Let's Think

South Africa on a dangerous trajectory to anarchy

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The fact that South Africa is not working for most of those living in it, runs much deeper than a failing government, a compromised president, rampant corruption, and historical injustices.

Let’s first, in ‘shorthand’ put the “fact,” stated above, to the test, starting at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder by looking at the hand of some items in the news:

  • At Imizamo Yethu, Cape Town, (a city governed by the Democratic Alliance) community goes on the rampage because months after a fire destroyed their homes, they are still living at a “temporary relocation area” (TRA) on a sports field. Other people are still at a TRA after being moved 13 years ago (!) to make way for roads.

          And, now a city politician want them to go to a piece of land 30 km removed from           where some of them have made out some way of living and reinforcing historical apartheid type settlement patterns;

·         At Hanover Park, also Cape Town, 15 organisations registered under the Hanover Park Women’s Forum were locked out of Hanover Park community centre where they kept offices – some having used the facilities for 30 years. The reason, to satisfy some bureaucratic rules;

  • At Gunguluza extension 11, Uitenhage in the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality – governed by the African National Congress until last year – toilets were erected almost three years ago, but of the more than 300 houses there are still no signs. Some 100 ‘beneficiaries,’ already relocated there, have no running water, doors, and in some cases no roofs;
  • In Jo’burg, also governed by the ANC until last year, at least seven people died when a building in which squatters lived, burned down. It is the third time a fire broke out in the same building, but occupants wanted to move right back in, saying they have nowhere else to move, as city renewal plans have been dragging out for many years;
  • The minister of Justice and Correctional Services has just admitted that there is a huge backlog in consideration of parole application of people serving life sentences, blaming it on “the combined lack of reports from social workers and psychologists” as well as “outstanding restorative justice interventions”; and

This is just a short list from news reports of the last ten days about how “the system” is failing those at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. We did not even scratch the surface of service delivery protests, which have become an almost daily occurrence, and often accompanied by violence all over the country.

Sobering perspective from higher-up

When the historic city hall of Bloemfontein/Mangahung was recently burned down by protesting workers, an email conversation between 18 friends from the middle- to upper middle-class developed, to which I was pulled onto their loop. One of the contributors in the course of the conversation, linking it to what happened at the similarly historical Tshwane/Pretoria station,  wrote:

“I first thought these people (who set the fires) had no appreciation for the country’s historical heritage. That was stupid of me. It were people coming tired from a long day’s work, thinking of the hour-long journey, followed by a taxi-trip, and probably walk home, where their children are waiting. They felt bitterly aggrieved by the delay in trains.

“They felt nothing for the building they associate with a poor railway administration – they did not consider the possibility that the delay was caused by cable theft, possibly by some unemployed with no other way to put food on the table. All that mattered was that they experienced the delay as unacceptable.” 

On the back of this another friend, raising the danger that the country might be slipping  into a state of anarchy, wrote about the setting alight of trains in Cape Town:

 “The train being set alight in Cape Town – nearly a 100 already – is not primarily driven by late arrivals of trains, but by accumulated frustrations over things like housing shortages and other service delivery failures.  Even a clinic in a poor community was burned down, with the budget not able to afford a new one.

A country where 50m people are murdered  per day – and if you want you can blame on the police and prosecuting authorities – is in the process of falling into anarchy.”

Is it working for the middle class?

As one of the friends referred to above, and one of the country’s top economists put it: “I despair. I’m only watching the numbers, and all tendencies point in the wrong direction.”

And again, looking at a few items in the news the last week and a bit, tells a story of its own:

  • A growing group of South Africans are eyeing obtaining the UK's £200 000 Tier 1 Entrepreneur Visa as economic woes continue to pummel their homeland;
  • A report the department of Home Affairs has it that government is already working towards limiting the SA emigration by tracking the number of South Africans leaving the country. According to the report, the cabinet has approved a piece of legislation that would allow the Home Affairs department to put a track, and limit South African citizens planning to leave the country for more than three months;
  • In a presentation by Professor Ricardo Hausmann, one of the world’s leading experts on what drives economic growth, especially in developing countries,  argues that South Africa is making a historic mistake to allow know-how to leave the country in droves. He calls know-how “ the secret sauce of productivity and prosperity”;
  • South Africans have over R30 billion stashed away in the Swiss banking system, the latest data released by the Switzerland National Bank (SNB) shows; and
  • The latest Estate Agent Home Selling Survey by FNB has found that the ‘selling to emigrate’ motive for selling houses in the four years since 2013 has tripled and “emigration-related home selling in many instances represents highly skilled labour departing for foreign shores.”

This tells the story of a society that is not only losing the fuel for, but engine itself, that drives economic growth -  a dangerous spot to be in for a country where there are more domestic workers than professionals in employment, there are more people on social grants than with jobs, and everybody is constantly getting poorer.

by Piet Coetzer

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