-up call to Botswana politicians.

I know people would say that this won’t happen in Botswana because Batswana respect the rule of law and are not as violent and destructive as the South Africans who have been hardened by their political circumstances; that Batswana are a willing compliant, docile and timid nation that can be raped without attempting to resist or without making the faintest hue cry. Politicians are renowned for making unrealistic promises to woe voters and more often they do so well aware that their promises are mere crowd-pleasing pledges that will be shamelessly broken once they (politicians) have gained votes and entered parliament.

Politicians make promises which on the whole they do not intend to keep.
It is even more worrying to observe ruling party politicians competing with opposition contenders in making empty promises. This is not to say that opposition parties are entitled to make unreasonable and irresponsible pledges, but rather that as distant players they can afford to make frivolous promises to rival the more fancied incumbents who usually brag about their achievements over the last years.

The ruling party can hardly afford to make empty promises predicated on speculative analysis when in actual fact they have up to date figures and projections.

Ruling party politicians are expected to adhere to much higher standards than opposition politicians for they presently hold the stick and the buck stops with them.

With the opposition, if they fail to deliver on the promises once elected into office, they can reasonably claim that they have inherited a battered economy which has to be retrieved from the drain before promises could be fulfilled. They can plead for understanding and patience claiming that they are still rebuilding the economy and revitalizing public services.

Ruling parties on the other hand should make pledges on the basis of realistic figures and projections predicated on their economic policies and therefore cannot claim to have never known the ground truths. They have figures to help them make informed calculations about sensible policies for the period ahead. The usual political rhetoric that accompanies political campaigns is nonsense and politicians especially ruling party politicians who engage in this irresponsible, obfuscating mental masturbation must know that they risk the wrath of poor people.

This is not to discount the significance of political promises as an integral part of political campaigns.

John Locke believed that promising is a very important social institution that ensures that pledges and making oaths represents the vinculum societatis: the very bond of society (Sabine, G & Thorson, T (1973) A History of Political Theory). Locke also believed that a promise is a pre-condition for cooperation between individuals in that it sets up expectations about others behavior.

Promises honoured ensure higher levels of trust and allows individuals to cooperate with each other and amplify their efforts to achieve more. Promises dishonored do the opposite and promises made in bad faith (those that are made to score partisan points and win political advantage) are a reflection that politicians take voters for a ride and this presents politicians as pathological liars and unethical scoundrels who unfortunately lower the esteem of political institutions and politics as a science.

Promises reflect party policies and it is on party policies that parties are elected and therefore statements made as policies/promises should be binding in honor upon those who make them (then opposition leader in Australia, Robert Menzies, 1994). Politicians make promises to sell their parties or in some cases to sell themselves as in the case when Robert Masitara promised voters to do for them what his party failed to do in its whole life.

Political promises shouldn’t however be presented like ordinary promotional material that have been made purely to appeal to our psyche and politicians shouldn’t over-sell themselves or their parties. Promises should not be misleading, irresponsible, reckless and out of tune with political and economic circumstances to render them unattainable.

It helps to think first and remember that ‘a fool’s lips bring him strife and his mouth invites a beating’ (Proverbs 18:6). Obviously voters are not forced to buy the political rhetoric but in many cases poor people especially take promises for bible truth and when you promise them 500 000 jobs, they believe so and would want the jobs tomorrow.

When you cleverly craft promises in the most general terms like when you promise to improve service delivery, they want tangible result tomorrow and it comes as a big insult to them for the leadership to turn around and claim that economic conditions have conspired to make it difficult to fulfill the promises, especially when such possibilities were deliberately ignored.

They feel short changed and their protests could be devastating as we saw in South Africa’s Mpumalanga Province where protesters torched buildings and vehicles in protests against poor public services. Such protests could in the long run morph into large scale national revolts or crises that could ultimately destabilize the whole country. During his campaigns for the 2009 general elections, President Jacob Zuma promised South Africans that the government of the ANC will create 500 000 jobs, that they will deliver on housing without fail, that they will ensure the provision of water and electricity to all areas across the country.

I still remember reading one of the South African newspapers where a female Zuma supporter proclaimed that she supported Zuma because he is going to give them jobs and houses.

In his State of the Nation Address in November 2008, President Khama promised to deliver housing to destitute people, provide jobs for 33 000 people per month through the Ipelegeng program and drastically improve service delivery but instead the economy records huge job losses.

It is very unfortunate that in many cases politicians who make the widest, most unimaginable and most dishonorable promises get elected and so often on account of these promises. Now when people take to the streets protesting against poor service delivery and unfulfilled promise, the leadership wouldn’t own up but rather they will opt to blame others for inciting violence and stoking fires of protest.

Poor people are sick of unfulfilled promises made by people who have little sense of their suffering. At times the problem is not about politicians promising us manna from heaven but our baseless expectations of the leadership, especially the charismatic type whose personal charm and popularity pass for a catalytic and conscious generator of excellence, leaders who make us believe they can instantly intervene in our poverty, the dishonorable lots who present themselves as the best friends of the people, the champion of the rural poor.
And as we ululate and scramble to touch them, they will be wearing cheerful but deceitful faces unaware that they are ensnaring themselves to special interest.

This ultimately imposes frivolous and improbable expectations on the government and in particular the leadership and sets them up for public outrage at some later stage.
This calls for deliberate efforts to appeal to people to lower their expectations.

There is nothing more profound than being candid about one’s abilities and limitations for this reassures credibility and integrity. ‘Arrogant lips are unsuited to a fool ÔÇô how much worse lying lips to a ruler!’ (Proverbs 17:7).

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