Monday, 10 February 2014

South Africa Decides: The Big Questions

Now the election date has been set, it’s time for the political circus to start in earnest. We can expect personality attacks, stunts, scandal.

Up to a point, we have to consider some of these things because they are revealing of character and the extent to which you can trust leaders. But if this is all we look at, we are not going to make great choices.

During the apartheid era, much of politics was about principle. Even apartheid was based on principles of a sort, dodgy though those principles were. You knew where you stood, and you knew what you were opposing. Today, much of politics is not about principle. We have scandals about politician’s private lives, corruption and incompetence.

What is missing is answers to the big questions such as
What kind of country do we want to be?
How do we get there?
Besides South Africa’s unique problems, there are global problems that need real insight and analysis to tackle. Neoliberal capitalism failed spectacularly in 2008. Oil is running out. There is no hint of peace in the Middle East. Efforts to hold off harmful climate change are too little too late.

Maybe these things do not concern South Africans as much as a failed education system, a crisis in local infrastructure such as water and a growing rather than decreasing rich-poor divide, but they all point to the same cause: a lack of clear thinking about how we got ourselves into this mess and how to get ourselves out.

What I am looking for in this election is not politicians who are most adept at slinging mud, but politicians who have serious answers to the big questions.

I throw this challenge out not only to politicians but also to commentators, journalists, editors and everyone who wants to make an informed choice on election day: focus on the big questions.