Insure your car, home and valuables with iWYZE
South Africa was sitting on a powder keg and could face very tragic consequences unless the government delivered on its promises to the poor, the country’s most senior Anglican bishop has warned.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Daily News, Bishop Ruben Phillip, never one to keep quiet in the face of injustice, spoke of the disillusionment with the ANC by those who fought against apartheid, the “uncontrollable greed” of those in leadership that was “almost deeply evil”, and the failure of the government to get even the basics right.
South Africa’s failure to address the fundamentals, such as poverty, education and health, he said, was leading to a restless and agitated citizenry.
“The feeling on the street is one of very deep anger and you don’t want an angry people for too long,” he said from his Greyville, Durban, offices.
“It’s my deepest prayer for this country.”
Phillip – who as a young student priest in the late 1960s, was at the forefront in the fight against apartheid as a leader in the newly formed South African Students’ Organisation – has found the need to speak up again after the recent Marikana mine massacre in which 34 striking miners were killed by police.
“We have to get down to the root of what has happened, and increasingly people are saying that the reports we are getting don’t reflect what actually went on in this confrontation between the police and the miners,” Phillip said.
But there were bigger lessons to be learnt, he said.
“Unless the politicians and businessmen address the imbalance in the economy, we are going to see many more Marikanas coming up. Not just in the mines, but in the informal sectors as well.
“I think we are sitting on a powder keg situation and we need to address that.”
Phillip said that unless the government delivered on its promises to the poor, the country “could end up with a scenario that would be very tragic for all of us”.
While the government, mine bosses and the unions try to reach an agreement that will end the three-week-old strike at the Lonmin mine, he has urged politicians such as expelled ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema not to use the crisis to score cheap political points.
Phillip, recently named dean of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, making him the most senior bishop in the country, said it was up to the voices outside government to start speaking up, adding that civil society and the church needed to play a greater role and become agents of change.
“It saddens me to say this, that on its own, government is not going to change the situation. There has to be this pressure on political leadership to deliver.”
Politicians needed to understand that they were first and foremost servants, he said.
“They are called to serve, not to enrich themselves. Parliament, while it is a democratically elected institution, has not delivered as it should have.
“Again, it is up to civil society to apply pressure on Parliament and call it to account.”
Phillip said poverty, education and health were the biggest challenges facing South Africa.
“In fact, we will measure the success of this democracy not by having a Sandton in Johannesburg or the Albert Luthuli ICC or any of the other grand buildings, but by when the poorest of the poor of our society benefit. And if they are not beneficiaries of our democracy, there is actually nothing to celebrate.”
Eighteen years into democracy, Phillip said, it was a shame the government couldn’t get the basics right sometimes, such as delivering books to schools in Limpopo.
“The tragedy is that it did not just happen there, it happened everywhere – even in this province. It is a shocking state of affairs and if we are not going to educate these kids then we face a very bleak future.”
For many like Phillip, who had fought against apartheid – his work with Steve Biko, Barney Pityana and others in drawing up the Black Consciousness Movement manifesto earned him three years of house arrest – the ANC had not, since it came to power, lived up to the ideals and aspirations of the majority of South Africans.
“There are many people, friends who had fought the apartheid system, that have become deeply disillusioned with the ruling party,” he said.
“I feel very angry that the country finds itself in this state. The more I analyse it the more I come back to this uncontrollable greed in the hearts of those in leadership. It is about enriching themselves at the expense of decency and democracy,” Phillip said.
* On Saturday, Phillip will add another award to the many he has received when he accepts an eThekwini Living Legend award at the ICC.