The fall of apartheid ushered in an era of democracy and a Constitution that is the envy of other nations. However, hundreds of years of oppression cannot be overcome in just 22 years of democracy. While the masses gained freedom from racial oppression, they’re still oppressed in many other ways in South Africa.
One of those is the staccato progress politicians and parties make in addressing things like crime and poverty in the country. Politicians aren’t exactly in a hurry to address the plight of the poor or they’d be out of a job.
But back to democracy. Everyone is able to access places and facilities that had racial restrictions before. This includes public transport, educational facilities and recreational areas among many others. South Africa’s struggle stalwarts fought long and hard for racial equality and for people of all races to move around freely. But the struggle didn’t stop there. It’s an ongoing battle and people are becoming frustrated.
Why, after being segregated, denied jobs and education for so long, should they still continue to wait for economic and educational opportunities? Why should they continue to wait for decent infrastructure? Surely they’d want to see better in their lifetime?
But the majority of people are still wallowing in poverty, unemployment is still a huge problem, the quality of primary and secondary education is poor and tertiary education remains inaccessible to everyone besides the privileged – unless, of course you were fortunate enough to receive a bursary.
Promises of change
In other words, there is only so much patience people can have while waiting for a better life. It doesn’t help that our political leaders are blinded by their own greed and selfishness. Corruption is one of the contributing factors to the present day oppression. Every election year political parties make promises of change, but what they end up doing for impoverished communities is only a dent on the surface, if anything at all. The ANC is not beyond trucking in food parcels to secure votes, but once they’ve been re-elected, those food trucks disappear very quickly.
It’s easy for the privileged to say that everyone needs to work for what they want. But let’s face it, they’ve never hard to work as hard as the person who was born into poverty. They’re also perpetuating the Just World fallacy, which is that people get what they deserve, including when bad things happens to them. It would be great if the corrupt, greedy, selfish and criminal-minded were the ones suffering, but we know they tend to maintain positions of power and privilege.
Most poor people aren’t poor because they are intrinsically bad or have done something to deserve it. They were denied opportunities in the past because they were born many shades too dark to benefit from the political system at the time. On the other hand, life was made easy for most white people under apartheid, so why shouldn’t poor people today demand better from their government?
It is important that South Africans continue to let their grievances be heard. It is the democratic right of every citizen to do so. However, we need to be smart about this. Destroying the facilities that provide essential services is counterproductive. Many people died so we could do business, access clinics, hospitals and universities without being discriminated against. Looting businesses, threatening journalists, assaulting community members for not joining your cause, torching train carriages, burning innocent people’s vehicles and damaging clinics is not the best way to spread the kind of message a peaceful protest can also achieve.
A legitimate call
This violent behaviour took place during the Tshwane protests. Similar thuggish behaviour was seen during the university protests, as well as in other service delivery protests across the country. This makes it hard for people to empathise with the plight of the protesters, though their concerns and demands may be legitimate. Students’ protesting for a reduction in university fees or free and affordable education is a legitimate call. So is fighting for transformation. But is it necessary to loot university cafeterias, torch shuttles, damage buildings and offices and intimidate staff?
The Department of Higher Education put the total amount of damages at universities across the country at R460m. The department contributed over R40m to some universities. Insurers paid out about R30m. The money being spent by government and universities to repair the damage could have gone to subsidies for those who cannot afford an education.
That money could have been put to better use and it would give a corrupt government far fewer ways to avoid responsibility. Imagine a sit in or protest outside the department of education, or heading to the offices of government officials directly and requesting better services. Hold the right people accountable first and they will find it that much harder to avoid taking your concerns seriously. We live in one of the most unequal countries in the world – usually competing for top spot – it is probably not wise for us to create more inequality by destroying crucial support systems.
Originally published here.