South Africa truly is the land of Chicken Licken – the fluffy little bird in the children’s story, not the purveyor of fiery wings at the local drive-thru.
Like the chick, South Africans are prone to jump to the worst conclusion in a crisis, of which there are plenty, and assume that this time the sky is indeed falling on our heads.
The notion of crisis, though, has some remarkably positive spin-offs.
A friend WhatsApped me the moment the lights went out during the packed official launch of Jacques Pauw’s The
President’s Keepers at Johannesburg’s Hyde Park shopping centre on Wednesday night: “Got to bit about State Security Agency. Electricity suddenly cut out so we could not hear Jacques. V suspicious.”
She and most in the audience assumed this was another ham-fisted censorship attempt. That’s what happens when there is a breakdown of trust in society. Nobody believes anyone anymore.
For now, though, heightened levels of cynicism are useful tools as South Africa looks for a more certain future at the ANC elective conference next month.
Horror writer Stephen King wrote recently: “It is the trust of the innocent that is the liar’s most useful tool.” He may have been referring to Donald Trump, but the sentiment fits here too.
South Africans have finally begun to lose their innocence courtesy of the flood of information on the criminal networks operating in the country. Those networks are haemorrhaging information. Whatever their motivation, whether to divert attention from their own activities or sow discord, South Africans can no longer claim to be ignorant of the issues.
Ironically, state capture is breathing life into an industry long feared on its knees. The nonfiction book trade, contrary to expectations when Amazon brought the Kindle to market, is booming. In an age of social media misinformation and the trust deficit that has produced globally, people are going back to reliable sources of information. The social media revolution, which 10 years ago was expected to enhance the quality of and access to information, has proved liable to being hijacked by agenda-laden vigilantes.
The saying “There is no honour among thieves” holds true. More and more, information is leaked by those fed up with how entrenched the rot has become or those hedging their bets in anticipation of the tide turning. The result is a breakdown in trust and reversion to print.
The written word somehow brings hope to a jaded public. Exclusive Books CEO Benjamin Trisk took delight this week in paying tribute to the SSA, which tried to force the withdrawal of the Pauw book with the subtlety of an amorous rhino.
Beyond the sordid detail is an unappreciated fact. Even the bad guys are worried about what might happen to them in the event of progressive political change.
Expect the noise levels to rise in the next few weeks as the ANC prepares to elect a new leadership. The stakes are high, and we probably haven’t yet seen the worst of the dirty tricks. There are massive vested interests at play. Either a venal elite gets to continue its plunder or we get a chance to redeem ourselves.
How do you tell the difference between fact and fiction? Ronald Reagan was succinct on the subject: “Trust, but verify.”
By Bruce Whitfield for Business Live