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South Africa is on the brink

For the first time, people appear afraid for the future.

Tuesday 20 July 2021, by siawi3


South Africa is on the brink

For the first time, people appear afraid for the future

BY Brian Pottinger

Image: South Africans are more scared than they’ve been for years. Credit: James Oatway/Getty Images

July 15, 2021

The province of my birth is burning. Looters, using the excuse of the incarceration of former President Jacob Zuma, have laid an unimpeded trail of violence, arson, assault and damage across KwaZulu Natal, traditional home of the Zulu people.

Armed volunteers mount barricades at the entrances to my village while youngsters on trail bikes scout through the perimeter cane fields. There is no available food or fuel and the chat groups buzz with an incessant flood of posts about destroyed buildings, burnt cars and roaming mobs. The State is entirely absent.

For the first time, ordinary South Africans, bomb-proofed through decades of tumult, appear afraid for the future.

The democracy bought into existence 27 years ago after a negotiated truce between armed contestants, only some of whom were white, is facing its biggest challenge. Now it is not only the disgraced Zuma that is in the dock. It is also the current President, Cyril Ramaphosa.

The immediate spark for the conflagration was when, on 29 June this year, former President Jacob Zuma was ordered to serve 15 months in prison for refusing to appear before the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture — ironically a commission appointed by Zuma himself to investigate allegations of widespread corruption.

The response from political and even criminal forces, some of their leaders once office-bearers in the ruling African National Congress, was swift. They have mustered under the banner of something called Radical Economic Transformation which translates in method to the violent appropriation of wealth and in consequence to utter desolation. It is a more ambitious form of looting than the one currently on our television screens.

The incumbent, President Cyril Ramaphosa, was widely hailed on his election as leader of the African National Congress in 2017 as the saviour of the nation, a Mr Fix It Extraordinary with a luminary history in the trade unions, business and the negotiations that led to political emancipation. His promises of a New Dawn struck a resonance with a public desperately tired of the collapse in public morality and the accelerating race towards a failed state. Tragically, it has thus far proven a false dawn. The public anger is now palpable and dangerous.

I knew Cyril Ramaphosa when he was Chairman of the publishing company in which I was Editor and later Publisher of the South African Sunday Times, then the largest circulation newspaper in the country. I believe him to be an honourable and decent man, but not an effective one. He showed an almost obsessive desire to avoid confrontation, a preference for working through third parties and, later, a fierce aversion to taking tough decisions if it would affect party unity. More than once he privately confessed that he was a master at dancing on eggshells.

The hard decisions, like weeding out the criminals in his party, were outsourced to the Courts, the Commission of Inquiry into State Capture, the media or political hitmen in his own party. Thus, he retained a serene, surreal aloofness amid the growing signs of chaos, division and policy-failure around him, restricting himself largely to sepulchral public utterances on safe-zone topics like gender-based violence, Smart Cities, Covid-19 and platitudinous statements of good intent. This rule-by-remote has born a bitter fruit.

Shortly after my appointment as Editor of the Sunday Times in 1996, I made a point of engaging the newly-elected ministers in the ANC Government. Invariably I was asked what I perceived to be the greatest challenges facing the infant government. Always I replied: the loss of the nation’s precious skills and investment resources. The caution was obviously lost in the translation.

Under the guise of redistributive economic programmes, the ANC ushered in the policy of Black Economic Empowerment. Whatever its good intentions, it turned into a one-way flow of money extorted with state sanction from private or public purses into the hands of a monstrously avaricious new elite. The proceeds were instantly monetised and consumed in a style that would put a Byzantine court to shame. This has not gone unnoticed by the people burning the malls today.

To gain control of the state, the ANC followed a policy of “cadre deployment” of party faithful to occupy every level of government. Unable to even manage its own party affairs, they had no hope of managing a modern state. Everywhere there was dysfunction, collapse and corruption, the burden again borne most heavily by the poor. Across the spectrum, the internal party factionalism was replicated by the “deployees” in the State Departments.

The amounts stolen in the so-called State Capture project is dwarfed by the loss of wealth, tax, opportunity and confidence caused by the twin policies of black empowerment and cadre deployment, the core enablers of State Capture. Yet a generation after political emancipation, President Ramaphosa still refuses to renounce or even modify either policy. That has been his first great lost opportunity.

The second was not to appeal over the heads of his own party to the country for support for a genuinely reformist programme when elected in 2017. Granted, his election as leader of the ANC was a near-run thing and to this day there persists the claims by his opponents that he bribed his way to victory in the party’s elective conference.

Others suggested that he needed time to win over his suspicious caucus, many members with bank accounts that could hardly bear forensic scrutiny; more time to dance on eggshells. Perhaps, but the delay has proved mortally damaging to the nation

The Commission of Inquiry into State Capture under Deputy Judge President Raymond Zondo has ploughed its way through thousands of hours of testimony in its 38-month existence, minutely confirming the media’s decade-long reporting about how bad things really were during the Zuma years. If this was intended to placate the public, it did not.

The endless delays in commencing criminal procedures because of the devastation of the criminal justice system by a toxic combination of “cadre deployment” and criminal intent, further eroded confidence. Thirty or so good investigators, auditors and prosecutors with support staff, immediately hired from the private sector or from abroad, would have done what the Zondo Commission could not do: put the culprits in prison quickly and at a fraction of the cost… but that would have required a hard decision from President Ramaphosa.

Enthralled by the Soprano-style tale of warring ANC factions daily playing out in the Zondo Commission, the public easily forgot to ask the big question: how well was President Ramaphosa governing?

The answer: badly, very badly.

He has failed to repudiate any of his predecessors disastrous policies: seizure of land without compensation; the Government’s land redistribution policy which has seen productivity of transferred land fall by 87%; the free tertiary education policy which has turned once great universities into day-care centres for uneducated young people; the highly restrictive labour policies or the huge state social welfare and public service bills. All of this compounded by a mismanaged and inappropriate State response to the various recent coronavirus outbreaks. Serial lockdowns have massively affected employment and driven urban and rural poverty, particularly in KwaZulu-Natal.

The consequence has been stuttering economic growth and the highest youth unemployment rate in the country’s history, many of the unemployed now playing cameo roles on our television screens as the malls burn. No society can or will endure such casually-inflicted pain.

But perhaps the worst consequence of Ramaphosa’s rule-by-remote, and expulsion-by-commission, has been the creation of space for his opponents to mobilise, mainly in their heartland, the province of KwaZulu Natal, from whence Jacob Zuma and many supporters hail, where his main ethnic power base lies (although by no means do all Zulus support Zuma) and where my family has lived for five generations. Throw in legions of unemployed and one has a volatile mix.

The violence has completely overwhelmed an already incompetent police force: there have even been instances of local communities supporting recently arrived reinforcements with food and munitions because they arrived so unprepared.

For years the ANC-controlled province, often cruelly dubbed the Sicily of South Africa, has been the site of growing insurrectionary activity: hijacking of transport on main routes, seizure of schools and universities, xenophobic outbreaks, sabotage of municipal infrastructure, mafia-style blackmailing of construction companies, violent factional wars by ANC claimants to office, and wholesale corruption in public affairs (even as Zuma was entering incarceration, the pro-Zuma mayor of the province’s largest city was facing charges of corruption, along with 16 councillors). The perpetrators have acted with impunity and a growing boldness presaging today’s crisis.

All of this has been compounded by a hiatus of authority in the Zulu Royal Family, traditionally a source of stability in the province’s rural areas, albeit a prickly one. The recent death of King Goodwill Zwelithini has brought a disputed succession and a fracturing of loyalties.

In short, the province is destabilised and trapped in a classic first phase of revolution, driven by what appears to be a determined yet still shadowy alliance of usurped politicians and opportunistic criminals. In the frame right now for being the instigators are renegade former — and possibly current — elements of the State Security Agency, which during Zuma’s years became a virtual in-house close protection unit to serve his personal and nefarious interests. Army and police loyalties are still unclear.

President Ramaphosa’s response to all this growing chaos through the months has been a Herculean detachment, punctuated by a few anodyne homilies, not unlike his unctuous and comfortless national television address on Monday night.

The insurrection will no doubt be suppressed, my province will return to its fraught peace but the damage to South Africa and the country will be lasting. This province, certainly, will never forgive President Ramaphosa for sacrificing it on the altar of his own weakness and unpreparedness.

And the bigger question will remain: will the Dancer on Eggshells see the latest outbreak of insurrectionary and criminal violence as a reason for another instinctive compromise? Or will he see it as an invocation to move forward with a bold programme of renewal which must inevitably include splitting his party, dumping many of its discredited and failed policies, and taking all necessary measures to return the country to stability. Those are essential precondition for progress. It is not looking hopeful.

Brian Pottinger is an author and former Editor and Publisher of the South African Sunday Times. He lives on the KwaZulu North Coast.



Photo: Woman carries looted goods Gold Spot Shopping Centre Vosloorus A woman carries looted goods ouside the Gold Spot Shopping Centre in Vosloorus, southeast of Johannesburg, on July 12, 2021. – South Africa said it was deploying troops to two provinces, including Johannesburg, after unrest sparked by the jailing of ex-president Jacob Zuma led to six deaths and widespread looting. Overwhelmed police are facing mobs who have ransacked stores. Six people have died, some with gunshot wounds, and 219 people have been arrested, according to a police tally issued before the army deployed. (Photo by GUILLEM SARTORIO / AFP)

Food riots show the need for a basic income grant

Originally published: New Frame

by Anna Majavu

July 13, 2021 ) |- Posted Jul 15, 2021

The government must immediately institute a basic income grant as an emergency measure if it wants to stop food riots from taking hold permanently, say activists.

With the expanded unemployment rate at 43.2%, its highest level ever, it would be foolish to label everyone who participated in the “Free Zuma” protests and took food from major supermarkets as “irrational and criminal”, says Mervyn Abrahams, programme director of the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity group.

These protests are driven by economic issues, not so much the political issue of freeing Jacob Zuma. What was required was a flame and the Free Zuma campaign was that. These protests are not even isolated to food but have provided a cover for people who feel excluded economically to just come and take over,” Abrahams says.

People cannot wait any longer. They are in the midst of absolute poverty. People are hungry and we have to meet the hunger needs now. It calls for an immediate emergency intervention and then long-term systemic change.

The government discussed a basic income grant in 2002 but put it on hold. It is seen by the unions, social movements and public-interest law centres in the #PayTheGrants coalition as one of the best available tools to reduce poverty quickly.

The Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity group said it could be fixed at the food poverty line of R585 an adult a month or at the upper-bound poverty line, which is currently R1 268 an adult a month.

Devastating levels of hunger

The group also predicted last month that high food prices and low levels of jobs could lead to social disorder with protesters losing restraint and potentially curbing the movement of goods and public services on highways.

Ten days later, protesters set fire to dozens of trucks in KwaZulu-Natal and closed both the N2 and N3 highway in places.

In this situation, the right of a hungry child and her hungrier mother to exist, to survive and to eat will become far more important than any right to private property,” Abrahams says.

Protests surged and took on the radically new dimension of riots, however, on July 11 and 12. The government announced on July 12 that it would deploy the army to stop the riots. But with 11.4 million people of working age currently unemployed, the minimum wage rising by only 4.5% in April 2021, and food, transport and electricity prices increasing by between seven and 15%, millions of people can no longer survive, says Abrahams. He says containing dissent is not a long-term solution.

To negotiate an end to the food riots, the government could also immediately reinstate and increase the COVID-19 social relief of distress (SRD) grant of R350 a month, which it terminated in April 2021, and top up the child support and old age grants as it did during the first wave, says Abrahams.

We must not do what we always do and that is go ‘back to normal’, because it is the abnormality of our situation that gave rise to this. After an emergency intervention, we need to set up an economy that will allow everyone to feel they are included, and a basic income guarantee would be one of the instruments of this.

Speaking at a “Pay the Grants” mass assembly held to call for a basic income grant on 11 July, Wanga Zembe-Mkabile, specialist scientist at the Medical Research Council, said the grant was urgently needed to minimise the high levels of poverty and inequality now causing devastating levels of “hunger, hopelessness, depression and despondency”.

Child hunger has remained high despite the child support grant and we know this is partly explained by the fact that the child support grant itself is not pegged to any objective measure of need, so the amount … is still small,” she said, adding that the child support grant is also diluted because it is often the only source of income in a home.

The SRD grant represented hope. It made people feel seen and recognised by the state, and addressed some of the psychological impacts that crop up when there is no provision for an entire segment of the population, such as the unemployed,” Zembe-Mkabile said.

The discontinuation of the grant, small and inadequate as it was, means a return to that hopelessness and invisibility. There’s a full expectation that if this continues, the levels of food insecurity and hunger we are seeing will only get much worse than they already are.

Pushed past their limits

Socialist activist Alfred Moyo, the Gauteng coordinator for the Fight Inequality Alliance and a resident of Makause shack settlement in Primrose, says the latest lockdown pushed impoverished people past their limits.

Millions of poor communities cannot afford to be pushed back into further lockdowns, which are imposed by [those] above, without consideration of realities on the ground. We cannot eat any further lockdowns. People are hungry now. People are angry now,” Moyo says.

Unemployed Peoples’ Movement spokesperson Ayanda Kota says his organisation also backs the basic income grant. But he points out that it is not feasible for social movements “who are struggling for emancipatory politics to support struggles that are organised on tribalist, male chauvinist and ethnic bases, everything that we are opposed to as people that are struggling for emancipatory politics”.

The reality of the matter is that people are hungry and are using this opportunity [the Free Zuma protests] to demonstrate the level of hunger in this country. Our call should be to intensify the demand for the government to implement the basic income grant because the Radical Economic Transformations, the Edward Zumas, don’t stand with the people on a principled basis. Their aim is only to dethrone the current regime so they can take over to do the same–loot, Kota says.

In the wake of the riots, affected provinces such as KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng could face a week-long bottleneck in which food will not be as readily available in supermarkets. But street traders have mainly not been harmed by protesters, who focused on major supermarkets, so they will likely see an increase in the number of customers coming to them to buy food, Abrahams says.


Mainstream, VOL LIX No 31, New Delhi, July 17, 2021

South Africa: KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng are burning - We need to build a just peace - Abahlali baseMjondolo

Friday 16 July 2021

South African military has been deployed on a large scale (25 thousand troops) as the former President Jacob Zuma was jailed towards the end of the first week of July 2021 and unrest and looting spread in various towns. Zuma who was President till 2018, faces charges of fraud, racketeering and money laundering in multiple cases and one the most prominent cases involves the three Gupta Brothers from Delhi who ran a business empire that indulged in state capture

South Africa: KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng are burning - We need to build a just peace

by Abahlali baseMjondolo
[shack dwellers’ movement ]

July 13, 2021

Abahlali baseMjondolo has always warned that the anger of the poor can go in many directions. We have warned again and again that we are sitting on a ticking time bomb.

We have warned for too long that people cannot continue to live in terrible poverty only to be ignored year after year. We have made it clear that people will not allow their humanity to be vandalised forever. For too long we have been explaining that we are ruled with violence and that the public often accept this by their silence.

The state has brought us violence each time we protest peacefully. When we deliver a memorandum, it will be thrown in the bin. Each time we engage the authorities in good faith only to be lied to and deceived. Each time when some sort of services or jobs are provided they are only given to members of the ruling party.

Our homes have been repeatedly destroyed with violence, in some cases more that 30 times. Municipalities like eThekwini have been ignoring court orders. Shack dwellers have been treated as if we are beneath the law. In all this, lies are put before the truth, promises made are broken, profit is put before people’s needs and the commercial value of land continues to be put before its social value.

The riots that have been happening have nothing to do with Zuma. Poverty and hunger were a bomb and the break down in order caused by Zuma’s people lit the fuse. Everywhere people who started taking food from the shops said that they are starving and have nothing to do with Zuma and are not doing anything for him. Migrants were also taking food. Everyone who lives in South Africa was taking food because the issue was hunger and poverty.

Many people were hungry before Covid. Now they have been starving since March last year. Many lost jobs and those few who were getting the R350 grant which was making a difference to their lives have lost it. More than 74% of the youth are unemployed.

The elites have always ignored the poor. They do not see us. When the riots happened suddenly the poor were before their eyes.

But the poor will remain poor after the riots. In fact, our lives will probably be much worse. If you ask people what they will eat after the riots are finished they say that they are hungry now. They will say that hunger is more deadly than Covid. If you ask them about the people who will lose their jobs they say what about our children who graduated but have no jobs? People are only looking at the present, and not the future. This is because they do not feel that they have a future.

Many people are afraid that there will be no more food to buy and that when all the food taken in the riots is finished an even bigger hunger is coming. People are worried that unemployment will get worse. Others are afraid that there will be fires in the shacks because some people are drinking so much looted alcohol. Many Zimbabweans are saying that this reminds them of how the collapse started in Zimbabwe and now that things are so bad it is better for them to go home.

Hunger has turned some people into evil hearts in such a way that they can no longer even consider another person. Tavern owners are angry that they are still paying rent for their shops but they are closed while restaurants are open. There are people who are pushing the agenda of the Zuma faction in the chaos. People are saying that it was ordinary hungry people who took the food, but that it is Zuma’s people who are burning the factories, warehouses, malls and infrastructure. What will happen to people’s jobs now that factories and other places of work are being burnt? That is not a revolution. It is destruction that will leave the poor poorer.

In the beginning all kinds of poor people were taking food. Now under the surface the xenophobic and ethnic murmurs are starting. Xenophobia and tribalism are coming. Some people are worried that there will be a tribalistic war between Africans and Indians. Local ANC structures are encouraging divisions, often using social media.

It cannot be normal to have more than 42% of the country’s population unemployed. It cannot be normal to have such a high level of state corruption. It cannot be normal to have the poor ruled with so much violence from the state and the ruling party.

In October 2020 our movement took to the streets with nearly 5 000 people in protest against state corruption. We marched against violent and unlawful evictions that have become normal in our communities, and of course we marched against violence on minority groups and women. Nobody took us seriously. Even today the office of the Premier of KwaZulu-Natal pretended as if he was doing something about it only to create the fatal ground for what we see today.

The government is useless. Zuma and Ramaphosa both failed the poor. The government has failed to bring food and peace. The state teaches the people violence and not discussion and negotiation. Corruption continues. People are very angry about Zweli Mkhize who was stealing from us while we were not able to work and going to sleep hungry. Sihle Zikalala has not come out clearly to say what needs to be said by a real leader. He is a big part of the problem. People were very angry after the President’s speech on Monday. He said nothing about the R350 grant, unemployment or hunger. He said nothing about the fact that even our educated children sit at home and do nothing, or that we no longer have money to send our children to school because all the money that we can find must be used to buy food. He said nothing about the fact that the politicians and their families have been eating while we starve.

We fear that the economic situation will become like Zimbabwe, and that when the worms have finished eating the carcass they will eat each other.

The country is a mess and there is lack of leadership. On the first day it was young people taking food. Now it is old people too. Ramaphosa should understand that when mothers and fathers are going out to loot the situation in the country is hopeless and that the government has failed. He should understand that while there has been criminality the riots were the result of starvation. We need food, we need money and we need to be left alone on our land but instead Ramaphosa is sending us soldiers. Deploying the army is very risky as it could escalate the situation which could mean more death. Government cannot just address people through the television screens and think everything will be ok. People who say that they are leaders should be on the ground, with the people, in this crisis.

It is high time that the ANC takes responsibility for this crisis. The level of arrogance that we have witnessed in the past needs to come to an end. It is time that they swallow their pride if they really care about this beautiful country. They need to able to put the people of South Africa first unlike Zandile Gumede who told the media that the ANC comes before South Africans.

We note that when an ANC faction instructs people to loot there are no police, no helicopters and no water cannons. But when we have a peaceful rally or a march, or build a home. there are all kinds of police resources in place.

The situation is tense and our members are very worried. A process of carefully listening towards the feelings and views of our members has shown that they say that for too long, they have been ignored as if they do not exist in this country. They say that for too long they have lived without employment and in deep poverty. They say that they have not had food for their families while politicians loot the state and enrich themselves. They say that the Covid-19 lock down hit us very hard but the state has stopped the Covid-19 grant despite taking the country back to alert level 4.

Our position, based on these listenings, is as follows:

1. Zuma and Ramaphosa have both failed the poor.
2. The riots are a result of starvation and not support for Zuma.
3. We remain committed to the Constitution because the law gives us some protection from the political gangsters in the ANC. Without the law repression would be much worse. We would just be ruled by violence. Therefore, the Constitution must be defended at all costs.
4. The Covid grant needs to be immediately reinstated and increased and all unemployed people must get a grant. Nobody can be without an income.
5. Food parcels need to be made available in all communities. They need to be given directly to hungry people and not to councillors who are mostly corrupt and in support of Zuma.
6. There must be a rapid release of land for housing and community farming and an end to evictions.
7. Urban farming cooperatives must be supported with seeds, fertilizer, tools and land.
8. There needs to be a serious programme of job creation.
9. If Zikalala can’t come out with a clear statement in support of the people he must be removed from office. He needs to immediately call for calm in the province, provide clear leadership and assure the safety of the people. All he does is give statistics of the fatalities and the extent of damage.
10. We all need to call for calm and peace, and to work for calm and peace.
11. All forms of xenophobia and tribalism must be opposed.
12. There need to be dialogues in each city and province, and nationally, on how to build peace and justice. This must include all membership-based grassroots formations to pave the way towards an inclusive future for South Africa. These dialogues can begin the process of forming solidarity councils in each city.

We repeat that people are not interested in Zuma’s arrest. It is the fact that they have been unemployed and hungry for too long that has created this crisis.

Our movement has been very clear in all our actions and popular education that ubuhlalism and the living politic are central to the course of our struggle. We spend so much of time educating our members about ubuntu and that umuntu ungumuntu ngabantu. With these teachings and emphasis, we want to reflect the kind of society we are advocating for. This is the most important part of the work we do before we actually engage on our living conditions and struggles for land, housing and dignity. Here we argue that unless we are responsible human beings with love their country and fellow humanity, we will not win the battle of justice and equality.

In the past we have stood victorious against many forms of violence organised by reckless politicians through xenophobia and ethnicity. We have built strong values of ubuntu and maintain high discipline in the mist of these challenges of state violence, poverty, unemployment and inequality.

Our members say that if Abahlali baseMjondolo was in charge we would be swimming together in the red sea.

Ungovernability will leave us poorer and more divided. The government of the ANC has failed. We need a new form of democratic government, a government of the people organised from below, to rebuild our society.

We will do all we can to bring peace, and to build a just peace.

Join us or work with us as we work towards a world in which each person counts as a person, a world in which the dignity of every human being is respected.


S’bu Zikode 083 547 0474
Mqapheli Bonono 073 067 32 74
Nomsa Sizani 081 005 3686