In December 2010 a young man set himself on fire after the police had confiscated his cart that he used for his business. He had gone to the local municipal offices to try and get it back but the service he received was bad and he reached boiling point and set himself alight in protest.
In a country that was characterised by rampant youth unemployment, inequality and obvious government corruption and nepotism, the death of the young man struck a chord with many citizens.
The conditions that led to mass protests in Tunisia at the time are the same conditions that exist in South Africa now.
The mass protests that followed the death of the young man sparked what came to be known as the Arab Spring, which led to many regime changes in several countries across the Arab world.
This past week saw the total shutdown of Alexandra township. Residents, fed up with what they refer to as poor service delivery, closed all entrances and exits to the township, taxis were not running and no schooling took place.
With the elections only a month away, many are convinced Alexandra’s total shutdown is politically motivated. They miss the point that the protesters are not saying the ANC is better than the Democratic Alliance. They’re simply fed up with politicians who make promises and don’t deliver, irrespective of which party they belong to.
Alexandra did not trigger an Arab Spring-type rebellion, but rampant youth unemployment and inequality are as rife there as they were in Tunisia in 2010.
Every week sees the revelation of yet more politicians involved in spine-chilling skulduggery that often sees taxpayers’ money exchanging hands between politicians and top businesspeople, while ordinary citizens continue to bear the brunt of economic hardship.
The release of investigative journalist Pieter-Louis Myburgh’s book on ANC general-secretary Ace Magashule has seen the piling on of yet more stories where millions of alleged taxpayers’ money was being splashed around.
Add to that the reckless abandon with which Bosasa threw around taxpayers’ cash towards willing politicians and the scene is set for a shutdown that will lead to protests which the government will not be able to control.
The prevailing belief that the ordinary voter who keeps on voting the ruling party back into power is insulated and totally ignorant of these tales of looting at the top amid their hardship, is what will prevent those in power from seeing an uprising coming.
Service delivery protests in Alexandra, renewed border dispute protests in Vuwani and xenophobic attacks on foreigners in KwaZulu-Natal all occurring at the same time are indicative of a restless general population.
The Alexandra shutdown must be seen for what it is: a harbinger of impending doom. The masses of poor people are saying the upcoming elections are not enough to change their lives.
Democratic processes do not hold enough sway to convince the people that a change in government will make their lives better. That’s what leads to revolutions of the kind that hit the Arab world after 2010.
Those in power better take note.