With a heavy heart

I WAS on my way back from Swaziland on Sunday when I had an uncomfortable feeling at the border post.

Swaziland is not much different from South Africa and only through the process of getting your passport stamped do you realise that you have been in another country.

The process was quite efficient on the Swazi side. The building is pleasant and well-ventilated with well-marked counters and plenty of staff on duty, even on a Sunday, to keep the queues moving relatively quickly.

It was another story on the South African side. The computer systems were down. A narrow passage in front of the immigration counters means there can only be a squash of people, no queues.

 Three counters were in operation with tired, irritated officials having physically to write down people’s details instead of scanning passports.

People pushed and jostled in the small space to get to the counters. An elderly woman standing near me struggled to breathe. After an hour, my passport was stamped and we were able to re-enter South Africa.

There was a brief moment when I had a sense of foreboding about coming home. It was not the Home Affairs’ system malfunction that caused this, although it is depressing that we cannot get simple things right to welcome people into our country.

It was the realisation that South Africa is in such a state of turmoil that I was tempted momentarily to remain in the tiny monarchy with repressive practices.

After a month of violence on South Africa’s university campuses, a settlement to the higher-education funding crisis seems further than ever. Talks between students and management have broken down, many students have been arrested and injured, and several institutions are unable to continue with lectures and tests. The government is maintaining a safe distance from the chaos, periodically condemning the violence and damage to property. While many senior leaders in the ANC and government, including President Jacob Zuma and his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa, have distinguished themselves as conflict mediators, they have made no effort to intervene to stop the mayhem.

Zuma’s response to weeks of disrupted learning and almost daily running battles between police and students was to appoint a ministerial task team to look into the issues. It shows little appreciation for the intensity of the protests or the fact that a generation of young people are begging for his attention.

There are other things that cause despair. The campaign in support of Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan is not only because people believe he is being unfairly persecuted for political purposes. Gordhan, along with former South African Revenue Services officials Ivan Pillay and Oupa Magashula, is expected to appear in court on November 2 on fraud charges.