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President Cyril Ramaphosa has had to steer the country through the most undesirable and unstable period in South Africa’s history post democracy.
Through no fault of his government, the pandemic happened and continues to wreak havoc in the country’s economy. Whatever measures he continues to announce with each lockdown level adjustment, his government will almost always be on the back foot, always reacting, rather than providing proactive leadership.
And therein lies South Africa’s problem going into the future: all efforts to rebuild the country without a stable foundation and analysis are a guarantee of future instability, with worse destruction guaranteed.
Phoenix violence not a race issue, but ‘police’s incompetence’
Government’s response to the looting and riots that happened three weeks ago characterised their most basic cause as political in nature and the implication that, had there been no hidden insurrectionary motives at play, the riots would not have happened.
To a limited extent, this is true. But even the most basic analysis will reveal that it was always going to be a matter of time before the country’s simmering inequality tensions boiled over into a huge, unstoppable destructive force that would have the country where it is now: rebuilding without a proper foundation.
The president and most well-meaning South Africans have gone into “rebuilding”, while doing nothing to address the fundamental cause of what made the riots possible in the first place: a large and willing group of economically marginalised citizens that didn’t need a second invitation to go looting.
They do not even need a true political cause, as was witnessed by their being galvanised around a cause even they themselves admitted to not supporting.
The rebuilding mode that has been activated now, exhorting all patriotic South Africans to help set things right again, is simply papering over very large cracks that will take very little to expose again in the not-too-distant future.
Even the ugliest face of the riots are being ignored by everyone: the racist side that reared its head when those who could, defended their properties.
Whether or not the so-called Phoenix massacre happened in the manner or extent to which some say it did, the emotions around its discussions are raw and real –and rushing to rebuild economic structures over the simmering racial tensions between the black community and the Indian community in the area is a recipe for disaster.
A way has to be found to lay bare what truly happened and if further action is required to repair relations between communities, they must be found. Otherwise, all efforts at rebuilding will forever be poisoned by a very real threat of revenge at some point.
Cyril’s tax relief will save businesses, but leave government broke
Nationally, rebuilding can happen, but only if accompanied by real action to address why many citizens feel no real ownership of any of the economic structures from which they are supposed to be earning a living.
Some of the informal discussions that happened around the riots are that there are groups or communities that are armed to the teeth that government seems to continue to ignore.
Addressing these sort of questions will not be an easy thing for a government grappling with deep challenges of an economic nature, but any serious efforts to “rebuild” SA requires that they are addressed.
If they are not, the country will continue to embarrass itself on the global stage.