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This nation

You’re gonna burn out all my love
I keep telling you
How you bruised my heart 
Keeping me holding on too long
(Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse)
Last week, as I was about to be interviewed on a radio show about an issue of competition law, I received a frantic sms from the producer. The show is running 30 minutes late. She is overwhelmed. And close to tears. It turns out that the subject under discussion before I was about to go on the talk show was rape in South Africa, in the wake of the brutal rape and murder of Anene Booysen. The nation is outraged, broken and once again, at a loss for words.
The past few months have reminded us of our brokenness, our demons and our fault lines. But we didn’t learn anything new about our nation. Femicide, violent protest, corruption – I could go on – these are things we know about ourselves already.
The show must go on. And so the producer informs me that the host will talk to me after the news. The news is followed by a commercial break. Then the very talented and gracious radio host helps us all transition from brutal crime to corporate corruption. That’s how we roll, how’ve learnt to roll, from crisis to crisis.
*
The show must go on. The presidential motorcade winds down Adderley Street. It’s a good show. Red carpet. Military guard of honour. Black-suited men dashing out of big black cars. For a night, the political divide gives way to the afrochic/ball-gown divide.
You’re gonna burn out all my love. Our military band is full of surprises.
You’re gonna burn out all my love, Sipho Hotstix Mabuse sang in the 1980s. The country was on fire. But we danced to Hotstix, and Chaka Chaka and Fassie and Stimela. I listen to that music today, that soundtrack to the eighties that we dismissed as bubble-gum, and it’s hard to discern the pain buried therein. You have to listen closely. The show must go on. We danced then. We dance today.
The 21 gun salute. No-one really wants to talk about guns today. I’m afraid that, unlike the praise singer, pelo ya ka ha e monate.
*
As the presidency announced earlier this month, this is the first state of the nation speech delivered within the context of the national development plan. The plan will tackle poverty, inequality and unemployment. The head of state rattles of goals that we aspire to. But he acknowledges that we will not achieve the good life, as defined by government, with our tepid Mzansi economic growth rates.
There is a need to engage the social partners for solutions. This is the kind of rhetoric that drives people straight into the arms of authoritarian populism.
I’m not a hater. Concrete projects are mentioned. Power stations, dams and ports are being built. It’s not all tuck shops and rural lifestyle estates, you see. Like, I’m talking about 860 billion Rands. ‘Nuff said, some might think.
I’m really not a hater. Like those people that routinely criticise the speech of being short on detail. It’s a one hour (or thereabouts) speech. Get over it. Go read some policies and annual reports.
There are some recurring ideas and policies. I suppose that is the challenge. The commander-in-chief can keep presenting the nation with new, lofty plans every year or keep plugging at the same general framework, pushing for implementation. And so we learn that some discussions have been concluded on the issue of incentives for youth employment. An accord will be signed later this month. We wait with bated breath. This enterprise is a follow up from the 2010 state of the nation. Other familiar ideas to tackle unemployment include boosting the tourism sector and the expanded public works programme. These are solid ideas, with tireless officials behind them. But there’s the question of impact. There’s an assurance that this programme of action will be implemented differently as departments are expected to align themselves with the National Development Plan.
There are newish ideas that also deserve a chance. The Nationa Health Insurance pilot is such an idea. What’s the point of debating this idea in abstract when sensible experimentation might yield some interesting results? Keep it real, keep it fact-based, and something special might emerge.
*
The account of the Marikana moment leaves me bewildered. What did I expect? Outrage, even longer pauses, eyes off the page?
We are told that there is policy certainty in the mining sector, mostly because the nationalisation debate was laid to rest late last year. Reports from the recent Mining Indaba paint a less reassuring picture. Anyway, it has been determined that a suitable tax policy is the solution to our mineral resource management woes. Perhaps this is what I love most about this nation. After a few years of vexed debate, bringing us to the brink of serious strife, we find our way out of the mess in the tax code. I just wish we could skip the part where we flirt with the edges.
*
You’re gonna burn out all my love. Or not. There’s hope. Like Hotstix achieving his matric certificate at 60.
I’m done with my armchair dissing. This is what I’m fighting for this year: fair, efficient and inclusive markets in our economy.
I might burn out all my love. I probably won’t. The show must go on.

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