As I go through the report on the July riots, my reading of it crystalises around two elements. On the one hand, there is the ineptness and lack of capabilities of the security and law enforcement agencies and, on the other hand, there are the internal factional battles in the ruling party. Both these elements loom large throughout the report.
Whether we want to blame the police for their inaction over the nine days, or the so-called massive intelligence failure to give us early warning, or indeed the role of the SANDF, it doesn’t matter. This was simply a massive failure, all round, full stop.
From an intelligence point of view, a policing and public order point of view and a governance failure from our executive arm point of view — all were incapable of providing the necessary security and safety of ordinary citizens and private businesses. This is a direct result of the hollowing out of our institutions during the State Capture years. Appointing incompetent people in a number of these directly contributed to the inept approach by the institutions during the riots. The report goes some way to make recommendations to avoid such in the future. Let’s see if any will be implemented.
It is the second element that I find the report to be very light on — the panel simply advising that internal factional battles in the ANC must end because it has a negative impact on broader society and the economy, as observed with the loss of more than R50-billion during these protests and lootings.
Now here, the president continues to preach unity in the party, saying he is prepared to fall on his sword with regards to the abuse of public money for party political ends. Ironically the RET faction is baying for the president’s head in this regard, perhaps not fully understanding that he is also protecting them and trying to save their party. Now to all of them involved in this action or inaction during this period, the president, the ministers, managers in the various security agencies and indeed the law enforcement agencies that would now have to implement consequence management, I say to you the following:
“When you choose an action, you choose the consequences of that action. When you desire a consequence, you had damned well better take the action that would create it.” Or to put it differently, “we all make choices, but in the end our choices make us.”
The perpetrators must face justice and jail time if needed because you did wrong, full stop. Equally important though, the enforcers must act decisively and with speed to implement consequence management. Without this, the message to the nation is that’s it’s OK to participate in wrongdoing even if it hurts the country and its citizens.
Now, with the State of the Nation Address (Sona) looming large, one other key factor that everyone says contributed to the July riots is the socioeconomic conditions of our people. Poverty, inequality and persistent unemployment contributed their fair share to the anger, bitterness and stoical fatalism in which our poor find themselves.
I have written about this previously in which I call out the private sector and the wealthy in our country and ask what it is they are collectively doing to correct such historical injustice, but on 10 February 2022 in his Sona, I think the president can announce a huge difference in the form of an unemployment grant, and not so much a universal basic income grant per se.
Given the devastation of the Covid pandemic on most economies, a number of developed and developing economies opted to transfer cash in hand to many of their citizens. These social assistance packages are a necessity given the large-scale negative impact the pandemic had on those economies.
And so, in order to stimulate the economy and inject much-needed cash back into it, many governments opted for a social wage of sorts. We must simply follow suit. It would mean bringing another seven to eight million adults into the social security net and expanding our social welfare system. This the president must do to alleviate the ongoing suffering of the most vulnerable in our society.
The various measures to fund such an allocation will have to be a reallocation of public expenditure, a freeze on the public service wage bill for two years, perhaps we don’t need a fully-fledged Arts and Culture Ministry, similarly a Sports Ministry.
As ordinary citizens, we too can make a contribution through a slight hike in personal income tax, corporate income tax and value-added tax. We have to do this, good people, lest we find ourselves in the footsteps of Lebanon, which is now officially a failed state. The country simply could not recover post the 2008/09 financial crisis and the debt levels kept on rising, no radical interventions were sought and the rich and the banks in that country decided to cut their losses and run. We can and must avoid a similar fate. And all I’m saying is that an unemployment grant is a step in the right direction.
So, to avoid another July riot and looting, we as a country must take responsibility collectively. Yes, we can! Implement consequence management of the Zondo Commission reports, the SIU PPE corruption report and the July riots report. Continue to implement structural changes in our economy and attract further investment for infrastructure. And finally, expand the social assistance wage for the unemployed in our country.
Be all you can be, Mr President, history will judge you. DM