The State of the Nation: Crisis Mode

2015-02-06 12:06

South Africa is a nation in crisis. It is easy to implore citizens to overlook the bad and celebrate the many good stories. Unfortunately, the simple truth is that the social ills that confront the country have potential to destroy the very good that we are counselled to celebrate by those in power and their supporters alike. The other unfortunate part is that continued denialism of our challenges takes away urgency, and in some cases agency, to resolve these challenges. As a result, if we all accept the narrative of the establishment, that South Africa has ‘a good story to tell’; we become accomplice to the ineptitude confronting the country. This I am unwilling to do.

In the previous ten days or so, some important events happened that illuminate the crisis that is South Africa now. I shall reflect on them in no particular order:

ESKOM Crisis (ineptitude and carelessness)

Eskom has once more entered stage 2 of load shedding, surely stage 3 might be a few days away. At this rate, the country will be faced with load shedding for the next year or two, given the delays in the construction of new power stations and ongoing maintenance issues. Eskom has dug itself into a deep dark hole and decided to take the entire country into it for company. This is a result of years of both political and administrative ineptitude and carelessness with managing the parastatal. Load shedding has become so precarious that citizens are never certain when the next unpleasant experience will befall them. Bold decisions have to be taken to solve the energy crisis in the long term.

Government must revisit its reluctance to allow mining companies in Mpumalanga to generate their own electricity and pull out of the national grid. These companies, largely mining coal, have proposed this to government on numerous occasions over the past ten years. Much of the electricity in our country is consumed by the mining industry and related smelters. An option to get these companies to self-generate electricity would ensure that government is able to motivate other industries to expand and new ones to be founded in its quest for job creation. The lost revenue from the mining companies can be made up for through royalties and other taxes or simply by ensuring an expanding economy. At this rate, creating new jobs will remain a pipe dream. The ability to generate and deliver electricity is an important contribution towards job creation.

Eastern Cape DG rape case (people feeling beyond reproach)

The defense of the DG, Mr. Loyiso Mbabane, accused of raping a relative, emphasised a great deal how much of an asset he is to the provincial government and how in his absence it would degenerate into paralysis. Much of his defense, at least the reported version, failed to convince the Magistrate Merwin Meyer that it was in the interest of justice to release him on bail. A startling revelation made to the court by the investigating officer was that Mbabane had been visited by family members during his time behind bars whilst the bail hearing was to be conducted. Apparently, he admitted the allegations of repeated rape by the complainant. Furthermore, claims that he had attempted to bribe the complainant (by promising to take care of her and her brother for life) into dropping charges were also revealed. Clearly, this gives some indication that he felt he should be shielded from facing the music because of the economic status he enjoys within his family, given his R1.75 million job.

This incident once more confirms that people who know the victims carry out much of these alleged sordid incidents of rape, gender-based violence and murder. This tells us that our social relations are broken and people have an instinctive inclination to violence and brutality. Whilst we may dismiss these as minority occurrences, the reported and unreported rape cases tell a different picture of prevalence of this heinous crime. The murder statistics also reveal that over 17 000 people were murdered in the year 2013/14. An abnormality in a society under no systematic violence due to a nascent civil war or belligerent group. The continued invasion and violation of women bodies tell a lot about the manner in which men in our society view women. It is a great failure towards the constitutional vision of a non-sexist society. It needs urgent social intervention by government and all of us citizens if we are to reduce the social trauma and fear inflicted upon women.

The burning of property (social disconnect between leaders and citizens)

The events that led to the burning of a school in Malamulele and the Mayor’s house in Mohlakeng (Randfontein Local Municipality) are acts of terrorism. Loosely defined, terrorism is “the use of violence and threat to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes”. Of course, one may feel it is silly of me to suggest that we are in the infancy of terrorism in South Africa. Yet, if one looks at the history of a formation like Al-Shabaab, you will appreciate that it all started by raising genuine development grievances faced by the people of Somalia in the early 1990s. We have become so unmoved by the use of violence and intimidation by citizens to achieve political goals of ‘holding those in office accountable’.

Libraries, community halls, political party offices, schools etc have all gone up in smoke in many parts of the country over the last ten years. The leaders have continued to react indifferently and with great complacency to much of the violent public protests. We should be looking at interventions that take into account the psychological impact and evaluation of societies that practice such forms of violence. There should be more than just physical infrastructure delivered as a response to these actions. Something about our social psychology makes some amongst us not value public property like schools and libraries. In a normal society, it would be unthinkable to burn these valuable structures of knowledge and teaching. The social engineering project of our government has failed fundamentally in this regard. The social distance between leaders and citizens has potential to give further impetus to violence and intimidation as people ‘voice’ their grievances.

Curro school’s racism (when business takes over: the need to protect profits and a few)

The incident of race segregation in the Curro Roodeplaat Private School illuminates once more how business interests fuel racism. The headmaster, under pressure from a minority group of white parents (who are racists that are concerned about the school becoming too black), attempted to solve the issue by separating young innocent children according to race. This was an act of institutionalising racism and introducing young children to racism. The headmaster should have never entertained the demands of these parents. Instead, business interest to keep the parents as clients took over and suddenly our constitution as a country was suspended. The years of struggle and commitment to a non-racist South Africa were rejected by this practice.

South Africa has been confronted by many acts of racism in the past two years. It may be that these incidents represent a minority of people; however, they remind us that we have not gone far enough in addressing the issue of racism. Central to this is that we have not succeeded in doing redress, improving the economic status of black people, transforming people to embrace integration and coexistence of all races in South Africa. This failure generates much of the resistance to voluntarily transform organisations (corporate, schools and universities) that remain bastions of exclusion and racism.

The events cited above are not exhaustive, but they highlight how paralysed South Africa is, socially, politically and economically. If we continue to deny the existence of our problems as a society, we will slowly degenerate into a state of hopelessness and hit the bottom pit. When this happens we will wonder what happened – yet the signs have always been before us.

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