CHARMAIN NAIDOO: South Africa’s moment of deep, crushing shame

I am rewriting my column… I woke up this morning, Friday, the last day of March 2017, with a sense of dread I have not felt before.

Editor and curator of this site, and columnist Ray Hartley described it as being in another country after stepping through the looking glass.

Only instead of Alice and the weird and wonderful inhabitants of Wonderland that we encounter, it’s more The Magicians’ author Lev Grossman’s dangerous and malevolent creatures in the enchanted land of Filory that we are doomed to meet.

For the first time I literally have my heart in my throat: the fear is palpable.

I stood in the shower, luxuriating in the steaming hot water, reaching for my L’Occitane shampoo and my Crabtree and Evelyn soap, realising that this scenario is short lived.

Already the rand is tanking so goodbye imported branded goods.

Actually, my fear is more pressing. I am at the age where having to draw on my pension is a mere decade away. That’s 10 years to erode what I have spent a lifetime working to earn enough to ensure a comfortable old age.

This was a week that will be remembered by me, by the country, as a week of shame.

And being shamed.

There were two moments that characterised this week for me – both of them poignant and significant.

Ahmed Kathrada, that gentle soul who was one of the very last gentlemen politicians from another era, who – alongside his dear friend Nelson Mandela – fought against apartheid with grace and fortitude and a sense of humour, died.

There was an outpouring of grief and loving commemoration from a mourning South Africa for Uncle Kathy, a man of good faith.

It was like saying goodbye to a beloved grandpa whose courage and quiet but dogged determination had helped end a time of cruel madness; like bidding farewell to an old man whose old fashioned values have left an inspiring legacy.

This man had issued instruction to his family: Do not let the President speak at my funeral. So the decree was sent out. You, President Jacob Zuma, are not welold-fashioned Kathrada’s funeral. Stay away.

The EFF has instituted an impeachment bid against the president. Former president Kgalema Motlanthe defiantly read out Uncle Kathy’s impassioned letter to Jacob Zuma imploring him to step down from the presidency at his funeral.

Go Zuma Go. It’s a cry that comes from within his own party, from his colleagues with whom he is at war. Everyone wants him gone.

But to be snubbed and excluded from a state funeral for one of the ANC stalwarts whose unwavering commitment to the party and to the cause is the very reason you are able to be president of the country; to be refused a voice, to be shunned…

That was a moment of shame. Deep crushing Shame.

Shame – the word that reproves someone for doing something that should make them feel ashamed. The word that makes us, human beings, feel worthless and embarrassed and humiliated.

Shame keeps us honest and connected to right minded thinking because feeling ashamed is so utterly debilitating that most people will do anything to avoid shame.

So, behaving in a socially unacceptable manner that brings on other people’s judgement, that in turn makes the person behaving in the socially unacceptable manner feel ashamed, causes most of us to try to fit into a societally acceptable norms. To avoid feeling shame, we do the right thing.

Well most of us. Not President Jacob Zuma. He has no shame. He responds to being shamed by digging in and sticking a finger in the air. Fuck You South Africa. Fuck You he screams at the top of his lungs. And the rand shrinks and investors quake in their boots and run for cover.

There was another moment that left me with a lump in my throat at Uncle Kathy’s funeral, when the now axed finance minister Pravin Gordhan was asked to stand, and when he did, so did everyone in the room. Thunderous applause. An astonishing show of support.

Pravin Gordhan stood in the midst of a clapping adoring crowd and when he sat down, he wiped away tears.

So did I.

He has been so completely stoic in the face of constant threat. He has held his head high and done his job.

He embodied the principles and values of Uncle Kathy in the way he has conducted himself since stepping in to rescue South Africa after the Des Van Rooyen replaces Nhlanhla Nene as finance minister in 2015 debacle…

Even when he was fired, he remained gracious at the press conference he called to defend his honour. He would have gone quietly, Gordhan said adding that it was unnecessary to impugn his and his deputy Mcebesi Jonas’ reputations.

These two moments summed up the mood of the week for me.

Exclusion and shunning for the President who should have felt deep shame for being excluded and shunned.

Inclusion and support for the now axed finance minister Pravin Gordhan whose very demeanour shamed the President.

So I woke up this morning shocked (mainly by the announcement that Home Affairs minister Malusi Gigaba will succeed Gordhan as Finance Minister) but not surprised.

People often respond to being shamed by exaggerating their behaviour in a counter position.

Slut shame someone and she will put on her shortest skirt and show more than normal cleavage and join a parade to protest against slut shaming. (This is a good thing, so no criticism here.)

Though this was not a spur-of-the-moment decision – Zuma has been plotting and planning his Gupta cabinet for a very long time – the timing of it’s announcement was interesting.

It showed up his venal intransigence.

As I write this, people are protesting in Pretoria.

It’s about time we stood up.

Amandla. Power to the people. Amandla.

Tiso Black Star Group – Rand Daily Mail


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