By Mondli Makhanya
On the average weekday, Zoo Lake is one of Johannesburg’s most pristine and pleasurable parks.
Residents from all over the city stroll about and enjoy their picnics; walkers and joggers sweat it out around the large lake; and kids feed ducks and make pleasant noises as they frolic in the well-equipped play area. The hobos also make good use of the park as they sip their stuff and nibble on food given to them by people who have come to treat their presence as normal.
On weekends, the place is buzzing. Taxis and cars descend on the park, ferrying hundreds of people wanting to make use of the city’s favourite green lung. Music blares from speakers and the communal braai area is made full use of. Although large signs declare that liquor consumption is prohibited, the police look the other way and don’t interfere with the people’s enjoyment. It is always very pleasant for all and trouble is not something associated with those crowded Zoo Lake days.
That is where the good story ends. On Mondays, the place looks as if a large aircraft had circled above and deposited tons of rubbish on the park. It is the most disgusting sight, with bottles, polystyrene containers, plastic bags, cool drink cans and all manner of detritus strewn all over. This despite there being a surfeit of rubbish bins, many of which remain empty or just partially used. The clean-up by council workers usually takes more than half a day; such is the extent of the mess.The scenes after the Christmas and New Year weekends were seemingly snatched from those movies that depict the aftermath of a natural disaster or bomb explosion.
Those who were there on Christmas Day left rubbish behind for those who came on the Day of Goodwill, who in turn piled on the trash. Similarly, those who visited the park on Saturday January 1 left behind rubbish for those who visited on Sunday.
On both occasions, the clean-up went beyond the Monday.
And why is this lowly newspaperman bitching about a leisure park in the week of an inferno in Parliament, the vandalising of the Constitutional Court and the Zondo commission’s confirmation of the systematic corrosion of the national soul?Well, because the “don’t care” attitude of those Zoo Lake users mirrors the national psyche right now. We are at a perilous point in our country where we are attaching less and less value to that which we should treasure – be it our Constitution, institutions, the environment, our historical structures, national icons or heritage sites.
Whatever the cause of this week’s fire in Parliament – structural fault or sabotage – the incident demonstrates the nation’s attitude. If the cause was an electrical fault or some other structural defect, it means negligence of almost criminal proportions on the part of those who run the national legislature, both politically and administratively. If it was sabotage, as most people seem to believe, then it tells us that the insurrectionist characters in our midst are really serious about their project. It also shows that they have the wherewithal to strike strategically to derail South Africa. Furthermore, it demonstrates how little they care for this republic and its people.
The most disturbing part of this episode was the glee with which the burning of the seat of democracy was greeted in some quarters. We know that the double-headed crooner’s daughter rides around on brooms late at night, so her celebration of the fire was no great surprise. It was the reaction of the EFF, the country’s third-biggest parliamentary party, that riled. What it showed was that hooliganism is as important to the EFF as its policy documents are. Between them, the EFF and the descendant of Salem broom-riders inspired a frenzy among nutters who joined in the silly clapping.
This erosion of values is to be seen in many areas of our national life. It manifests in the spitting on the legacy of ethical struggle heroes and the adulation of the corrupt and the criminal; the destruction and neglect of public property; the vulgarisation of politics; the flouting of laws amid a culture of impunity; and in the unimaginable filth that is the standard in our inner cities.
This culture is what made it easy for the plotters of the July unrest to lead mobs into mindless looting and destruction. If people do not value what they have – their schools, government buildings and malls that are close by – they will not hesitate to deface or destroy.
The revelations that came to the fore during the process of the Zondo commission showed us just how easy it is to destroy. The Guptas did not care for South Africa and so found it easy to wreck the country. They managed to do this with the connivance of those who should have cared but were instead just eager to get crumbs from the Gupta table.So, in addition to implementing the recommendations of the Zondo commission, we should be working on getting South Africans to value their republic and all the good things about her – human, material and otherwise.
Political scientist James Q Wilson, one of the originators of the “broken windows theory” that was hijacked by America’s Rudy Giuliani and weaponised for rightwing policing methods, stated that “one unrepaired broken window is a signal that no one cares, and so breaking more windows costs nothing”.
And so it is with society. If we let people litter the places they reside in, work in and get enjoyment from, why should we expect them to care about the greater good.
—Mondli Makhanya is the Editor-In–Chief of City Press