I was in tears today as I watched the TV coverage and looked at these images of today’s ANC Youth League demonstration outside Luthuli House in Johannesburg. The visuals of attacks on media, riot police, water cannons and stun grenades are so reminiscent of the very bad old days that I am filled with despair.
For some time I have been seriously concerned about the political and economic future of the country that I love. I am no politician, nor am I an economist, but as an ordinary South African citizen it is plain to me that the country is becoming increasingly divided as our “leaders” either ignore or exacerbate the problem.
It is undeniable that there are massive social problems that we need to address as a nation. If I, as a middle class and comparatively privileged South African, have reached the end of my financial and emotional tethers; how much worse must it be for the truly poor and disenfranchised? We are all the victims of the poor service delivery. We are all victims of the ever-increasing crime. And unfortunately, we can’t all move to the supposedly greener grass of “developed” nations.
So as despicable as I often find Malema and his methods, I have to concede that he does represent a large number of South Africans. As much as I may disagree with his methods, I must recognise that the problems he seeks to address are legitimate.
But Malema himself does not scare me. To my mind, he is a shrewd and greedy man who has been lucky enough to make a space for himself in a country beset by division. It is his supporters, who appear willing to engage in whatever violent action occurs to them when the mob mentality hits, that truly frighten me. Not because of their tactics – which I think we can all agree are morally reprehensible – but because, to me, they represent a people pushed to desperation. A people pushed to the very limits of poverty. A people unheeded by their president and government representatives. These are fellow South Africans so desperate to find an enemy that they are willing to turn on the party that spawned them. And people desperate for an enemy are dangerous.
Today’s demonstrations scared me more than the countless break-ins and crime, more than the seemingly endless upward spiral in the cost of living. They scared me because of the attitudes and desperation that they highlighted. Perhaps the most frightening thing of all is that a large part of me understands. While I could never condone violence against anyone, I have a tiny inkling of how it feels to believe that things are not getting better. I know what it is like to fear that they never will. I understand the hopelessness. I get it. I too am tired of feeling like – despite my best efforts – the realities of living in South Africa are engineered to keep me financially and emotionally fragile.
Looking into the eyes of these demonstrators, I can’t help but wonder what will happen when we truly reach the end of our collective rope. There is so much rage and hate, so much fear and desperation; that I am no longer confident that we can overcome the sins of the past. Or the sins of the present.
Like oil and water, I fear that South Africa’s many factions will never mix without an enormous amount of agitation. I fear that Malema will get his revolution. Because what other option has been left to the millions of South African’s struggling to endure an insufferable situation?