South Africa, Politics

Op-Ed: 2017 and Beyond – the years of hardship are coming

By Matthew Du Plessis 19 January 2017

In South Africa, we should be prepared for the effects of the 2016 year in politics to be felt for years to come. But rather than a warning, this should be a call to responsibility for all of us. By MATTHEW DU PLESSIS.

So, 2016 was a bad year for a lot of people. It was also a very important year in the developmental cycle of the human race. What I mean is that 2017, and probably the decade that follows, is going to be one of the most trying times that humanity will ever have to face (and that includes the awful fashion of the ‘90s).

Last year was difficult because of change. Most of the bad things that we mark from last year constituted change. But the effects of change are often not felt immediately, nor do they shake the world and shudder to a halt suddenly.

In South Africa, for example, we should be prepared for the effects of the 2016 year in politics to be felt for years to come. Instead of a warning, however, this should be a call to responsibility for all of us.

The ANC and all pundits of what is now a failing political approach see the end coming. They have seen this end before and tried to avoid it by using race-based propaganda and other extreme political manoeuvrings, but that failed, and our latest municipal election results are a telling reminder of this. Now, these politicians not only see the end, they also know it is near and inevitable. Therefore, those in power are going to milk whatever they can from the most vulnerable in their death throes.

History shows that this is unfortunately the prevailing manner in which power is lost – that is, at the expense of the powerless. This is why power has shifted hands throughout history, but has never truly gone to anyone other than the second most powerful party, king or company (depending on what kind of power shift we are talking about). Power never truly goes back to the people, because we never really had it, and new power is very rarely used to sustainably help the needy.

The point is that over the next 10 years and maybe more, the people of this country are going to be at constant risk because our current leadership is dying and they refuse to go down alone on the ship they have sunk. As today’s ANC fades, so too will the helpful policies and practices of yesterday’s ANC, and the foundations that our new democracy were built on will collapse.

The result is that, in most cases:

  • If you are an immigrant, you will find it (even) harder to obtain or retain your documentation and you will face an increased chance of being a victim of xenophobia.
  • If you are poor, you will become poorer.
  • If you are a child, you will have a lower quality of education and enjoy fewer protections from the law and be increasingly at risk of abuse;
  • If you are a person with a mental or physical disability, you will find yourself increasingly unable to find reasonable accommodation for your disability.
  • If you rely on the government in any way for basic amenities such as food, shelter or medical care, you will face an increased risk of being deinstitutionalised and denied care, or your government care will get worse and your risk of unnatural death will rise.
  • If you are gay or in any way not hetero-normative, you will find yourself more easily discriminated against, insulted and unsupported by your leaders. And don’t be fooled by praise that the ANC has received recently for taking supposedly great strides in favour of the LGBTI community. Our government, in September 2016, may have voted in favour of the appointment of the UN’s expert to address violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity, but its internal approach to non-heteronormative individuals remains the same. However, South Africa had already voted against the creation of this post in June (although the vote passed anyway) and only voted in favour in September for the continued appointment of the expert after pressure from lobby groups, both national and international. An empty vote in a UN decision that would have turned out the same either way is not deserving of a medal. And remember, our president is still the man who said that he would punch a gay man who approached him.

And if you are, or work for, an organisation that tries to assist the vulnerable people mentioned above, you will find yourself under more strain as more and more of these people become increasingly more victimised and ignored by our government.

Just as the US is now under the threat of the Trump administration, we are under threat of a government that has become increasingly uninterested in and exploitative of the most vulnerable people under its control, and this is about to reach critical mass.

So, instead of moaning about this and clicking “like” on internet posts, open a new tab on your browser and donate money or time to organisations that help the people in our country who are increasingly under threat, as these people will be the first and most severely affected by the ANC’s downward spiral, the effects of which are already being felt on a scale higher than most would dare imagine, and the worst is yet to come.

You could donate money to a non-profit law clinic, most of which have an easy internet portal on their websites to do so. You could donate to children’s homes and places of safety. I won’t name any particular organisations as I would prefer not to appear to favour one over another. However, do avoid donating to organisations that have been the subject of controversy. Google news reports about any charity or NPO that you are interested in donating to. If they have a questionable history, it has very likely been recorded in the news.

Until someone dethrones the ANC (and works really hard for a long time to overturn its legacy of destruction), the only people left to help those in need are us, the people fortunate enough to access social media and read things like this.

Step up now, because there are millions of people in our country who face the greatest challenge of their lives over the next few years – 2016 is going to look like a golden year in comparison for them. They will be under threat that will increase in proportion with how much progress good makes over evil, right until the end of the struggle, while we either sit and watch, or stand and act. DM

Matthew du Plessis is a human rights lawyer who focuses on socio-economic change, government accountability and the rights of vulnerable groups.

Photo: President Jacob Zuma addresses foreign nationals outside Home Affairs offices in Marabastad, Pretoria ahead of the State of the Nation Address, 8 Feb 2016. (Photo: GCIS)

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