The period between 9-17 July 2021 was a terrifying and sad moment for the rainbow nation. The claim that SA is a rainbow nation was put to test. The arrest of former President Jacob Zuma fueled looting and burning of malls in Kwazulu Natal and Gauteng provinces. While some sections believe that the arrest of Zuma is what triggered the unrest, I contend to the fact that the arrest just provided a eureka moment for the people to air out their frustration. Frustration over high levels of poverty, deep-rooted inequality levels and the racial problems that have always haunted post-apartheid South Africa. It should be agreed that poverty is the underlining parent of the July unrest. While the unrest might have been quelled, truth be told the arrest of the protest is just temporary and not sustainable only until key fundamental issues are addressed. It is astounding to note that South Africans are used to ‘moving on’ , we are used to the mess and dysfunction. While others argue that we need to rebuild South Africa I am left wondering on why we are quick to talk of rebuilding without addressing the fundamental root causes of this. The options that the country has after July unrest demands bold and persistent experimentations from the top leadership.
As we investigate the options after the unrest, I contend that that country as its first option, needs a structural overhaul that addresses the very foundations that anchors the country’s development. Issues that deal in decisively dealing with the well being of South Africans are key in the rebirth of a just and fair South Africa. The elephant in room which is the land question is one of the key fundamentals that needs to be addressed. The continued debates or talk shows on land are no longer sustainable. Tangible action is needed to address the unfair distribution of land in South Africa and make sure black South Africans do get their portion of the land and be made productive. Land redistribution should also come with technical assistance and agricultural financing to help black farmers. While countries like Zimbabwe might have addressed the land issue not in a manner that is “desirable” the truth of the matter is the land is in the hands of its rightful owners and it is clear that the government managed to deliver on one of the liberation struggles aims which was land to the people. South Africa is yet to deliver on the Freedom Charter’s goal on equitable sharing of the land. In South Africa the country is yet to achieve that. The ANC government needs to take the matter with the seriousness it deserves before grassroots agency is activated again which will lead to most blacks taking the matter into their own hands. Secondly the next option would be for the government to address the deep-rooted levels of inequality in the country. The levels of racial inequality in South Africa are much more pronounced. The gap between those who have and those who do not have is high. Worse with the Covid19 wreaking havoc in many black settlements in South Africa which constitute the majority of those poor. The SASSA relief grants that what these black communities are getting is not enough to sustain their families. The grants are just a way of rationalizing the obscene into the palatable. IT WILL NOT WORK!
A sustainable solution which reduces this racial inequality gap is seriously needed and the approach needs to be bottom up. The ANC government is proving not to have the incentive or appetite to see the marginalized groups of people truly prospering and being at par with those who have. The inadequate grants are a sign on how the ANC seeks to prey on poverty. What is not clear to the government is that the events of July proved that the more people remain poor relying on measly handouts and donations for survival the more they become dangerous to the system. Poverty and inequality will remain South Africa’s ticking time bomb unless government addresses the racial unequal forces bedeviling the country. To rebuild the option is for the government to stop addressing the symptoms and attend to the fundamentals. The unrest that happened brought to light how the black poor people have been experiencing structurally induced economic shocks . It is prudent that government moving forward needs to genuinely assist the poor through changing the structural forces which have for years shaped their suffering. It is my humble opinion that if these are not addressed no amount of government cushions in the form of food hampers and R350 grants will stop the citizen from demanding a fair, equal, and just South Africa.
Nyasha Mcbride Mpani is a researcher, based at the University of Capetown. He writes in his personal capacity.