WE WILL end the year pretty much as we started it. Educational outcomes and the centrality of science and mathematics will be a key focus — as it has been this past week. The ANC will also be a major area of concern.
How we deal with these issues will determine whether we continue on the route to the junkyard or we self-correct and head for the stratosphere.
Two stories will dominate the end of 2017 in South Africa. One will be about a significant, and often controversial, triumph of our past. The other will be about our choices for the future of our children.
On December 3 the country will celebrate that in 1967 the world‘s first human-to-human heart transplant was performed at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town. Just two weeks later the ANC will choose a new leader to guide it, and perhaps all of us, into the future.
We take heart transplants for granted these days. A head transplant is being talked about now, without any irony or sense of awe. In the 1960s heart transplants were hugely revolutionary. That the very first one was done here, on the southern tip of Africa, is an even greater triumph.
Are we, can we be, a leader in innovation in the arts, medicine, business, technology, finance and other fields while our institutions are burning — and will burn for a while to come as the #FeesMustFall movement resuscitates?
What is the university, what is its relationship to the society it serves and critiques? The state of our universities today, and the way they will be in December 2017, says a lot about our country and its health.
South Africa in 1967 was by no means a centre of excellence. It couldn‘t be — 90% of the population was discriminated against, jailed, robbed of opportunities, and oppressed.
Thus the Groote Schuur transplant remains controversial and complicated today exactly because it was a great achievement in a country in which many hospitals barred blacks from study, service and care. The heart of South Africa was inhumane even as it achieved great medical and scientific honours. That is why our current South Africa is so complicated.
The year will end with Jacob Zuma vacating the ANC presidency he has controversially straddled for nine years. It will bring to an end at least one period of infamy and shame for the party and country.
Will the Zuma exit mean a new beginning for the party and country? Will the ANC strain to such an extent that it will splinter or even split again, as happened with the EFF and COPE phenomena?
What will he do next? In December he asked an audience in his beloved KwaZulu-Natal whether we were ready for another Cabinet reshuffle. He has clearly learnt nothing since the disastrous reshuffle of December 9 2015.
Globally, leaders similar to Zuma are on the rise. US President-elect Donald Trump seems to be intent on upending global international relations and provoking a confrontation with China. Trump‘s diplomacy-by-Twitter is causing ructions. What will his presidency be like? He is proving so unpredictable that we just don‘t know, although some of his policy proposals are pretty scary, if not downright crazy.
Russia‘s Vladimir Putin is similarly on some kind of global domination quest and seems to be hellbent on rewriting the humiliation of Russia after the fall of communism in 1989. What will he do next? We don‘t really know. We are ruled by frustrated men who appear to be divorced from reality.
There are pockets of optimism in some parts of the world, of course. Africa still has the ability to be a beacon of hope and prosperity for our people. The mineral wealth is here, while some political leaders have been truly outstanding. Think of Ghana‘s recent democratic transition and smile. Yet there are the Yahya Jammehs of this world, men refusing to step down and pass the baton to others.
In general, though, the global and domestic environment looks bleak. One would have hoped for better leadership to deal with a complex and dangerous world. At these times we realise what we have lost in failing to grow new leaders who could walk in the footsteps of Nelson Mandela, Olusegun Obasanjo, Thabo Mbeki, and others.
Sadly, we have the leaders that we have chosen. They don‘t inspire much confidence. The best we can hope for is that in these strained times a new, people-centred, leadership corps will emerge to help us deal with the problems the world and South Africa faces.
– This article first appeared in The Times