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Photo: Twitter/Lucky Star

SA’s winter of discontent: A pregnant pause amid an improbable birth

Constant load shedding, an absent health minister and the “birth” of decuplets no one can confirm. Has SA reached its “sell-by” date?

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Photo: Twitter/Lucky Star

When veteran news anchor Tim Modise implored last week on Twitter that “It feels like South Africa has a sell-by date. Does anyone know when it is?” he seemed to distil the feelings of an entire nation. 

Perhaps more eloquent if equally fitting are those famous words of the Bard in Richard III, “Now we have reached the Winter of our Discontent”.


Post-apartheid South Africa has endured some fairly rough weeks over the years. The sacking of finance minister Nhlanhla Nene to be replaced by Des van Rooyen in 2015 was a low, as was the Allan Donald/Lance Klusener run-out fiasco in the 1999 Cricket World Cup. But this last week feels right up there.

As usual, Eskom is at the heart of it with rolling load shedding across the country. The Business Day reported this week that over one-third of its generational capacity is non-operational – a new record. 

As if no power wasn’t enough, for unlucky residents in large swathes of the Highveld there is no water, a result of decades of mismanagement and under-investment in vital infrastructure. Affected by the water shortages are the critical hospitals Helen Joseph and Rahima Moosa Mother and Child Clinic which have had to close.


But these are not the only critical health facilities that are closed at the moment. The even more fundamental Charlotte Maxeke Hospital is still shut and non-operational due to a fire there in early May which gutted several sections of it.

Three closed hospitals is a neat Segway to the next and most obvious blight affecting our beloved country. The third wave of the Covid 19 pandemic has now firmly arrived, with an astonishing 16.53% of tests positive on Thursday last week, a quite horrifying reality when there were only just over 50 000 tests done. The reality therefore of how riddled the population is with COVID is something one dreads to imagine.

It will come as no surprise what my next observation is: the fact that in the midst of this health crisis we have no full time Health Minister, with Dr Zweli Mkhize having been temporarily put on leave over corruption allegations (it remains unclear as to which of the ‘temporary suspension’ of ANC Secretary General Ace Magushule or the ‘temporary leave’ of Mkhize is more serious and less temporary).


Amidst these corruption allegations, one thing I found particularly indicative was the choice of car given as a kickback to Mkhize’s son; a second hand Toyota Landcruiser bakkie – not the most opulent means of transport. Why not a Mercedes like Tony Yengeni’s palm-greaser of choice? But then it dawned on me; after years of corruption and underinvestment South Africa’s roads are no longer fit for the usual Beemer or Mercedes bribe. Now, the effects of the corruption in South Africa are affecting the choices of the backhanders themselves.

Zooming out, the picture doesn’t look much better. There was open scuffling, kicking and punching in the Pan African Parliament, Mozambique is on the verge of an all out civil war with Islamist insurgents, 150 people were brutally murdered in Burkina Faso (a massacre which barely made the news) and Nigeria has banned Twitter, such is the level of angst and dissent in Africa’s largest country.

To cap it all is the utterly bizarre story of the woman who may have or may not have or may have again had 10 twins in Gauteng. We can’t even work out if it did happen or not, which seems strange given the sheer number of her offspring.


After such a week, it almost seems better for everyone’s mental health to just focus on things we can control. Following the news in South Africa at the moment should come with a warning.

But that is a luxury we may only be able to afford for a limited period of time. I am reminded of Thabo Mbeki’s favourite poet Langston Hughes and his warning:

What happens to a dream deferred?

      Does it dry up

      like a raisin in the sun?

      Or fester like a sore—

      And then run?

      Does it stink like rotten meat?

      Or crust and sugar over—

      like a syrupy sweet?

      Maybe it just sags

      like a heavy load.

      Or does it explode?

At times like this, it seems clear that something will have to give. Tensions in society are like physical forces and they must resolve themselves, either gently with delicate will or with terrible, devastating force. 

The question South Africans should be asking is whether we have the necessary resolve, expertise and institutions to ensure it will be the former.