It seems there is much fearmongering of another 8 July 2021 coming. The threats have been rampant but no one, especially not the government, is grappling with why people act in this manner. It seems to me that the issue should not be about stopping people from legitimately protesting against state failures and the resultant unrest, but about dealing with their grievances. These quite clearly stem from poverty, which has also stoked the xenophobic fires.
It has been hard to discern what substantive action has been taken after the unrest that shows that the government is indeed listening to people and is committed to making things better. In fact, it seems to have been chalked up to an unprecedented incident of living below the poverty line that can simply be dealt with by extending the paltry R350 Social Relief of Distress grant. How much does the monthly R350 buy a household just in terms of groceries? It’s not enough to feed one person, never mind a person who has children. What does it do to someone’s dignity to have to eke out an existence in a country where poverty is not enough of a priority to spur an emergency response that would at least allow people the opportunity to earn a living?
This can only be perceived as psychological warfare that is being waged on South Africa’s people. But is anybody listening? Do the middle classes care? American historian and writer Robert Longley describes psychological warfare as “a non-lethal effort to capture” hearts and minds. Psychological warfare typically employs propaganda to influence the values, beliefs, emotions, reasoning, motives or behaviour of its targets.
The targets of such propaganda campaigns can include governments, political organisations, advocacy groups, military personnel and civilians. Right now people’s “hearts and minds” are captured by the hopelessness and deprivation of poverty.
Most days, living in SA feels like existing within a vortex in which we are confronted by threats of government collapse, societal implosion and a mental health crisis that is stalking and claiming its future — the youth. All of this seems to cause us to be either in a constant state of fight or flight, gripped by inertia from the warnings of imminent threats, or in an ostrich-like state with our heads below the ground, hoping that if we don’t hear or see anything, all will be well.
Research done by the Children’s Institute at the University of Cape Town warns that 39% of children live beneath the food poverty line, where food insecurity further intensifies the pressures and conflict within the home. Nearly one in two children (42%) has experienced violence, including physical violence (35%) and sexual abuse (35%). The research goes on to state that 10% to 20% of children will develop a mental disorder or a neurodevelopmental disability as a result of the traumas they face daily.
If we adults, who have a better understanding of the workings of the world, are frightened by the country’s prospects, can you imagine how a child must feel?
The onus is therefore on us adults to steer decision-making in the country to ensure that we protect not only ourselves but most importantly the youth from the damaging psychological warfare being waged on the country. So when we share alarmist and unverified news or information about alleged “national shutdowns”, think about the trauma this is likely to inflict. When we talk about how the “country is going to hell in a hand basket”, think about how children receive this information. When, as the government, the best you can do is R350 to help families, think about how this affects not only the physical but also the mental health of children. Let’s not trap children in the vortex of despair with us. DM168
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.