Pontius Pilate cop-out

2009-07-27 00:00

BEING an ordinary member of the public, a person on the ground, has both advantages and disadvantages. As an ordinary person, I can say that I did not join the liberation struggle so that I can be poor with nobody paying attention to what I say. But if someone in a position of authority were to say exactly the same thing, all hell would break loose.

Because I am an ordinary person, I can say right now that I am very afraid when I hear that hungry people recently entered Shoprite and Checkers supermarkets in Durban, and started feeding themselves without paying. Some even left the shops with food parcels without paying for them. Needless to say, the police were called in and some were arrested.

If somehow you missed this stor­y, I am talking about members of the South African Unemployed People’s Movement who, a few days ago, invaded supermarkets and looted food from the shelves to express their anger at their state of unemployment. The organisation says it has petitioned various levels of the government in the past, to inform it that the situation is becoming dire, but with little success.

The organisation is demanding a R500 grant for the unemployed. It also wants the municipalities to stop harassing its members who try to eke out a living by selling items such as oranges, sweets, cigarettes and matches on the pavements.

Now, I doubt very much whether any person of influence, be it in government or business, would stand up for these people and say publicly that they support what the unemployed people are doing. This is inexplicable. I mean, you would think that many leaders in the opposition parties would jump at such an opportunity and urge the government to yield to the demands of these people.

But no, that will never happen. In fact, the opposite is more likely to take place, with those in power and positions of influence condemning the actions of those who invade shops as criminal.

I have no doubt that the same members of the opposition parties would have approached the unemployed grouping, secretly of course, to reassure them that they support them and no doubt pointing accusing fingers at the ruling party as the one that caused this situation. Do I hear you calling such people opportunists? Of course, that’s exactly what they are.

However, the rest of us should not be held back by such considerations, political or otherwise. We should call for the powers that be to give some sort of grants to these people.

The unemployed are not unreasonable people, they are just hungry and desperate human beings who want no more or less than to get a job and support themselves and their families. They understand what many people are saying about the economy, namely that we are in a recession, but they can also see that despite the economic situation, there are still many people who appear not to be affected by it.

I mean, many of them must have read about the millions of rands that some rather important and very influential South Africans squandered on what turned out to be a Ponzi scheme.

I know some among us enjoy blaming the government for all the ills of this country, forgetting that each and every one of us must do something for the poor and the unemployed.

This is simply because when their anger wells up and then overflows, it will not discriminate who it targets. That anger will engulf all and sundry, as the Durban supermarkets have just witnessed.

One doubts very much that the members of the South African Unemployed People’s Movement believe that the government can sustain the R500 grant to all the unemployed people in the country. This can only be of a short-term basis.

If the government meets them halfway, it is an opportunity for the government, civil society, business and everybody else to do something about the situation instead of doing the great Pontius Pilate cop-out about this potentially volatile situation.

I believe that the SA Unemployed People’s Movement deserves our understanding and not our condemnation. It might help to manage the situation if its members got a sense that all of us want to help in any way possible.

Surely, we would rather the poor and unemployed were inside the tent, pissing out, rather than outside, pissing in.

• Bhungani kaMzolo is a former journalist now working for government. Here he writes in his personal capacity.

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