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State has failed to deliver on democracy dividend

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By Kim Heller

Some stories end badly.

The presence of troops in the townships of South Africa is a grave sign of a government in the death throes of political legitimacy. Once upon a time, the ANC was a liberation movement, in a noble fight for the rights and liberation of black South Africans.

Today, the show-and-tell of ANC rule is of a governing party battling to deliver basic services, protection and security to its people, never mind rights and liberation.

With joblessness, poverty, hunger and a lack of quality land still the daily bread for most black South Africans, the fight for social and economic justice and liberation is a battle lost.

The broken promise of the Rainbow Nation, with its deep hollow of false hope, has, in truth, instigated much of the current social unrest. No legitimate investigative journalism, or presidential panel set up to probe the recent unrest should find otherwise.

Hope is a poor man’s gold – it is a valueless commodity in the face of daily hunger, despair and indignity. The government has failed to protect the black majority from the ominous omnipresence, in current day South Africa, of apartheid and colonial engineered social and economic ills. It is inevitable that the slow burner of exhausted promises and fanciful faith would inflame the wretch of desperation and discontent in South Africa.

We should not be shocked that the latest Afrobarometer survey found that South Africans’ trust in government and key state institutions is at its lowest since 2006. The survey, carried out just before the July national unrest, found that only 38% of South Africans trust the president, 49% the army and just 26% the police.

The politics of hope is a spent force. With the national mood transitioning from hope to hopelessness, South Africa may well see a return to the politics of fear as the ruling party fights to snuff out the growing cloud of discontent and dissent.

In his opening statement at the Rivonia Trial in 1964, Nelson Mandela, accused of sabotage, said “the government which uses force to support its rule teaches the oppressed to use force to oppose it”.

Perhaps we should simply dismiss this keen observation of Mandela – after all, was he not a chief instigator in the insurrection against apartheid?

The current Ramaphosa administration, reminiscent of the apartheid regime, is desperately searching for instigators of the recent political turbulence. Ramaphosa was quick to describe the recent wave of unrest in South Africa as an “orchestrated campaign of public violence, destruction and sabotage.”

When a government has lost legitimacy, it searches for, and even creates instigators and scapegoats, rather than looking at its own internal failings or systemic problems. At the Rivonia Trial, Mandela, “the instigator’’ describes the fight against poverty and the lack of human dignity.

He said: “We do not need communists or so-called agitators to teach us about these things. Our fight is against real and not imaginary, hardships. The whites enjoy what may be the highest standard of living in the world, whilst Africans live in poverty and misery.” Mandela could well have been speaking about contemporary South Africa.

Today, as it was back in 1964, the dire material conditions of black South Africans are the true enemies of democracy, human rights, and national stability. On Wednesday, at an EFF press conference, Julius Malema said: “We want to caution the current government that rising levels of unemployment will worsen crime levels and will lead to social instability and violent uprising that no army or police force can contain.”

The Institute of Race Relations points to the fact that incidents of social unrest have risen by more than 400% over the past 10 years.

A government that rules through fear can arrest a million men and women but, in the end, it will not win against the legitimate grievances of its citizens. The brazen brutality of security forces does not signal a government’s strength but rather its weakness.

The recent home invasions by the security forces are a clear transgression of the Constitution and other post-1994 legislation. The South African Constitution (Chapter 11 section 198), states that: “National security must reflect the resolve of South Africans, as individuals and as a nation, to live as equals, to live in peace and harmony, to be free from fear and want and to seek a better life.”

The White Paper on Defence (1996) elaborates further on this principle. Security is envisaged as “an all-encompassing condition in which individual citizens live in freedom, peace and safety; participate fully in the process of governance; enjoy the protection of fundamental rights; have access to resources and the basic necessities of life; and inhabit an environment which is not detrimental to their health and well-being”.

Beautiful words indeed. But far from reality for most South Africans.

Ramaphosa recently told the Zondo Commission that he had taken state security under his wing to re-purpose and align it. But with the state in a state of insecurity and paranoia, the noble principles of freedom from want and fear may be reduced to the graffiti of a yesteryear lost liberation. For now, it looks like the New Dawn may well be a tomorrow of Fire and Fury.

*Heller is a writer and political analyst

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.