The poor are systematically excluded from formal discussions in South Africa. We are usually not treated as if we are citizens, or even as human beings. It is often the norm that when grassroots organisation are actually engaged by commission of inquiries and panels our voices do not appear when the reports are released. It is as if elites just can’t hear us when we speak
The Expert Panel Report on the July unrest in KwaZulu-Natal and parts of Gauteng led by Professor Sandy Africa is an exception. When we were called to the panel we thought that it was just one more of those ticking box exercises by the government. However, many of the issues that we have raised in during the panel finding are reflected in the Report.
The report acknowledges the complete lack of political leadership in the province during the riots, the deep popular anger at corruption and the withdrawal of the Covid grant, the extent of social desperation and hunger, and that for a few days the riots took the form of a massive food riot by poor people, people who were mostly very far from being Zuma supporters. In fact many of them made their contempt for Zuma very clear to everyone who actually listened to what they had to say.
The report is also clear on how the impunity for the violence and lawlessness from the so called “Radical Economic Transformation” faction of the ANC, including attacking migrants in the centre of Durban and on the N3 at Mooi River and destroying property, sparked the riots by showing hungry people that the police were nowhere to be seen.
The last lines of the report carry a powerful truth: “It is time for South Africans to accept that those have must share with those who do not. It is simple as that, really.” This comment came from a church leader who testified to the panel. It is a statement of liberation theology, a statement of Abahlalism.
We strongly support the aspects of the report that expose the ANC for what they are and show that most people who joined the riots did so out of the desperation caused by the social crisis and that the road to true peace is real social justice.
We hope that the demands that we have raised as a mass democratic movement of the poorest of the poor will be taken into consideration in today’s State of the Nation Address.
We have asked the government to implement a Basic Income Grant for all the unemployed in the country as we are at a time where our economy is a dire state, leaving millions without work or even food. We have also asked for support for democratically organised cooperatives that enable people to sustain themselves in the form of food security. The first step to build more cooperatives is to release the land that we have been in need of for centuries. It is also imperative that the violent repression of the self-organisation of the poor, such as in the eKhenana Commune, be bought to a swift end. These are very modest demands, demands that the government can very easily implement.
During the interviews by the panel we made it clear that even though the unrest was sparked by the response of some in the ANC to the jailing of former president Zuma, and that the criminality in the ANC must be addressed decisively, the deep cause of the riots is to be found in are fundamental issues of poverty and inequality that the ANC government has failed to address in the past 27 year in power. Many people took essentials such as food and clothing from the shops because they have not had access to even these kinds of basic necessities, let alone the means to a full and flourishing life.
The ANC never addressed the deep structure of racial capitalism that made the poor to be poor. This situation was made much worse when the thugs in the ANC started looting from the state at a massive scale, and then kept looting for years, which has further impoverished black people in shack settlements. We were clear that those who took food and other essentials did not burn and destroy. It was those who had political agendas to undermine the limited but hard won and very valuable democracy that we do have that destroyed and burnt down buildings.
Today many people are unemployed as a result of the destruction of property by people who claim to be fighting for Radical Economic Transformation. They have plunged our country into even deeper poverty, first by stealing from the people on a massive scale and then by their attacks on important infrastructure that, among other issues, resulted in many people losing their jobs.
We will be watching the implementation of the report carefully, particularly the implementation of the Basic Income Grant which will ensure that families do not go to sleep on an empty stomach.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policies of The Daily Vox.