Short Report

South Africa's marshmallow moment

15 December 2017 - 13:39 By Tom Eaton
We're the marshmallow.
We're the marshmallow.
Image: 123rf/ Nataliia Logvinova

Fifty years ago‚ a psychologist named Walter Mischel presented a tasty dilemma to a group of young children.

The children were given a treat - a marshmallow‚ a pretzel stick or a mint - and told they were welcome to eat it right away. But‚ explained Mischel‚ if they waited for him while he left the room for a few minutes‚ they would get two treats.

Mischel then left the children alone and observed them wrestling temptation. Some cracked right away. Others squirmed‚ prodded the treat‚ whined at the empty room or even cried‚ but held out.

This weekend‚ South Africa will experience its marshmallow moment. As the ANC assembles in Soweto‚ it is one of those children left alone in a room. You and I are the marshmallow. And over the next few days this spoiled‚ rapacious child will decide whether it is going to wolf us down in a single gulp or show enough restraint to continue the feast a little longer.

Logically‚ there isn’t even a choice. Two marshmallows are better than one‚ and another 10 years in power are better than another two. Indeed‚ if the ANC simply started doing the bare minimum – teaching children to read and write‚ keeping hospitals running‚ sending looters to prison – it could run this country for the next 50 years.

Zimbabwe’s Emmerson Mnangagwa has provided starling evidence of how many desperate hearts and minds you can win by doing so little: simply stop beating a country to death and millions will hail you as a reformer and a democrat.

Logic‚ however‚ has nothing to do with temptation. I suspect that many of the people about to vote for Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma know that they are voting against the future of South Africa. But that marshmallow – or tender‚ or job‚ or monthly brown envelope – just looks so damned yummy right now.

Of course‚ whether it’s one marshmallow that gets eaten now or two that get eaten later‚ marshmallows still get eaten. Either way‚ the ANC will remain a fundamentally rapacious organism‚ a thing that knows only how to consume. Now the only question that remains – and that this weekend will begin to answer – is whether it will eat itself before it finishes us off.