Look Back and Learn, Look Forward in Hope

Like thousands of South Africans working abroad, I returned home to see the family in August 2023. I soon realised that the South Africa of today is similar in many ways to the South Africa of the apartheid era.

The National Party (NP) apartheid government was almost paralysed from 1976 as it had no sensible idea of what to do in the face of mounting opposition to apartheid. The African National Congress (ANC) of today is also almost paralysed because its members have no sensible idea of what to do to improve the plight of the 64 million of us. And people today are responding in similar ways to how the people of the apartheid days responded.

Faced with an inept government, from 1976, people had to seize their future themselves through boycotts, widespread protests and street committees. It was a time of endless unemployment.

Being home was a reminder of the past and a glimpse into the future. I saw that millions of people were again seizing their future because the government is so inept.

Gautrain: Pure Theft

The first lesson came with the Gautrain from Johannesburg airport to Sandton. That cost R206 to go three stops. I was the chap standing at the gates telling the world: “This is pure theft.”

To charge that money to travel such a short distance was pure theft. In other cities around the world, the train from the airport to the city centre would be so busy. The Gautrain was almost empty. The fare is simply too high, so commuters are simply boycotting the train. The boycott of the Gautrain in 2023 is similar in sentiment to the bus boycotts of the apartheid era.

Let me fast forward to Port Nolloth. When I opened my long-closed post box, I found a demand for nearly R6 000 for e-toll payments. I learnt, though, that few people paid e-tolls. This is a protest of a grand scale. Thirty years ago, people seeking a change of government engaged in mass protests on the street. Today, people needing a change of government protest by not paying their e-tolls. Just as the apartheid government was unable to prosecute everybody who protested, so the ANC government is not prosecuting etoll resisters.

People who protested on the streets years ago did not respect the apartheid government. People who do not pay e-tolls do not respect the ANC government. If the ANC ever listened to anybody but their self-appointed cadres, this could be yet another wake-up call.

As a newspaper reporter of old, the rule of engaging with the government before 1990 was no matter what the government said, they should not be believed. I soon learnt that few people believe the ANC government. This “not believing what the government said” was a factor that contributed to the demise of the communist party in the Soviet Union

People without government help take responsibility for feeding themselves.

Port Nolloth was thriving. One of the reasons was the informal diamond mining at a few places in the Northern Cape, South Africa. The mining companies stopped mining when the profits dimmed. People who lost their jobs were left with few employment options. So, as the companies left, local people who had worked on the mine moved back in, this time to mine for their own account. The returning miners insist that the land had been used by their ancestors for centuries. The informal miners are simply ignoring the government. Just as the apartheid government was incapable of encouraging economic growth, so is the ANC. Just as waves of people became street traders and engaged in informal work, so have waves of people taking to informal mining to feed themselves.  Here, we have people who are not being helped by the government taking responsibility themselves for feeding themselves.

I am not discouraged by informal mining. The government will never create a climate conducive to economic growth. The ANC mind is on taxpayer- funded jobs for their cadres, not economic growth. So, people find their own way to be entrepreneurial and feed themselves. The trade union movement and taxi industry had similar inputs in the beginning – people acting for themselves to protect themselves despite what the government said and did. To get a job today, people need to be linked to the internet. The cost of data is prohibitive. So, if you have no money for data, you cannot acquire a job. It is a downward spiral. 

People united on their streets just as street committees did in apartheid townships during to keep each other safe.

I found myself in Durban, which is my home city. I was saddened initially by what I was told several times. You might recall that riots flared up in Durban when a former president of South Africa, whose name shall not besmirch my keyboard, was sentenced to jail. People I know took to their streets to defend their homes, some armed with hockey sticks and cricket bats. Were such people intimidated? No, they emerged triumphant. I heard more than once: “the Muslims were magnificent”.

I was not there, but I was told that in many areas, Muslim people with guns took to the streets to safeguard homes and shops. There was widespread gratitude for that. People spoke of strangers arriving at the barricades with car loads of food to share. I detest the awful, terrifying thought of South Africans confronting South Africans on the street. I do, however, have a positive interpretation. People standing together on their street were acting just as street committees did in townships during apartheid to keep each other safe. If the police could not or would not keep you safe, you must protect yourselves.

South Africans United by love and distaste 

South Africans seemed to be united on only two points. The first was distaste of Eskom, and the second point was support for the national rugby team. Eskom. Frankly, I blame Jan van Riebeek. If he had never arrived, there would have been no Eskom. If Van Riebeek is still alive, as some people insist, he should try to get out of the country. He is getting bad press. He should use the Home Affairs exit counter I used. The chap on duty did not even bother to look at me, he was so busy chatting to his female colleague next to him.

I was treated exactly the way the National Party officials treated black South Africans – they simply did not see them. What disrespect. But I was leaving again, so why should I care? I was not alone in leaving, you know. When the passengers went through immigration once in China, I saw there were about 60 South Africans on my flight, maybe more. And at least 75 percent were young, black, professional, and ambitious, probably teachers. People like this should be the backbone of the future.

However, their grandparents lived through boycotts, protests, rule by street committees and utter disdain from officials. There is no reason for them to endure such events themselves. So, instead, they are pouring into China by the plane load. Oh well, at least they will send millions of rands back to South Africa each month by virtue of working in China.   

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