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South Africa burning - shocked but not surprised

In the past week in South Africa we have witnessed scenes that have been heartbreaking - personally, I am in mourning. What started supposedly as a political protest to free the former president Jacob Zuma for defying the Constitutional Court, developed into scenes of anarchy and chaos that have clearly been orchestrated by a few who found fertile ground for many who are desperate, disgruntled, and disillusioned to get involved.
Dominic Gaobepe, diversity and inclusion specialist at Cohesion Collective
Dominic Gaobepe, diversity and inclusion specialist at Cohesion Collective

While these events of looting and destroying have been shocking, they have not been a surprise. The unravelling of our fragile democracy has been a long time coming. We came into the new democracy by giving "political freedom" to the people but did not do anything nor enough to economically and socially change the lives of the majority of our people who are poor in material and tangible ways.

You cannot integrate racism


In the documentary, Miracle Rising: South Africa, Roelf Meyer (who served as MP, minister of defence, and minister of constitutional affairs & communication under the National Party) provided the following insight: “There is a misconception regarding when apartheid started. It started in 1652 when the Europeans came to Africa. They brought with them the paradigm of superiority and inferiority. They always thought they were always superior to the indigenous people in Africa. It was a paradigm for more than 300 years.”

White supremacy, which is racism, is a system built on the mistreatment and exploitation of those who are identified as “non-White”. In spite of this, in 1994, we in South Africa tried to integrate racism (a system of injustice) rather than build a system of justice and the results are that the racist system we tried to integrate is producing exactly what it was designed for. We are the most unequal country in the world and our poverty and relative means still run largely along race.

I reference the above not as a scapegoat but for fuller context. Historian Dr John Hendrik Clark said, “History is not everything, but it is a starting point. History is a clock that people use to tell their political and cultural time of day. It is a compass they use to find themselves on the map of human geography. It tells them where they are but, more importantly, what they must be.”


A morally and ethically bankrupt leadership: Corruption has become a feature rather than a glitch


The current political leadership is responsible for the anger, despair and lawlessness we are experiencing in our communities. We have leaders that in the past 27 years have enjoyed the spoils of an unjust system rather than serve the best interests of the people of South Africa. Their thirst for power and control has been the driver behind this orchestrated chaos we have been witnessing. Ordinary people who choose to loot will steal "things" and that's their prize. Why would they burn malls and infrastructure? The former can happen in the moment, the latter is pre-meditated. The question is why?

The level of corruption seen in our government (though not exclusive to the public sector) has been an indication of leaders that are ethically and morally bankrupt. Biblical wisdom teaches us that, "When there is moral rot within a nation, its government topples easily. But wise and knowledgeable leaders bring stability."

Corruption in our institutions of governance has become a feature rather than a glitch. Local municipalities have long been under scrutiny for misusing, mismanaging and misappropriating funds. The consequences of these have been poor service delivery, especially to the people who need it the most. In 2013 in Tshwane, a contract was issued for the installation of 800,000 prepaid electricity meters. The R830m contract was eventually cancelled but only 12,930 meters had been installed. At Prasa, R620m was spent on locomotives that were found to be unsuitable for use on our infrastructure upon arrival. These and many more cases leading up to the Zondo Commission have pointed to a moral rot in our system of governance and leadership. We cannot keep taking from the system and the people and giving little to nothing back. It will all eventually collapse and we’re bearing witness to the signs in real-time.


Is there hope? Is there anything that can be done?


Respect and defend the rule of law


If we do not respect, defend and submit ourselves to our agreed laws as our foundation, we will fall. There will not be a thriving and healthy country for our children and children’s children to inherit.

We need to take personal accountability


I grew up with little and I have seen and experienced poverty. I have lived among poor people and even in their desperation they did not resort to criminality. Being poor does not make you a criminal, being poor does not give you licence to steal. We will all be held to account for our choices and actions in this life and the next. In this time, regardless of who we are, we need to choose that which is good and right. A righteous people will not follow wicked and corrupt schemes.

We need to unite across our differences and commit ourselves to producing justice


It's easier to destroy than to build. We need to come together across our differences, Black, White, Indian and Coloured; poor, working class and rich; privileged and oppressed. We need to come together to rebuild our communities and uphold law and order.

Those in our midst who are in positions of power and authority, who can mobilise labour, resources, capital and have the ability to change policies and regulations need to do so to help us build a social and economic system built to produce justice in all our sectors.

“Justice will mean that we guarantee that no person is mistreated because of their identity and that we guarantee that those that need the most help in our society receive the most constructive help.” ~ Neely Fuller Jnr.

Nkosi sikelel’iAfrika. God bless Africa!

About the author

Dominic Gaobepe, diversity and inclusion specialist at Cohesion Collective

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