Last week, we reported that supporters of former president Jacob Zuma are planning to unleash further political turmoil, this time around using the biting economic conditions caused by the fuel hikes as a rallying point before the erstwhile head of state makes his next court appearance in August.
The Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group, a non-profit organisation, has also warned of food riots in the province, saying the climate was ripe for such protests.
On Thursday last week, President Cyril Ramaphosa met leaders of political organisations represented in parliament to discuss the security situation in the country and the economic difficulties faced by its citizens.
The remarks by Zuma’s sympathisers, the comments by the NGO and Ramaphosa’s meeting tell one that something seismic might be brewing. It appears something is about to give.
The rise in the cost of living, coupled with the country’s triple crisis of unemployment, poverty and inequality, risk creating a perfect storm that our country’s poor security apparatus might again fail to handle.
This comes at a time when the country can’t afford more costly unrest following the looting that swept through KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng in July last year, leaving in its wake more than 350 people dead and R50-billion in economic damage.
These are also conditions ripe for opportunists to advance their nefarious agendas.
Some elements are already mobilising communities along party political lines using the current hardships while other parties see an opportunity to further their cause for the 2024 general elections. Others are seizing the moment to blame foreigners for the difficult times that have befallen us.
Economic hardships, by their nature, produce dangerous outcomes. They breed populist leaders, trigger nationalist sentiment among sections of the populace and most of the time lead to uncontrollable popular uprisings that can topple governments.
The country’s high unemployment rate and inequality remain a ticking time bomb. Statistics SA last week reported that in the first quarter of 2022, the unemployment rate was 63.9% for those aged 15-24 and 42.1% for those aged 25-34, while the current official national rate stands at 34.5%.
SA is the most unequal society in the world, according to the World Bank. In its report, Inequality in Southern Africa: An assessment of the Southern African Customs Union, the bank found the climate and economic shocks such as the Covid-19 pandemic, which generally affects poor people more severely, made gains toward a more equitable society difficult.
In addition, the World Bank said there were barriers to accessing productive assets such as education, skills and land that people need to generate income and improve their well-being.
The high unemployment rate among the youth is cause for grave concern.
The millions of young people who are roaming the streets of our impoverished townships, slums and rural areas are vulnerable to be organised into all sorts of activities – from protests to crime.
Some have given in to a life of drug abuse, alcoholism and gangsterism, among other social ills. They are terrorising people to feed their craving for nyaope, tik and whoonga, causing untold pain in communities.
As their dream of a better life fades, they could soon form an army that could challenge the establishment and target those that are well off, as was the case during the Arab Spring, which started in Tunisia in response to corruption and economic stagnation in 2010.
These disenfranchised youth are slowly being organised into dangerous movements such as Operation Dudula. They are also used by political parties as volunteers and voting fodder.
Historical nationalists such as Germany’s Adolf Hitler and apartheid architect Hendrik Verwoerd – notwithstanding their hatred and racism – rose on the ticket of economic hardship.
If our government and business – the state, in particular – don’t act swiftly to address the plight of the masses, there are signs that anarchy is on the way, which could be bigger and costlier both in life and limb as well as in economic terms than the July unrest.
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