Johannesburg - The recent unrest that swept KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng should not be attributed purely to hunger and poverty, as they were a manifestation of a myriad issues that led to the eruption of chaos, some of the country’s thought leaders have said.
This emerged during a webinar titled the “The Serious State of the Nation: Where to from here?” during which panellists, including Dr Imtiaz Sooliman of the Gift of the Givers, political commentator Khaya Sithole, Professor Leila Patel and Tracey Henry, chief executive of Tshikululu Social Investments, discussed the long-term consequences of the recent community unrest.
The panel also addressed the socio-economic disparities at the heart of so many of South Africa's challenges.
Sithole, a commentator and a radio talk show host, said the unrest stemmed from the use of a singular rallying call instead of multiple diffused conversations that can alienate some and include others, and it made it easier for people to find resonance with it and for them to take up arms.
“Unfortunately, South Africa is not short of those universal rallying calls, whether it’s the employment question, the quest for jobs, the quest for access to land or whether it becomes the question of education access, all of these things are going to come back.
“What we’ve seen now is just a snapshot of what South Africa’s long-term trajectory will be like unless we do something drastic, unless we do something radical and unless we do something that is responsive to the state of the nation as it is, rather than what we wish it was,” Sithole said.
Sooliman, founder of Gift of the Givers Foundation, said that to address the unemployment question, instead of the youth going to university and embarking on dead-end studies, the focus should be shifted to what is relevant to the country.
“It’s right in front of our eyes: we need nurses, we need doctors, we need dieticians when you talk about malnutrition, we need paramedics. And it’s not a genius thing to work that out, but government is not creating enough posts for that, or the posts are created but they are not funding it, and the reason they can’t fund it is because a lot of money is being stolen in the first place,” Sooliman said.
Patel, professor of social development studies at the Centre for Social Development in Africa at the University of Johannesburg, said several factors were at the heart of the unrest witnessed, including massive unemployment.
“It’s not so (simple as) to automatically attribute the problem purely to hunger; that might be one factor, but there it’s a complicated situation and it did start with the demand for the release of former president Jacob Zuma, and we shouldn’t gloss over that.
“Some say this was an insurrection and some say it was an elite kind of insurgence, others refer to social psychology that helps us understand mob or unrest behaviour. And then the question is why is it that in some communities where this is this kind of abject poverty, we didn’t see the violence?” said Patel.
Henry, of Tshikululu Social Investments, said that given the devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and now the impact of the unrest on the economy, the focus should be shifted to rebuilding all sectors of society, from education to health, service delivery, job creation and livelihoods.
“What I would say to social investors, whether it’s KZN or Gauteng, and the jobs that are at risk, is not to stop funding initiatives that are already on the ground and working. We can’t afford to lose momentum. We’ve got to keep on pushing this flywheel while we deal with the humanitarian crisis, but don’t lose sight of what is already working, whether it’s livelihood or protecting the most vulnerable in society,” Henry said.