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We can't continue staring at pit latrines, violence and unemployment and believe we're doing fine

Lorenzo A Davids writes that we cannot continue to stare at pit latrines, broken schools, corruption, violence, unemployment and incompetence and believe that we are doing just fine. File picture: Thomas Holder/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Lorenzo A Davids writes that we cannot continue to stare at pit latrines, broken schools, corruption, violence, unemployment and incompetence and believe that we are doing just fine. File picture: Thomas Holder/African News Agency (ANA) Archives

Published Feb 1, 2022

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In ancient times, towns had watchmen on their walls that surrounded the location to look out for pending enemies and warn of possible attacks.

While we no longer believe in such exclusionary practices, we have seen a raid on our industries as the government failed to build a competitive economy and instead opted for a surrender economy.

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We shut down industries because we could get it cheaper and faster from elsewhere in the world. We surrendered much-needed strengthening of local industries that would serve our national prosperity over the long term to the tangled promises of beneficial trade agreements and foreign loans.

Today we are irreparably poorer, in fact, violently ghettoised, because of these short-sighted “everyone is our friend and loves us” politics of the 1990s. Everyone is not our friend. Look at the 74% youth unemployment rate.

We are a country with no economic absorption opportunities for our new population.

The promises of the Freedom Charter and hopes carried in our Constitution can no longer be fulfilled for the children born into this democracy. The watchmen on our walls have failed them.

I commute into town daily by train. Thirty years ago, even 20 years ago, whenever the train reached Salt River station, it was filled with people going to diverse industries spread all around the Salt River, Woodstock and Ndabeni corridor. This week, those stations were like ghost towns.

At 7.30am, three people disembarked at Salt River, and no one got off the train at Woodstock. It was eerie to see.

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I hear stories of other such phenomena from the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. Industries that existed back then are now no more.

Soon our politicians will gather for the State of the Nation Address (Sona). They will unashamedly appear in their finest foreign designs, with token displays of local brands.

They will disregard the unemployment ghettos in Bonteheuwel and Dimbaza, created by apartheid and worsened under their watch. When the president delivers his Sona speech, we have to ask ourselves, who is watching our walls?

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We cannot continue to stare at pit latrines, broken schools, corruption, violence, unemployment and incompetence and believe that we are doing just fine. We are not.

The watchmen on the walls have failed us. In fact, they themselves were deeply flawed. They took the bride the enemy gave them. They allowed them to scale our walls, and they sold us and our children into perpetual poverty for a pittance.

And don’t for a moment think that this is about our African brothers and sisters from the continent coming to South Africa – it is not. They are victims of these same policies that also poisoned their countries after freedom. They are not coming to take our jobs. They are warning signs sent to wake us up from our slumber. For who knows, in 10 years, we may be going to Mozambique and Botswana and Angola as they now come to us.

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They too were made promises by multinationals, and the IMF and World Bank and their watchmen made agreements with the WTO (World Trade Organization) about their future prosperity.

They are now in our country as economic victims of the same policies we embraced two decades ago.

The president must come to Sona with a different narrative. We need urgent avoidance and deviation actions from where we are currently. The politics of “everyone is our friend and loves us” were never true. Dear Mr President, please stop selling us this line.

Every economy seeks new markets or cheap raw materials to aid its own expansion demands. If South Africa’s watchmen cannot defend us against such predators, we will see the rise of even larger unemployment ghettoes. Salt River station will close down. Woodstock station will become a museum. To foolishness.

At this Sona, we as South Africans will gather as slaves to the foolishness of our watchmen. I will no longer applaud my slavery.

* Lorenzo A Davids.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Cape Argus

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