OPINION: With close to 12 million South African citizens caught in the growing swell of unemployment, and three million children battling daily hunger, we should not be ’Ramaphosa-shocked’ that dark clouds loom over each new dawn, writes Kim Heller.
BY Kim Heller
AS HE DELIVERED his closing address at the ANC NEC lekgotla on Sunday, President Cyril Ramaphosa looked totally spent. With its tired promises, yesteryear vision, and plume of self-correction, the ANC appears to be finally running out of steam.
Forecasts of sunnier days ahead, for both the ANC and South Africa, is a blue sky that we are unlikely to see in the near future, if ever.
Rather, increasingly it looks as if we are heading into the eye of the storm; a storm that no rainbow, no matter how exquisite, will be able to soothe. Simply put, the outlook is bleak.
During his address, Ramaphosa spoke of how unemployment is at its highest levels yet.
The president quoted from the latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey which shows an overall unemployment rate of close to 35%, and 50% for young adults in the crucial 18-34 age group.
In July last year, South Africa experienced its worst social unrest since the dawn of democracy.
Economist Duma Gqubule, in his article “No wonder the people are suspicious of the state”, which was published in New Frame on December 10, writes that the nation has “intersecting public health, humanitarian and economic crises”.
With close to 12 million South African citizens caught in the growing swell of unemployment, and three million children battling daily hunger, we should not be “Ramaphosa-shocked” that dark clouds loom over each new dawn.
The flag of electoral support for the ANC is at half-mast, following the party’s dismal performance in the 2021 municipal elections.
Gqubule argues that South Africans have no reason to trust a government that has forsaken them throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and which seems “wholly unmoved by their economic plight”.
The governing party’s policymakers have failed to bring any real respite to those in need during the very worst of times.
In an article written by Isobel Frye, director at the Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute, on August 26 for Daily Maverick, she argues that a basic income grant is urgent if we are to avoid a social explosion that could destroy our common humanity.
Frye writes: “What token of despair do you want to see burnt before you recognise that the structural crisis we face is not an episodic blimp. It is a structural cancer that has eaten away at so much of our social fabric that we must rebuild an edifice from the foundation up.”
In his address on Sunday, Ramaphosa said: “We exist as a movement to fight for social justice and to eliminate the vast inequalities created by apartheid, and to promote economic development for the benefit of all.”
But with its endless waves of factionalism and social distancing from ordinary South Africans, the ANC is no longer a lifeboat for the masses.
The ANC of today is an elite cruiser, a bloated vessel of spent veterans whose compass is no longer with the common people.
The ANC seems incapable of change, or renewal. The president’s speech was drowning in the same ruinous rhetoric that has not stopped the rage and ravage of poverty, inequality and unemployment.
When Hurricane Katrina hit the US in 2006 it forced a much-needed dialogue on poverty. Broadcaster and author Tavis Smiley said: “The storm came. Lives were washed away. Ancient pains resurfaced. Now it is a time for a sea of change.” Right now, in South Africa, we are at the mercy of our leaders.
It is a frightening prospect indeed. The storm is near. It is long in the making.
Minister Lindiwe Sisulu’s recent, albeit well overdue, reflection on the state of the nation was a judicious storm warning.
After she visited the family of a young man whose life had been brutally extinguished in the fury of the Phoenix upsurge in July of 2021, Sisulu wrote an emotional piece titled, “Our country cries out for change”, published by Independent Newspapers on August 2.
She writes how she believes that the unrest was fuelled by “hunger, poverty, and ongoing impoverishment, by disappointment, by disillusionment, by unemployment, and judicial overreach”.
The unrest, she writes, was the “politics of despair”, and she adds “it is not as if we did not know. There were voices over many years trying to tell us that, but those of us entrusted with power by the people were apparently not willing or ready to listen.”
Sisulu, as a leader, entrusted with power by the people, seems to be taking responsibility for moments lost and for the storm clouds that now lie menacingly above us and cast an ominous shadow over our democracy.
Although rather late, she is correct to do so. Other leaders should step forward and do the same. It is a shameful indictment of the ANC that Sisulu is now being castigated and bullied into silence or blamed for damaging the reputation and stature of the ANC.
It is the serial failures of the ANC, as the governing party, to end the waves of social and economic injustices and inequalities that brought this once-upon-a-time liberation movement into disrepute and diminished it, not the lighthouse of truth Sisulu has spoken.
That the ANC elected to retort to her with its usual narcissistic bluster is a clear signal of the governing party’s unwillingness to cast an eye upon its own shadow.
Rather than trying to extract an apology from Sisulu for truths that need no apology, the party should confront its vortex of failings.
A storm knows no restraint. Mother Nature blows herself up to her most impressive proportions until, with all her might, she casts her indelible signature across the sky.
It is in the luminosity of her lightning strike, and in the tenor of her thunder, that Mother Nature communicates her ire with earthly matters.
Mother Nature does not wait for the hare to find shelter or for the young eaglet to find its wings and fly from its mother’s wind-shattered nest.
There is no safe passage or easy refuge for the vulnerable or for the veteran, for the peasant or for the prima donna, or for the elite one who found shelter in the rays of a rainbow that never was.
We are headed into a storm. It will either be a cleansing ceremony, ordained and approved by Mother Nature herself, that brings a much-needed renewal, or a raging tirade of fury and rage that may never subside.
* Kim Heller is a writer, political analyst and author of the book ’No White Lies: Black Politics and White Power in South Africa’.
** The opinions expressed here are not necessarily those of the DFA.