LESSONS FROM THE NORTH

The rising wave of democratisation that is taking place in North Africa and the Middle East is currently a great talking point. The Eastern Cape is not immune from these trends. There is the direct impact of rising oil prices on our economy in general and on the motor industry in particular.

Motor vehicle sales are affected by the inflationary pressures generated by increased petrol prices which ultimately impacts on jobs. The ripple effect is felt throughout the provincial economy.

Therefore those of us living in the Eastern Cape should take a very serious interest in what is happening further north.

There is of course another compelling reason and that is how powerful democratic forces can suddenly be unleashed by a single event. A young, qualified person who could find no other work except hawking, Muhammad Bouazizi was the catalyst for the Tunisian revolt whose impact is being felt throughout that region. The bond that held ruler and ruled together in a state of orderly co-existence, long fraying at the edges, finally snapped.

In this context one is reminded of the Soweto uprising where the shooting of Hector Pieterson on the 16th of June amongst many others contributed to widespread anger which ultimately fuelled the national revolt of the class of 1976.

The bond which holds our society in check is based on the premise that government delivers efficient services and creates the environment for a good quality of life and its citizens respect the law and pay their taxes.

In the Eastern Cape this link is also becoming more fragile as governments moral authority is steadily being eroded by a combination of forces.

  • THE JOB CRISIS

More than 50% of young people in our province are unemployed. To its credit, government has now put the issue of jobs firmly on the agenda. But this can also be its Achilles’ heel if its policies continue to fail.

More and more young people who were not brought up in the struggle era are beginning to question whether or not government has real solutions. There are rising frustrations around the connected elite who block opportunities that should be open to all the people. Facebook, cell phones, satellite TV, internet news sites empower individuals to communicate and share ideas. This allows other interest groups and party such as the DA who has long advocated a wage subsidy for the youth to contrast its policies with those of the ANC without being dependent on the mainstream media. These communication tools played a critical role in the revolts up north.

  • THE CASH CRISIS AT PROVINCIAL AND METRO LEVEL.

Both province and the metro are facing a cash crisis. This is putting huge pressure on government services. Cut backs in education and the metro capital budget for example have been met with outrage. As the cost of employees rises (public sector wage bill has doubled over the last five years) and funds available for service delivery continue to decline this anger will increase unless government moves out of its ideological straightjacket.

  • CORRUPTION, MALADMINISTRATION AND CADRE DEPLOYMENT.

This steals resources that could be put to use for the upliftment of the poor. Part of the reason for the revolt in the north was anger directed at the privileged elite. At home all communities are becoming angry at the wastage of funds. The recent illegal decision to spend up to R10 million of council funds on ANC electioneering is a case in point.

  • SERVICE DELIVERY FAILURES.

Service delivery failures are further undermined by corruption because it results in rival factions fighting over the spoils of public office. This means less attention and less money for actual service delivery. ANC political infighting is widespread in our province.

The recent dysfunctional nature of the state of education has led to rising anger from poor communities who are not prepared to see their children’s future destroyed .Let us not forget how fragile the Northern Areas community can be. It exploded in riots 1990.

The combination of the above mentioned forces is eroding government’s moral authority and has the potential to create a huge vacuum in our society. This vacuum is enlarged by the lack of leadership voices that one would expect from business, the church and the universities.

Traditionally, prominent members of these institutions have been at the forefront of dissent against a government that goes astray. Their silence or self censorship is a sad indictment on the state of freedom in this country. When the unthinkable becomes the unspeakable because of the fear of being labelled a sell out or a racist, progress in developing a better society is stunted. It is through the vigorous interchange of ideas that societies progress.

In the countries that experienced recent revolt there was a vacuum in the sense that there were no great leaders or opposition parties that could fill the void of a society hungry for change. The people simply took over.

In the South Africa of today the Democratic Alliance is the only other party that has managed to win a province. Its contrasting style of governance as a real alternative to the ANC holds the hope for South Africa that things can be different.

Without it the vacuum, in our society would be all that much greater and our Tunisian moment that much closer.