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There was no ticking time bomb waiting to go off in SA, as Desmond Tutu and many others have warned.
A more appropriate metaphor would be a cluster bomb, a series of explosions whose cumulative effect would be more destructive than that of a single bomb.
Waiting for a bomb to go off some time in future was lulling us into a false sense of security as a nation. We were like the proverbial crayfish in the pot: you don’t notice the water getting hotter and hotter until it’s boiling, and then it’s too late.
Well, the cluster bombs have been going off all over the place for some time now. Every violent protest, what we euphemistically call “service delivery” protests, represents one – and these protests have become almost a daily occurrence.
The Marikana massacre was |a huge, powerful bomb explosion. Its shock waves will no doubt trigger many other explosions.
It’s too late to put on the safety belts; we’re down to making sure the airbags really work.
It is hard to imagine circumstances that would suddenly defuse all these bombs raining on us. But at least we could apply our minds to ways to gradually minimise these explosions until there are no more.
There is no way we could eradicate poverty within a few months or years. We should urgently get on with it, but in the meantime we should focus on managing the anger and frustration as best we can.
It is worth noting that the huge reaction to Marikana was partly the large number of dead bodies, but also because we all saw what happened on television. This also applies to the anger after Andries Tatane was killed last year – if we didn’t see the killing on television, it would probably have passed with little attention.
The truth is we South Africans have become very blasé about people dying. We hardly took notice of the 10 people murdered at Marikana before the massacre. People die at the hands of police with regular intervals without much uproar. Vigilantes necklace suspected criminals, bystanders die in the crossfire of gang warfare, initiates die after botched circumcisions, there are regular political assassinations in KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and Mpumalanga without the nation getting very upset about it.
Violence has become almost synonymous with industrial action and trade union protests. We have forgotten that more than 50 people were killed during the 2006 security guard strike and we seem to be fine with the fact that no one was brought before a court because of it.
When the official opposition recently staged a protest march against Cosatu’s blocking of a youth wage subsidy, Cosatu attacked them violently.
It is one thing for angry, impoverished communities to become violent when protesting, it is quite another if a political institution like a trade union or the ANC Youth League perpetrate violence. The Youth League’s campaign to make Cape Town “ungovernable” is reckless and a disaster waiting to happen – they must know that the term comes from a very violent time in our recent past.
I hope that when ANC delegates meet in Mangaung in December to choose new leaders, they will keep in mind that this massive lack of leadership during a crucial time happened mostly under the rule of President Jacob Zuma.
We now need to gear ourselves to deal with increasing revolt in the weeks and months ahead.
The first priority should be to wipe out the culture of disregard for life and human rights in the police and to quickly and properly train them to deal with rowdy crowds.
The media should face the fact that they served public opinion very badly before and after the Marikana massacre – also about the causes and nature of the daily violent protests all over the country.
We should bring massive pressure on all three tiers of the government to clean up their act and spend every available cent on alleviating the plight of the poorest of the poor. The private sector should be made to feel the consequences of inhumane working conditions and poor wages.
But perhaps the best short-term move that could make a difference to the mood of the aggrieved, even if it is mostly symbolic, would be for Zuma’s government to do what President Joyce Banda of Malawi did after she came into power: announce a radical austerity campaign for her government.
Sell the presidential jets; downscale the limousines used by cabinet ministers, MECs and mayors; and stop spending millions on Nkandla and Zumaville. In the same week that we learnt Lonmin’s CEO earns R15 million a year, we were told that Zuma and his wives cost us more than R100m a year.
We need to urgently reassure the poor and unemployed that we care and that we are committed to make their lives better.