As we tune into the different news channels on our television sets and read our local newspapers we cannot help but ask ourselves the question “Is South Africa burning?” This question is justifiable as the cameras on the news channels reveal flames bellowing from burning tyres that are strewn on busy roads causing havoc with traffic. Motor vehicles are seen smashed and some shouldering while shop fronts is smashed. Our local newspaper front-page pictures portray the aftermath of a war. Many towns and city’s appear as though they have been torn apart by bombs.
It is said that we should not generalize and cause alarm. We should not assume but gather facts before we offer opinions. However we cannot but offer an opinion as we see destruction as it occurs on television and social media platforms. We now live in an age of instant communication through the various platforms that make up social media. As events occur they go “viral” and within minutes everyone with a smart phone is made aware of these events. It is within our common sense and information at our disposal that we cannot but conclude that service delivery protests are on the rise. More concerning is the fact that these protests are becoming more violent.
As the service delivery protests escalates, civil society is becoming more troubled at the lack of leadership in efforts to de-escalate these violent service delivery protests. Our politicians have not provided us with a strategy as to how they are going to deal with this most serious problem. Our police have shown that they are ill equipped to manage the outbreaks of violence and have often been seen as inflaming the situation with brutal responses in order to disperse the protesting communities by using excess force.
The usual rhetoric by ministers condemning the violence and threatening the perpetrators with the full might of the law have done absolutely nothing to stem the tide. Communities have reached such high levels of anger and emotion that they have brazenly appeared on camera warning the authorities that if their demands are not met they will take further action. In some cases they have carried out these threats as councilors houses have been torched and some have been held hostage. Whist it is correct that lawlessness should be condemned in the strongest terms, plans should be unveiled as to how the legitimate demands of the communities will be addressed. It most disturbing that no sustainable strategies have been developed by our politicians to stem the rise in service delivery protests.
Due to the sight of flames, smoke and destruction that the media has fed us we have been focused on these aspects of protest. The media has failed to investigate the root causes of the protests. It is clear that the notion of a “better life for all” and the “rainbow nation” has lost its significance on the vast majority of our people. If we ask the serious simple question “has your life changed since the birth of democracy” the vast majority of the population will respond with a resounding “NO”. We know that protest is born out of dissent and discontent. We must therefore remind ourselves that it was our dissent and discontent with apartheid that we protested to such an extent that our was burning. We must further remind ourselves that it was the failure of the apartheid government to address this discontent that led to the fall of apartheid. South Africa has regressed as far as socio-economic development is concerned yet we fail to address government’s consistent failure to deliver basic services timeously and its failure to communicate effectively with the people it serves. The community has to endure incompetent government official’s intent on self- gratification and misuse of power.
South Africa has become the most unequal society in the world. This in itself will inevitably trigger discontent. To the protesters the fact that their lives have not changed despite the high expectations that was created by government, should send an urgent message to all South Africans that they have a responsibility to respond in a more responsible manner to arrest these protests that have the potential to escalate to uncontrollable levels. At the heart of the problem is fact that the privileged white minority is still stubbornly resisting transformation. This is illustrated by reports from the department of labour recently that showed that almost all the top posts in the country are still held by white men. 21 companies, more that half of which are listed on the JSE have been fined for noncompliance with equity provisions. There is thus an unwillingness by this group of the population to voluntary contribute to the development of the county by assisting government in its transformation efforts to bring about stability at local level.