Donations, good hearts, crocodile tears will not dent SA's economic structural issues
PRETORIA – In a candid conversation with friends about two weeks ago about the crisis that Covid-19 has created, I made what may be construed as insensitive or uncaring comments about giving food parcels to people, needy or not.
My question was and is: Why should one be spending his or her meagre resources by giving money or food to those who are purportedly in for a situation that the likes of Big Business, individuals and others seem to be optimally exploiting?
First and foremost, the conduct of large business has generally been suspect ever since the Covid-19 pandemic reached South Africa in early March. They have successfully used pledges to pull wool over the eyes of the public by pretending to care. Many of these businesses extract billions from the country in profits and studious government support. Yet they have generally been reluctant citizens not just during this problematic period but in the past as well.
They have previously pledged in labour and investment summits as well as on land reform but none of that money has really been delivered to help implement the relevant programmes. Companies use the dirty game of pledges to gain currency and to position themselves for large government contracts, and nothing more. President Cyril Ramaphosa’s comment in 2018 that SA’s entrepreneurs “need to be treated like heroes” is increasingly worrisome. Big business is not what it promises to be. Companies have not only dismissed people during lockdown but they have increased food prices by as much as 19 percent for some items.
Equally, individuals seem to view the coronavirus as an opportunity for making money and to steal. In places such as KZN and Eastern Cape there are reports that money and food parcels have disappeared. Just last week, business organizations were already tussling over the R20 billlion health budget set aside to assist the country cope with the pandemic. It is not a joke to suggest that Covid-19 has deteriorated into an organized scramble for riches, while people wait for help.
The pictures of long lines of people in Centurion waiting to be fed indicate a sad state of affairs. But this was predictable since day one of lockdown. When lockdown was introduced already scores of people were struggling to make ends meet in an economy that has effectively been in the toilet for about two decades to date. Acting social development MEC in Gauteng Panyaza Lesufi is alleged to have written on his Facebook page, “If we don’t fast track the R350 grant urgently there will be a revolution sooner than we thought.” He is also to have said the situation is becoming rather too difficult handle.
Now turning to donations. Indian activist Arhundati Roy coined the phrase ‘NGO-ization of resistance’ to denote a glut of NGOs (and individuals or private organizations) in providing aid to the poor. Roy admits that there are NGOs doing valuable work but may of them are for nefarious reasons and suggests that they are “are filling the vacuum created by a retreating state.” For her, the NGOs “alter the public psyche... [and also] turn people into dependent victims and blunt the edges of political resistance.” It is exactly from this viewpoint that I oppose donations of any kind to people.
In my view, these interventions that people give to the supposedly create an illusion in people's minds that all is well. In truth, people need to feel gripping hunger for them to stand up to whatever nonsense or challenge that is thrown at them every day. People have minds and able bodies to fight their wars. If they feel that they are hard done by the current events which makes them hungry, poor and unemployed, surely they have all the rights and means at their disposal to make sure that their voices are ahead. The airwaves are currently dominated by liberals and their sucking attitudes: they want to smoke, jog and drink while the house burns.
If individuals, especially those from the middle classes, engage in the NGO-ization of resistance and continue to act as if all normal they probably don’t understand what they are getting themselves into. These people think it is an Instagram challenge to see who has more colorful crocodile tears. They somehow pretend that they will always fill the gap when there is a crisis. In truth, they are not helping the situation. People will never stand up to face oppression and abuse if good Samaritans keep on paper coating cracks on the wall.
This is not being insensitive but at some point reality must hit home for everyone in South Africa. For example, how long do people want to be Mother Theresas in a situation they did not create? Does anyone of them know when these problems will end? Probably none of them has answers to these questions.
What is desirable at this point is that even the pockets of these supposed good Samaritans (fake middle classes) must also dry up soon. This country needs to undergo serious change and people who pretend to have money while they don't, in my view they are the greatest stumbling block to change. Fake Middle classes are happy to ride in a taxi whose destination they don't decide for as long as materialism comes their way.
Others have been hogging wealth for long and show no urgency to change the situation anytime soon. What is unfortunate is that they have successfully co-opted black middle classes to their small, selfish world where everything is about maintaining the status quo and individualism. The black majority has been patient enough and this has surprised many people around the world. As Lesufi admits, SA could be on a tipping point and a large scale revolt is possible. In 1991, a maize crisis that gripped Zambia led to the fall of the then president Kenneth Kaunda.
Indlala ibanga ulaka! (Translated: hunger causes anger/violence/fury).
Brazilian theologian and activist Helder Camara once said, “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist." What Camara was essentially advocating is that food should be provided to the poor by those who are not. The issue in this entire saga is that donations only deal with a symptom rather than causation. Poverty and lack of food are an outcome of a system that have continuously and deliberately excluded the black majority for the benefit of the few.
If indeed people are serious about dealing with poverty and hunger, there is one solution: they need take in the people they deem poor to their households and live with them. Donations are used to push away a problem that has been outstanding in national discourses and agendas for a considerable time. It is for the reason when one person was asked to stay indoors (in early days of coronavirus virus) remarked: “My poverty and lack of water was not serious enough to need everybody because my plight is not contagious?”
The rush to do not food parcels in pretense that Covid-19 has changed the nature of the South African society is disingenuous and therefore needs to be vehemently challenged. Neither donations nor a R350 grant will uproot the problem. For many who play sainthood, they need to respond to a number of questions, before they do cash send from their computers to organization that claim to be helping the poor. How did these people survive six months ago? How will these people live in the post-Covid-19 period and beyond? The view that they will hustle (meaning, eating from dustbins) is disrespectful and condescending.
It is for that reason no one should be giving money to anyone at traffic lights and intersections because that insulting to people who would prefer to live in a country that questions why there is poverty and also why so many people excluded in the economic gains delivered by democracy. South Africa needs to come to terms with its disturbing normality, it is a democracy of an insignificant but wealthy minority. This has to drastically change through whatever means necessary. A negotiated settlement has proven a disaster when it comes to the economy and asset distribution in South Africa.
There are thousands of individuals and households in Mamelodi, Libode or Mothibistad (some we call friends and neighbors) and elsewhere that are in need and have been in need for many years: why the crocodile tears now? Who are we trying to impress? Systematic political and economic exclusion has created poverty and starvation. The longer the lockdown continues the more likely that South Africa can finally confront its demons. Perhaps it is time for middle classes and corporates to also bolt in the midst of the current crisis.
Donations, good hearts and crocodile tears will never cause a dent to the economic structural issues in South Africa. So, the NGO-ization of resistance must stop to give people space to speak. It is time.
Siya yi banga le economy!
Based in Pretoria, Siyabonga Hadebe is an independent commentator on socio-economics, politics and global matters.