01 August, 2012

South Africa: A Violent Future Awaits Us

by Hussein Solomon

In the Western Cape service delivery protests have turned violent. In Botrivier, angry residents vented their anger by showering passing motorists with stones, smashing the windows of the local municipal building and blockading roads as they protested their deteriorating living conditions. Residents in Nyanga and Gugulethu, outside Cape Town also took to the streets, barricading streets, these whilst pelting motorists with stones and torching motor vehicles and a bus. The constant interruptions in electricity supply was the catalyst for residents of Tembisa on the West Rand to also take to the streets. Meanwhile incensed residents of Kagiso also violently challenged security forces following two children being knocked down by a truck despite the repeated appeal to the Mogale City municipality to construct speed bumps on the road. The scale and intensity of the protests in recent months is unprecedented, even by post-apartheid South Africa’s own dismal standards.

This is only going to get worse. Three factors account for the increasingly violent future awaiting us. First, the Achilles’ heel remains local government with its institutionalized incompetence and spiralling corruption. This was recently laid bare by the Auditor-General’s report. Civil servants staffing local municipalities are unresponsive to residents’ needs whilst lining their own pockets. This burgeoning corruption of political elites together with the deplorable state of services result in deteriorating living conditions which are fuelling the current wave of unrest. The deployment of political party apparatchiks to senior positions within local government – positions to which they are often not qualified for – reinforces incompetence and undermines government’s ability to deliver a `better life for all’ – in those exceptional cases where there is the political will to serve one’s citizens.

Second, such incompetence and corruption is going unchecked by the executive. Despite the populist rhetoric, President Zuma is more concerned about securing a second term for himself than about the welfare of ordinary citizens. Should he act against incompetence, his fear is that he might alienate this or that constituency as we prepare for Mangaung and the election of the next ANC president. This same fear, I am sure, has prevented, him taking action against our shockingly incompetent Minister of Basic Education who also happens to head the ANC Women’s League – a key voting bloc in Mangaung. This inaction and resulting paralysis in government has created the conditions for incompetence and corruption to become increasingly institutionalized throughout all levels of government.

Third, the economic challenges confronting South Africa will also feed service delivery protests. The global economic crisis which has engulfed the European Union, our largest trading partner, is already exerting a negative influence on our economy. The fact that the Chinese economy is slowing down, too, is also impacting on our mining sector. In addition to these outside pressures, the local economy is just not sustainable – a small tax base supporting millions receiving handouts from the state. As the global economic crisis worsens, the contradictions in the local economy will intensify. The ability of the state to provide social grants will be severely diminished and protests will intensify further across the length and breadth of the country. Brace yourselves!

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