Song of despair for what the new SA might have been
Zuma ate cake as we remembered Hani, the man who may well have led the people to 'their own version of milk and honey'
IT'S strange how, in just one week, two events can offer such stark contrasts and insights into a country's identity.
This week, South Africa paused for an almost desperate moment of nostalgic introspection, indulging in a "what-if" game with the commemoration of Chris Hani's assassination 19 years ago.
Hani's brothers in the struggle were asked to construct a different reality of present-day South Africa by answering the impossible question: what impact would he have had on our country and its politics had he lived?
On SAfm Blade Nzimande, usually so hysterically strident in his self-righteousness, for once hesitated before answering - as if to acknowledge it to be a futile, senseless exercise in wishful thinking.
In the South Africa of 2012, we are what we are.
Cosatu's Zwelinzima Vavi wrote Hani a letter, "updating" him on the South Africa he had not lived to see.
But more than a way of expressing his own sense of failure at what we have become, Vavi's missive, too, was one of regret for what could not be.
In Hani, even in death, Vavi saw a "liberator", "revolutionary soldier", "general" and "a people's commissar".
And he rues the fact that South Africa has lost someone who would have been committed to leading the people to "their own version of milk and honey".
Former Cosatu leader Jay Naidoo's note on Hani was similarly poignant in its regret-filled realisation of how this country's leaders have betrayed the pact with its citizens to build a successful post-apartheid nation, particularly for the poorest of the poor.
Remembering Hani's potential, and superimposing what he stood for in 1993 on present-day South Africa, represents a sense of disappointment that a dream has been betrayed.
And while that might be seen as romanticising a struggle hero whose life was ended too soon, the Hani commemorations this week are, in essence, a song of despair.
The values that Hani embodied - so coldly frozen in death - are an uncomfortable reminder of South Africa in 1993: bright with intention, honour and integrity. The commemorations remind us of what was promised - and then lost - by the very people who have governed from Luthuli House since the end of apartheid.
Vavi's and Naidoo's laments are, in many ways, widely shared across the nation.
The disappointment finds expression in the desperate and often violent protests in our townships and squatter camps; in the murder of Andries Tatane; in a registration stampede at a university in which a mother is trampled to death.
It manifests itself in a young people's futile march across Johannesburg for economic freedom, and an overwhelming sense at times that we are a nation suffering from a broken, bleeding heart.
In the midst of the Hani commemorations came a celebration - the 70th birthday of President Jacob Zuma.
While the ANC ate cake and drank sparkling wine at Luthuli House, many wondered why South Africa needed to endure another five years of Zuma, a man many regard as being Hani's polar opposite.
As Mangaung moves closer, and a vanquished Zuma does not appear to be a certainty, there is a real possibility that the Nkandla man will outsmart us all once again.
Zuma said this week that he felt strong enough to continue to be of service to South Africa. But is South Africa strong enough to endure more of the kind of service that Zuma offers - as a general whose troops have largely lost their purpose, and whose administration is inconsistent?
With the values of a Chris Hani newly awakened, is Zuma really the best the ANC can offer us?
Surely there must be internal concern that the party no longer resembles the liberation organisation Hani belonged to at the time of his death?
And, like that brutal, tragic slaying that took Hani from us, so too have the values of the ANC been slaughtered by so-called loyal cadres, who have debased their party for the sake of self-aggrandisement and individual enrichment.
When former president Nelson Mandela spoke at Chris Hani's funeral on April 19 1993 in Soweto he promised: "We lay you to rest with the pledge that the day of freedom you lived and died for will dawn. We all owe you a debt that can only be repaid through the achievement of the liberation of our people, which was the passion of your life."
It is this unfulfilled promise - made over Hani's coffin - that should shame his comrades at Luthuli House and the man who has just turned 70.