SOUTH AFRICA : TIPPING POINT?
For the past 8 years I have largely ignored South African politics. Bad news can become a very toxic addiction and I know too many Afro-pessimists that get their daily kicks from sensationalist fear-mongering media. If something really serious happened, I figured – something that would actually have a bearing on my day-to-day life – the news would come to me.
Well this week it came to me. I live in Kommetjie, a little seaside village about 40km south of Cape Town. There are only two routes out of Kommetjie – the long one goes south, back around the Peninsula and the other short one (which most people take) goes past an informal settlement, Masiphumelele, which has swelled to 40 000 people in the past 10 years.
Masi, as we in the deep south affectionately call it, was actually one of the more friendly townships around Cape Town. When President Obama flew into Cape Town in June 2013 and had to make his obligatory visit to a township, it was no coincidence that his advisors chose Masi. I still remember the day that the Airforce One chopper landed on Fish Hoek sports field – it felt totally bizzare.
Today Masiphumelele is a war zone. In scenes reminiscent of the 80s the streets are clogged with caspers, tear gas hangs in the air and black smoke billows from burning vehicles and tyres.
Why are they rioting? Because they want law and order. Yes, you read that correctly – they’re disrupting the law and order because they want law and order. There has been a spike in criminal activity in Masi in the past few months and a small mafia seem to be running amok with total immunity. And the South African police, woefully understaffed and undertrained, don’t seem to have any control of the situation.
The vast majority of people living in Masi just want a safe and peaceful environment to live in. The only way they can ever get the attention of the police however, is when they block Kommetjie road and directly affect privileged Kommetjie residents like me. They don’t seem to have another alternative.
I say this all under the proviso that it is my personal view of the situation, as an outsider, not an insider. As with all things there is no single pure version of the truth. Zuma’s national government is clearly not delivering safety and security to the residents of Masi. But there is confusion as to who is to blame. Some residents of Masi think that the Western Cape DA government has failed them. My gardener lives in Masi and when I spoke with him about the situation and told him that actually the SAPS ultimately take their orders from Pretoria, he was puzzled. Of course this misperception suits the ANC government especially with elections around the corner, and “making the western cape ungovernable” was a stated aim of certain ANC factions.
The government seems to thrive on misunderstandings like this. Shift the blame, shift the blame – it’s the same old game. But counting on your voters’ ignorance to prop up your majority rule is doomed in the long term. Regimes all over the world are realising this. The people are waking up.
Often it’s university students that see through the bullshit first. Certainly this has been the case in South Africa this week, with student riots seizing the country because of astronomical and untenable increases in tuition fees planned for 2016. Perhaps in the past the government could have fobbed this off as part of a racist agenda but students are now seeing that, no – it’s the direct result of decreased government subsidies for tertiary education as a depleted fiscus redirects funds to Nkandla and other feather-your-own-nest schemes.
At first I thought that the Masi riots did not have a lot to do with the student riots. That they were just capitalising on the timing – jumping on the bandwagon so to speak. But then I dug up this old video I made of Masi many years back in more peaceful days. I had chosen the late Lucky Dube’s song “Prisoner” for the soundtrack. Give it a listen. Personally I was overwhelmed by the lyrics – it was like Lucky’s ghost speaking directly to us in 2015.
As fate would have it, Lucky Dube – still South Africa’s best selling reggae artist of all time – was anything but lucky. He himself was fatally shot down in October 2007 – the victim of the rampant violent crime that is poisoning our land – the very stuff that the residents of Masi are rioting about.
Late yesterday afternoon, Zuma and co. realised the extent to which South Africans are waking up to his empty promises. He was scared and quickly backtracked on the fee increases. The national campaign #FeesMustFall has won. Now it’s time for #ZumaMustFall