Tony Leon Columnist
Picture: SIYABULELA DUDA/GCIS
Picture: SIYABULELA DUDA/GCIS

In these dark times of our dire national condition, shafts of inspiration and light are hard to find.

Indeed, on the day of parliament’s latest vote of no-confidence in President Jacob Zuma, almost one for every year of his disastrousmisrule of the nation, there’s a lot more heat than light barrelling towards us.

Clashing armies of protesters will encircle parliament today. The conflicted Speaker Baleka Mbete wails to the Sunday Times that“you wouldn’t want my job” which no one forced her to take; and ANC MPs are besieged to put South Africa first, which will be a first for many of them.

In all the swirl and looming conflict, it is easy to lose sight of the essential issue at stake. It is not about whether the ballot isopen or secret. Nor, fascinating though it will be to watch if indeed it happens, is it about how many ANC MPs, if any, disobey the party diktat and vote with their consciences. It is actually all about the fitness for continuing in office of Jacob G Zuma. Everything else constitutes a weapon of mass distraction.

And, if any MP or long-suffering citizen of our ailing republic needed any reminder of the long charge sheet he should face at the bar of parliament, never mind in the criminal courts, a weekend editorial in City Press provided a prompt. Or rather 10 of them.

In its bill of goods on “No 1”, the list starts with “irretrievably corrupt” and ran through, much as Zuma has done, the Full Monty of his predations and his enabling of a predatory state in place of a democratic state.

In my final speech as an MP in February 2009, after 20 years in office there, I ended my remarks by noting that I would voluntarily surrender the title “MP” for a title I would wear with pride — “Citizen of South Africa”.

However, it was unimaginable back then, with Kgalema Motlanthe presiding as a caretaker president or bookend between the end of the Thabo Mbeki presidency and the start of Zuma’s rule, just how much damage Zuma would inflict on his citizens and country in the eight years which followed.

A Hollywood movie would have been hard-pressed to have invented a pantomime villain of such sleazy brazenness.

But strangely enough, there is a new film just released here, which provides us all with a sense of inspiration and a reminder of just what a determined civil society can achieve, in the teeth of the most fearsome odds.

There are so many reasons to go and watch Dunkirk — from the splendid visuals, the harrowing story of 400,000 allied soldiers entrapped on the forlorn beaches of the French coast, the gritty acting and the haunting score. Indeed, the very concept of the “Dunkirk spirit” of resilience in the face of extreme adversity is captured afresh in this brilliant film.

But there is something beyond the big screen magic and escapism into a bygone age of “we will fight them on the beaches” as Winston Churchill described the evacuation at Dunkirk. This will provide every one of us, right here and now, with a reminder of what single acts of endeavour can actually achieve.

So if you’re wondering whether it is futile, in the face of an uncaring state, a runaway presidency and the ghastly tentacles of the Guptas — to sign a petition, march to parliament of merely send an e-mail to your MP, consider the dire situation faced by those 400,000 soldiers. And, more pertinently, how they were rescued from the jaws of death.

Much of the film is a reminder that beyond the fitful attempts of the British navy to rescue the stranded forces, it was an armada of “little ships”, 850 private boats that sailed, many under civilian command, and rescued the bulk of the trapped soldiers.

Some of the weekend sailors didn’t even wait for the command to set sail, they headed into danger to go and rescue their own.

Without the rescue, it is doubtful if Britain would have retrieved its army and been able to withstand a proposed German invasion.South Africa is not besieged Britain in 1940. And Zuma and his cronies are hardly to be equated with the Nazis. But like the troops stranded on Dunkirk, we are being encircled by a pincer movement — state corruption on the one side and the rapid destruction of our push-back mechanisms against it.

In this battle, the very survival and the future of our democratic republic depend.

Every South African, with his voice, her vote, and their petitions and from numberless acts large and small, becomes our “little ships”. And in their diversity and ever growing number our fate can be determined.

We might have no Churchill to give our lion its roar. But always remember what he said after Dunkirk: “Never surrender.”

The Times

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