Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash

In his famous musical, Alan J. Lerner suggested that we should

“Never let it be forgot

That once there was a spot

For one brief shining moment

That was known as Camelot.”

It’s a charming thought and has grown out of the idea of a wise and just king who ruled his people with their consent. He sat down with his counsellors at a round table where no one man sat at the head to force his will on the others. Everyone at the round table had an equal chance to be heard.

If the legend is to be believed, Camelot was not yet a democracy, but it was on the way to becoming one. Unfortunately, King Arthur’s reign came between those of far lesser leaders. Both before and after him monarchs of poorer character occupied the English throne. Some like Henry VIII had little respect for the lives of their subjects or even their queens.

South Africa too has had just one brief shining moment in its short 114-year history. Most of our leaders, regardless of the communities from which they sprung, have not been good for either the country or its people.

Before the advent of apartheid, we had a world-respected leader in Jan Smuts, but under his auspices 163 Xhosas were killed by the army at the Bulhoek massacre and 153 white mineworkers during the mineworkers uprising in 1922.

After the second world war, we had DF Malan, the prophet of apartheid. He was followed by JG Strydom who saw his duty as imposing total white dominance on the country, Hendrik Verwoerd, creator of the homelands, John Vorster who did not know what to do with the country and PW Botha, the great believer in military might for the resolving of all problems.

Our second leader after liberation, Thabo Mbeki, presided over the arms deal that milked the new South Africa’s treasury for all they could get. Then came Jacob Zuma to move corruption to an industrial level, and finally Ramaphosa of the money, laundered or not, hidden in the Edblo or wherever.

No, I haven’t forgotten our own one brief shining moment. Nelson Mandela did his excellent best to reconcile our disparate communities. To many it seemed an impossible task, but during the time in which he led the country he did achieve it. And let us not forget FW De Klerk who ushered in that moment.

It did happen, and perhaps it can happen again. We are in an election year and they  have been known to be times of immense change. Perhaps a new and shining moment awaits. The greatest gift Mandela gave the country was hope. His followers have since shattered it, but there is no reason it cannot return.