Parallel states of emergency and disaster
12 July 2021
i) Protect property and lives
ii) Enforce Covid regulations and continue vaccination drive
iii) Develop urgent and credible poverty eradication plan*
The scenes of violence, looting and vandalism across the country, apparently in response to the arrest of former President Jacob Zuma, needs urgent government action - but not just military and policing action.
The South African tinder box of grinding poverty, indignity and desperation, ignited amid a public health pandemic in KwaZulu-Natal last week and now spreading to other provinces, poses the biggest questions asked of the State since the advent of democracy.
It exposes the fundamental failure by the State to incrementally reduce systemic inequality inherited from its apartheid predecessors. It also exposes the official opposition’s short-sightedness in defending privilege at the expense of sustainable social cohesion.
The effect of these failures is that many citizens are so marginalised from their society, and so disassociated from the economy, that they feel they have nothing to lose. It is this alienation that drives the scenes of violence and destruction we are now seeing in our towns and communities.
The State needs to emerge from the shadow of factionalism, that has consumed the ruling party, and demonstrate that it is in charge.
The State’s response cannot simply be to enforce law and order, though that is where it must start.
Angry and opportunistic people cannot be given carte blanche to loot and burn. The police (and soldiers) must protect property AND lives – while exercising as much restraint as possible.
At the same time, South Africa is in the grips of a resurgent pandemic, driven by a Covid varietal distinguished for the ease of its transmissibility. Covid regulations are not political weapons; they are societal responses to a medical crisis, and they must be enforced. Stopping the virus from spreading unchecked is ultimately in the whole of society’s interest.
Finally, the State must lead in the urgent development of a credible inequality reduction and poverty eradication plan located front and centre in a new social compact with citizens.
This process requires similar haste and inclusivity to the manner of the country’s initial response to the Covid pandemic 16 months ago. In other words: Urgent and utmost priority.
South Africa will remain a tinder box until its citizens begin to feel co-ownership of a society based on social, economic, spatial and environmental justice for all.
Issued by Brett Herron, Secretary General, GOOD, 12 July 2021