Shrugging off doom and gloom optimists look to a better future - Businesslive

3 April 2022 - Optimists matter, I have come to realise, because they are chiefly the people who level with us on just how bad things really are.

Michael Morris
Optimists matter, I have come to realise, because they are chiefly the people who level with us on just how bad things really are.

Unlike pessimists, who revel in every instance of South African decline or deficiency, perversely embracing it as self-validating, optimists dwell instead not only on thinking of doing things differently and better, but on pulling it off.

Perhaps “optimists” is the wrong word. These are actually realists. If you are alert to it, not a week goes by without some unignorable evidence of their presence.

While writing this column on Friday with half an eye, habitually, on the news, an element of the TimesLIVE news story on the sentencing for perjury of ANC Women’s League president Bathabile Dlamini (a R200,000 fine, half suspended or, if she doesn’t pay, four years’ imprisonment, two suspended for five years) leapt out at me.

It was reporter Alex Patrick’s account of prosecutor Matthew Rampyapedi’s setting out his argument for direct imprisonment. She quoted Rampyapedi as saying: “When one looks at the position of the accused, a former minister at national level, if this kind of offence can be perpetuated at that level, what then should become of people down there? At the pinnacle of this offence is accountability. We expect a certain standard of honesty from our public servants.”

The prosecutor added: “If you begin to trivialise this offence and say it’s ‘just perjury’, we will be making a mockery of our justice system. It is imperative the public see the justice system in action, especially in cases such as this.”

For me, the significance of these 90-odd words is not that they stand out as unusual or remarkably rare but that they reflect values and sentiments that are far more widely shared than I suspect we imagine.

(And, by the way, I don’t think there’s a great distance between Rampyapedi’s sentiments and magistrate Betty Khumalo’s decision. In any event, contention between state and bench is preferable to unanimity.)

The lesson, I think, is that the venality and fecklessness that have contaminated so much of the government is not a condition of our democracy.

A day before Dlamini’s sentencing, fellow columnist Jonny Steinberg wrote of being struck on his return to the country after an absence of two years by the “infrastructure” of multiracial middle-class life in Johannesburg (“Joburg’s resourceful middle class in a league of its own”, March 31) .

Nowhere in his two years abroad, living in Oxford, suburban Connecticut and rural France, had he seen anything “as elaborate, as calibrated, as complete” as this middle-class “infrastructure” of Joburg.

There remained, of course, “the sense of insecurity”. “That the other 95% of SA is largely invisible from the suburbs does not make its presence less felt,” Steinberg observed. “Such conspicuously well-serviced people amid the most unequal country on earth is the very picture of foreboding.”

Extreme — unpleasant for many — outcomes were always a possibility, he judged, but so too were “a thousand less extreme paths”. “As growth stays flat, as politics remain volatile, as the cries of anger from the margins grow louder, SA’s extraordinarily robust middle class will use its power to gets what it wants.”

The big challenge, of course, is enabling that robust middle class to grow, and grow. Life since 1994 has shown what can be done — and what people can do if they are given the room to do it. Optimists know how hard the task will be — but they do believe it can be done, and there are more of them than you may think.

• Morris is head of media at the SA Institute of Race Relations.

https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/opinion/columnists/2022-04-03-michael-morris-shrugging-off-doom-and-gloom-optimists-look-to-a-better-future/

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