Letter: It's in SA’s socio-economic situation we must seek an explanation for this week's events - Businesslive

Jul 16, 2021
16 July 2021 - The call by business leaders for a 24-hour curfew is strategically misguided and a threat to civil liberties (“Busa bemoans government’s ‘inadequate response’ to riots”, July 15).

The call by business leaders for a 24-hour curfew is strategically misguided and a threat to civil liberties (“Busa bemoans government’s ‘inadequate response’ to riots”, July 15).

We are ever more certain that the past week’s events were not co-ordinated, but were rather organic and arose from stagnating living standards matched with 18 months of draconian lockdown regulations.

Our read of the relationship between living standards and protest action over decades informed our warnings to clients on at least seven occasions in the past 18 months that this blow-up was coming.

Not one of those warnings was prompted by information that something was being planned. The police and intelligence services did not identify the alleged conspiracy in advance, because there was nothing to identify. When the 12 “conspirators” are arrested, if they are, you will be struck at how pedestrian they will seem. These are not grand spymasters or fiends of subterfuge sufficient to star in a John le Carre novel, but low-level hacks whose imminent elevation to masters of the dark arts of “regime change” will surprise none more than themselves.

Their role was simply to tweet a bit and arrange some meetings. They could not even keep their man on top let along prevent his ending up inside. Jacob Zuma went to jail a spent force with only his son, unsteady on his feet , guarding the gate of his father’s house with a club! That such a force could have nudged SA’s socio-economic circumstances into such disorder means it is there, in the socio-economics, that we must seek the explanation for what occurred. 

Real per capita GDP has stagnated for a decade. The number of people with a job is barely more than when Thabo Mbeki vacated office. The proportion of young people not in education, employment or training is extraordinary. Most kids get such poor school results that they have no options in life.

Promises of reform, which heightened expectations, have failed to materialise and people have been subjected to often brutal lockdown authority for 18 months, taking away the little freedom and civil liberty — and often dignity — they had left. Adding to that by suspending the rule of law via a state of emergency will make things worse and show that nothing has been learnt.

I am often asked why, if people were hungry and poor, they did not only steal food. And why they burnt things if they wanted a better life. The questions reveal the detachment of SA’s elites and its government from reality.

Poverty is not just hunger, but also the inability to have nice things. You see the well-off own nice things that you can never afford and, year in and year out, nothing changes. You read of business and government plans and promises, and of how much better things are, when from your perspective they are not. 

So, yes, you take a television when the looting reaches that level because you think: ‘stuff this, I’m am also going to have something nice’. Who in business or government ahead of this eruption could truly say they listened when the poor said what they wanted?

All I see is a diet of platitudes about “new dawns”, “rebirths” and transformation, while nothing really changes because the economy does not grow, local authorities remain corrupt, schooling does not improve and “empowerment policies” bypass the poor.

Are SA’s elites really so stupid to think — as their behaviour suggests — that this state of affairs could persist without an eruption? Or could they be so racist as to assume that poor black people will just sit and wait, like vassals, until it becomes politically opportune to get serious about raising the growth rate?

As for calling the burning and looting wanton criminality, it was criminal, but not enough attention is given to what makes tens of thousands so desperate that they wantonly break the law. These are mainly good people whose desperation reached a breaking point. I read the arson as the ultimate desperation of the downtrodden, a call to say: do not ignore us any longer because we cannot take much more.

The enthusiasm for a neat conspiracy to explain all of the above, and pin it on Zuma, is an attempt to shield the current administration and organised business from culpability for the real problem, which is the absence of reforms and that life is not getting any better. Until this changes, the past week’s events will recur.

My plea to Martin Kingston and his Business Unity SA colleagues is not to indulge this conspiracy nonsense, not to compound the erosion of our civil liberties by calling for states of emergency, and to stop indulging ridiculous government policies — from expropriation to labour, education to empowerment — that cannot possibly succeed in delivering a better life to the millions of our downtrodden fellow citizens.

Frans Cronje

Institute of Race Relations


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