MY HEART is sore today. I’ve just heard that a couple I have worked with in recent years is heading for Australia within the next year.

They have good and positive reasons to go: their son is already there with his wife and planning to start a family soon. But tacked onto that explanation were the words, “… and, you know, the way things are going here…”

I’m not sure if these two would describe themselves as patriots. But their actions speak of real commitment to our country and its people.

They are very practical philanthropists (when I was fighting for water for a small North West community last year, they stepped in, got help from their large network of contacts, and ran bakkie-loads of two- and five-litre bottles to the site, some 85 kilometres each way, to ensure no one was thirsty while the battle went on – and that’s just one example of many interventions I’ve seen from them).

They are going to leave a huge hole in many lives and in my heart.

I’ve watched people leave this country in waves over the years. In the 1980s, battered by the states of emergency, a number of activist friends wrenched themselves away (quite a few returned after 1994). In the late 1990s, another wave went (many of whom were, perhaps, less of a loss to the country).

Someone I worked with headed for New Zealand with her family in 1998 and tried to persuade me to go too. I replied: “Are you nuts? I’m staying. It’s going to be exciting.

“Thabo Mbeki and many of those around him are intelligent people who’ve had years to plan for power in this country – can’t wait to see what he does as president.” (That was, of course, long before the late-night excursions online that led to the ARV battle, beetroot and garlic and many, many unnecessary deaths.)

“It’s going to go the way of the rest of Africa, you’ll see,” she responded. One of the things that burns me today is the thought of her and others, much more bigoted and racist than her, sitting somewhere across the ocean round the braaivleis, nodding smugly and telling each other how right they were. (Let’s forget, for the moment, the complex reality that is ‘the rest of Africa’, failures, disasters and brilliant successes all blended into one grey mass in this view.)

I SO wanted them to be proved wonderfully wrong…

In between the waves, of course, there’s been a steady trickle of people leaving, but this is the globalised world and young people of all skin colours and political credos are moving from Seoul to San Francisco, from Johannesburg to Jakarta, from Cape Town to Copenhagen, to build their skills base, to see the world, to assuage their wanderlust, not necessarily cutting ties, just adventuring, nothing to be sad about.

But this news fills me with grief, grief for more than my friends… I drive home; every third robot is out, so I’m passing time listening to the radio.

I can’t even take in the details, my brain skates from report to report, from the words “fraud and corruption” to rand figures that are so numbing in their enormity (used in both its first and its second dictionary sense, ‘great or extreme scale’ and ‘a grave crime or sin’) that I find myself losing my grasp on them minutes after they are said.

What was that, was that millions or billions?

The National Prosecuting Authority – which has always seemed ready to prosecute not-so-solid cases before, and now very much missing in action as evidence of extreme corruption mounts – pops up to say there are no “prospects of success” in a case against president’s son, Duduzanne Zuma  whose Porsche killed at least one woman.

An MP speaks out against this entire mess, saying the president must step aside, and is threatened with death (in a country where political assassinations are pretty much a commonplace – and now she is facing the whip from her party for being “ill-disciplined” – for speaking her mind, in this ‘free’ South Africa?

We’re in a technical recession ; joblessness is at a peak.

Can you blame people for thinking of leaving?

It’s beginning to feel like our beloved country is in the grip of organised crime. I’ll just leave this here: “The mafia is oppression, arrogance, greed, self-enrichment, power and hegemony above and against all others,” said Cesare Terranova, an Italian magistrate murdered in 1979 by the Mafia.

Familiar, much?

“…a large part of certain economic sectors (hotels, transportation, supermarkets, construction) are controlled by Mafiosi. In a land without a tangible industrial base, public monies are the Mafia’s main target. Everything has its price. Most politicians (Left and Right) can be bought, and the same holds true for managers of most larger banks and utilities. […] Public contracts are assigned – actually sold – in exchange for bribes and kickbacks.”

We cannot seem to shuck off the bad, but we are losing good people – not just to emigration, but also to the morass of poverty and unemployment and the knock-on effects of money pouring into the wrong coffers, as health department and other states services struggle.

This is betrayal: betrayal of the struggle, of the country, of our people, especially the most vulnerable. It must end NOW.

Who is brave enough to stand against this – and for the people?

Mandi Smallhorne