Defend Truth


We can no longer tinker while South Africa burns


Andrew Ihsaan Gasnolar was born in Cape Town and raised by his determined mother, grandparents, aunt and the rest of his maternal family. He is an admitted attorney (formerly of the corporate hue), with recent exposure in the public sector, and is currently working on transport and infrastructure projects. He is a Mandela Washington Fellow, a Mandela Rhodes Scholar, and a WEF Global Shaper. He had a brief stint in the contemporary party politic environment working for Mamphela Ramphele as Agang CEO and chief-of-staff; he found the experience a deeply educational one.

The lack of an organising force in South Africa is not the only reason that a man like Jacob Zuma is allowed to hold high office. It is perhaps the underlying reason why so many South Africans remain trapped in poverty.

Last Friday, 11 people died in a massacre on the outskirts of Cape Town. In response we have seen a few flashing cameras and numerous statements from the Police Minister, SAPS, Provincial Department of Community Safety and the City of Cape Town. We cannot explain this away, we cannot ignore the root causes of these heightened levels of violence within our communities, yet we see those elected and empowered to make decisions dragging their feet. This is the lived reality of South Africans each day where a low-intensity, but bloody and destructive, battle wages on each day against the very possibility of aspiring to a better life.

The lack of an organising force in South Africa is not the only reason that a man like Jacob Zuma is allowed to hold high office. It is perhaps the underlying reason why so many South Africans remain trapped in poverty. The lack of an organising force is visible in our complete inability to even articulate a strategy to confront the growing levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality. It is this inability that sees us all unable to confront the spatial legacy of apartheid or create new communities that enable the livelihoods of South Africans so that they can lead lives of dignity.

Far too many hold on to the crutch that these issues are complex and therefore excuses them from acting swiftly enough. We can no longer keep tinkering away at the status quo, trying to fool ourselves into believing that everything will be fine if we can get a handle on corruption and State Capture. Zuma has acted as one of the key disruptors of our democracy, undermining the constitutional institutions and societal fabric that may yet push South Africans to the edge. Yet, after all these years, we are nowhere closer to addressing the spatial history and legacy of apartheid. We continue to tinker with the edifice of that legacy yet we cannot grapple with the very identity of what it means to be the most unequal society in the world.

South Africa must create pathways through our policy, legislation and planning that enables South Africans to use those pathways to construct highways. This is the only tangible way to confront the triple threat of inequality, poverty and unemployment. This is the only way to create an enabling environment that supports the lives and aspiration of South Africans. Our inability to deal meaningfully with this is reflected in poor economic growth (negligible at best), lack of business and investor confidence, sovereign rating downgrades, job losses and an intransigent Zuma administration that epitomises the rot and decay that has stolen their futures from so many.

It is easy to forget but these issues have a human face and should not simply be reduced to issues that do not have dire consequences for vulnerable South Africans. The violence we are witnessing in our communities is as a result of the cost of not doing anything. This is the cost of allowing this rot to set in. This is the cost of not compelling our leaders to act in the interest of its citizens. It has not simply cost South Africa on the indices but it has stolen the future from far too many South Africans.

A future now that leaves South Africans with very little promise where they continue to eke out a living – trying to make ends meet and survive. A future with very little promise of a different story unfolding, forcing them to survive in this uncertain and often violent world. A world that “they” are left to live in and struggle alone in. A world that is so far removed from the reality of those tasked with being the organising force in our society that they struggle to be heard. Each day they struggle to just live.

Millions of South Africans have not simply been forgotten but have been reduced to voting cattle, reduced to the “masses”, reduced to the “other” and not deserving of South Africa’s care, interest or attention. Millions continue to wait in Sassa queues, housing queues, service delivery queues, government queues. South Africans left waiting for the benefits of our constitutional democracy. South Africans waiting to access the promise that a good education system would have offered.

The events last week in a Cape Town township called Marikana, in Phillipi, should not be seen as isolated. It should also not be regarded or looked at simply as a question of policing or a need to clamp down on crime. This is the reality of millions of South Africans that have been forgotten. Not simply on the outskirts of our towns and cities but also from what should be driving the organising forces in our society.

Instead, we see factional battles, expediency and the politics of self-interest and convenience taking centre stage. It is disingenuous and cowardly to think that South Africans who live in places like Marikana can simply work hard, excel at school and then climb out of the places that we have forgotten. It is not a simple question of replicating the stories leveraged on social capital to solve the issue at hand. These are complex issues and they will not be solved by press releases and photo opportunities.

The underlying issues that have created and enabled this destructive and hopeless environment is not simply a question of safety, security or policing. The underlying issues provide a snapshot of what so many South Africans grapple with each day. The simple act of going to the toilet in the evening is made treacherous by the lived circumstances where a cold miserable death or assault could await you. As you look around your “community”, all you see is the failure of those dreams all around you. This is no way to convene a society and as long as South Africa is unable to harness a meaningful organising force to co-ordinate our efforts as a society, we will remain trapped in this cycle of abuse and violence that perpetuates poverty and unemployment and entrenches inequality even further. DM


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