Dependency will destroy us

2014-10-28 06:45

Try doing repair work on an electronic gadget in any of South Africa’s central business districts and your service provider is likely to be a Pakistani.

Try getting your hair done here and the person doing the job is likely to be a Francophone African.

Your painter in the nation’s main suburbs will be Malawian. If you buy top-up groceries from a township spaza shop, the man on the other side of the counter will probably be Somali.

Venture into a few enclaves of our cities and you will be treated to sumptuous cuisine from different parts of Africa.

If you wander into the dodgy parts of the cities to score narcotics you will probably ... (okay, maybe let’s leave this one out).

But seriously, things are so bad that South Africans have even lost control of their mafias and criminal syndicates.

The point is that democratic South Africa has become a magnet for fortune-seekers and survivalists from all over the world.

They look at us from afar and see a land of opportunity, a land where seeds can be planted on fertile soil and healthy plants can sprout. So they come our way.

Some get here and struggle. Some just get by while some do very well for themselves.

But the bottom line is that they seem to seize opportunities that South Africans seem unable to do. This has bred resentment among locals who see this as taking away their opportunities.

This resentment has led to attacks on foreign- owned businesses and spurred South African businessmen to lobby government for greater protection from these “invaders”.

It has also fuelled stereotypes about South Africans being lazy, unmotivated and overly dependent on government to give them a leg up.

There is a growing perception, particularly among the middle class, that the poor sit with their mouths wide open waiting to be spoon-fed.

This perception now seems to have found its way into the top echelons of government.

Last week, President Jacob Zuma and Human Settlements Minister Lindiwe Sisulu echoed this view, saying that the government’s roll-out of services since 1994 had made South Africans too dependent on the state.

“When foreigners come to South Africa, because they are not used to government handing out, they get here and see opportunities and thrive?...?Our people are waiting for government.

“Our people are not used to standing up and doing things. These ones are not expecting any government to do anything so they get here, see opportunities and exploit them,” said Zuma.

Sisulu continued on Zuma’s theme when she warned people under 40 not to expect free housing from government because this programme was meant for those who had been messed up by apartheid.

“I don’t know of a country that gives free houses to young people. Free housing in a few years will be something of the past. You have lost nothing...” was her message to South Africa’s young people.

These comments caused a storm.

Commentators and ordinary South Africans slammed the two leaders for passing judgement on citizens from the comfort of their air-conditioned, blue-light limousines. Zuma was reminded about the R246?million that the state had spent on his private residence.

But lost in the furore were a few nuggets of truth in what they were saying.

The post-1994 order did create a culture of dependency. It was an unintended consequence of the need to correct the wrongs of the past and to give people a tangible taste of freedom.

The mass roll-out of water, electricity, housing, welfare, education and other services were necessary. The free provision and heavy subsidisation of a few of these services was also necessary. Anyone who argues otherwise should be placed in a Valkenberg ward next to that guy from Bristol.

But just as much as we needed to reverse the ravages of apartheid, we also need to deal with the disempowering effect of the free ride we have given South Africans.

Immigrants are eating South Africans’ lunch because they do what new arrivals do anywhere in the world: they work hard to establish a livelihood in their new land.

This is not to say South Africans are indolent, as has been claimed.

They just need to shake off the notion that “Pretoria will always provide” and replace it with the idea that Pretoria will give you the means and tools to provide for yourself.

Weaning South Africans off this culture will take bold leadership, but not the sort of leadership that sends mixed messages.

During the elections campaign, the Zumas and Sisulus boasted about the “good story to tell” on all the wonderful things the ANC had done for “the people”.

Months later, they seem to have conveniently forgotten this good story and condescendingly tell South Africans to get off their butts. Right message, wrong tone, wrong messengers.

If ever we needed a jolt about the urgency of this weaning from the dependency culture, it came in the form of Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene’s medium-term budget speech.

In painting a dire picture of South Africa’s economic prospects, he signalled that the better life for all his party and other parties had promised voters in May might actually turn out to be a bleaker life for most.

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