On 8 July 2021, violent protests erupted in South Africa. As I was listening, I heard different views of what was happening: reflections, perspectives, interpretations, “facts” and counter-arguments. People were labelled “looters”, “gangs”, “anarchists” and “criminals”, either pro Zuma, or anti Zuma.
On the news, I saw people carrying goods: Men, women and children, carrying food, clothing, appliances and furniture. What do these images say about them? They reflect the lives of people economically excluded from the wealth of the country.
Did we have to come to this unrest to be reminded of the deeply seated socioeconomic inequalities of the so-called “rainbow nation”? It seems depressing that people had to convince the authorities and the public that they are in need.
The townships are buzzing with ministers who have come to inspect the impact of the unrest on the economy. What about the small businesses that are closed because of lockdown? When will the ministers come to inspect the impact of closing down township businesses as it affects the women and men who depend on them? According to statistics from the International Labour Organisation, about 89.2% of employment in Africa is informal (2018).
In 2020, Howard Chitimira and Menelisi Ncube wrote that people are economically excluded due to high rates of poverty, debt, financial illiteracy, unemployment, and lack of identification documents.
In South Africa, during the pandemic, these economically excluded were promised a R350 per month social relief grant, but many never received it. What has the government department responsible for sorting that out done about it? Don’t forget — these people are still hungry. Can we expect our ministers to come and check on those who are on the other side of the economic spectrum, as they did with checking on the investments of the haves after the instability that affected the malls and big business?
What these people have done is raise awareness about the forgotten poverty and the struggle for equality. People helped themselves to goods that fulfil basic needs — mealie meal, chicken pieces, fridges, two-plate stoves, nappies, sanitary towels and mattresses.
How long are we going to justify stealing huge amounts of government resources which are meant to improve the lives of the country’s citizens?
How long are we going to continue with a business as usual approach, pretending that everything is okay, when the voters are suffering, with no means to survive? When are we even going to address the food insecurity that is so extreme in this country?
This is my plea, as the authorities go from house to house to collect the “stolen goods”: assess the situation of those homes, compile a list, and make follow-ups to determine the needs of those families.
The privileged few, with access to the necessary resources, should show more compassion for those who do not have — those who have no voice and no power.
Those without economic means have needs too. Unless the government realises that they have a role to play in making things right for the poor, things will remain like this.
Be warned: the plaster that was placed over the gaping wound has come off, the wound is infected, bleeding and needs urgent attention. It’s time to clean the wound, deliver on your promises and meet the needs of the poorest of the poor. DM