South Africans are deactivated citizens comfortable with their misery

2014-02-11 12:07

The will of the people will carry them to freedom once it is activated. Yet, when I observe South Africa, I see a largely deactivated country whose citizens have submitted themselves to the yoke of human suffering and a future devoid of prosperity. Our society has all the makings of a country faced with systematic collapse, with its citizens as active accomplices to such collapse.

There is no sense of public repulsion over the direction our country is headed – please do not mention the posturing on twitter and Facebook that masquerades as ‘revolution’. I partly blame the existence of an artificial middle class that is cushioned by the crumbs it receives from the current economic order. As Fanon cautioned, this class acts as a buffer zone between capital and anarchy from the revolt of the proletariat – in the end the elite are protected and the suffering ‘wretched of the earth’ are tamed, with their struggles made fun of and diluted.

Given the recent petrol price increases – with the disadvantaged being hit hard because paraffin also increases – I found myself going on a wild goose chase. What I caught was troubling. Cars.co.za in 2013 noted that in August 2004, unleaded petrol inland cost R4.00 a litre, with diesel at R3.29. Today, unleaded95 petrol inland costs R13.96. This is 10 years on. In other news, electricity will increase by 8% a year between 2013 and 2018. Prior to this period, there was a five-year period of massive electricity tariff increases. It is reported that a unit of electricity in 2008 was 19 cents and in 2012, it was 50 cents. These two, electricity and petrol, are accountable for the rise in transport, food, fertilizer (due to high oil prices) and other costs relating to the production of goods and services.

Then you can add the eTolls, increasing levies for property owners, shrinking salaries. Furthermore, consider the stagnant GDP growth we are currently experiencing. Feel the catastrophic impact of a declining currency with the Rand hitting well over R11 to the dollar and beyond R18 to the pound. This means South Africans will even find it more financially unviable to embark on holidays outside the country, until the madness subsides. Add to this the escalating education costs. My University has increased tuition fees by 12% on two consecutive years. Curiously, a degree I registered for in 2010 now costs R10 000 more. Yet the quality does not seem to be seeing such exponential increase.

On top of all these ‘necessary’ price increases, the citizens of this beloved country have had to deal with collusion by the construction sector during the massive infrastructure injection phase of preparing for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Prior to that cases of collusion in the bread and metal industries have been brought to the country’s attention. These big corporate get away with small fines compared to the profits generated over decades of existence both in history and in the near future. The citizens remain the biggest losers, except for those in cahoots with the corporate companies that deliberately plan to siphon funds either from the taxpayers through government or from the consumers by charging prices that an arrangement amongst the companies.

A further inspection of the outcomes of the Auditor-General’s report reveals a series of systematically developed patterns of corruption, misappropriation and fruitless expenditure across all three spheres of government. We see a waning existence of accountability. Whistleblowers are threatened, victimised and in some instances, they are killed in order to protect the ruling elite (here I include politicians and private sector leaders). The recent Skills Audit Report produced by PriceWater Coopers for SABC is the latest in a series of alarming revelations as to how badly some state institutions and agencies are run. The comments made by the Acting COO of SABC, a man without a matric certificate, in an attempt to sugarcoat these worrying outcomes are not worthy of commentary on this blog.

We are aware of the social ills that grip our society. When you take a walk around the downtown areas of Durban adjacent to Albert Park where the now famous Woonga Park is, you realise the decay at which our sense of community has withered. How do throngs of teenagers leave home to go and live under the bridge, submit themselves to petty crimes around the CBD all in the name of raising funds for Woonga and some sort of food? I see disfigured faces on those who have seemingly resided for long in this wicked park, inhaling the contaminated smokes of Woonga. Whilst this seems a deathbed of teenagers, there is another space of life that is crippling the dreams and ambitions of young people. That place is Universities. I doubt you saw that coming.

Recently, the nation has been gripped with a number of protests, many violent, across different Universities in the country. The biggest cry from students is lack of funding and poor quality of the education they are receiving. If we are to take the Council of Higher Education 2013 report seriously, we must accept – as one Professor exclaimed in a symposium – that Universities are planned on failure. The only reason why it is possible for Universities to increase their intake every year is that they forecast the number of students that are to drop out of the system. Given that of all entrants to Universities just under 50% of them ever get to graduate whether in record time or not, it is not impossible to see this failure in Universities. Why is it that we would find a 50% pass rate abnormal in basic education and yet we remain largely silent on its existence in higher education? Something is wrong with how our priorities are wired.

Lastly, on higher education, there is this crushing of dreams that is taking place through financial exclusion. Children who come in – as put by another Professor – to a University charged and full of potential leave the gates of a University empty. Many of their dreams are never fulfilled. I am on the ground in the University of KwaZulu-Natal witnessing the anguish that thrusts through the dreams and ambitions of many students who hail from disadvantaged backgrounds. Many of these students were already attending quintile one and two schools (largely no fee schools) and yet today face financial exclusion. Some students (called Group 2) were evaluated by NSFAS and found to be financially needy, yet there is no funding for them. Instead of being given an opportunity to register, they are sent packing because they owe fees for last year and are unable to fund themselves this year.

Here, the elitist argument goes, “University is not free, they should know that”. If we accept this argument, we must also accept that the admission criteria of Universities must be very strict on funding capability of students. What good is it to take in – knowingly – a financially needy student, only for you to dump them at the end of the year by financial exclusion? This student is then sent home and after 12-18 months their account is handed over to debt collectors, they are then blacklisted. The very same student, though academically capable, is sent into the doldrums of the cycle of poverty and his/her dreams are shattered, in their community they become the laughing stock, in the process their sense of ambition and hunger for success is killed.

Because South Africans treat all these miseries in isolation, we do not quite easily understand that they are disorderly accumulating themselves as a fermentation of future anarchy. When the eruption happens, when people get to be squeezed to a point of being breathless, then they will learn to stand up and fight the system. Perhaps on the other hand we suffer from perpetual optimism – believing in the inherent good of the universe to rescue us from our plight.

Yet, in Nigeria when the government in 2012 was removing the petrol subsidy, people took to the streets and refused to accept such eventuality. When the 2007/2008 food price increases (or rather crisis as some refer to it) hit countries, we saw a significant number of countries in Africa and Asia protesting in the streets. Suddenly, food prices had become enough to determine the political future of a country.

However, in South Africa with all these compounding strains on citizens there is a sense of deactivation. No member of the ruling elite seems to be under siege because of this systematic collapse our country faces. What I am sure of is that one day the will of the people will be activated, filled with anger and rage over their plight. My only wish is that such a day will come whilst there is still a country to salvage, so that such rage expressing itself will not be the death of a potentially beautiful dream that was bestowed upon us in 1994 when we said “Hello Freedom”. It is not yet Uhuru in South Africa our land.

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