Opinion

Bruce Whitfield
  • The good news of a better than expected bounce in Q2 growth was overshadowed by a surge in anger at a state which is seen to be failing its citizens. 
  • Adding load shedding to the mix would most certainly drive the country into despair.
  • Eskom’s inability to generate sufficient power cheaply is symptomatic of broader governance failings. 
  • For more stories go to the Business Insider South Africa homepage.


South Africa was reminded this week of just how fragile its social compact is. Looters took to the streets targeting small shops primarily owned and operated by foreign entrepreneurs as violence spread, causing millions of rands in damage and significant losses for business owners.

There is no small irony in the fact that many people employed in those stores are South African and join the long list of the unemployed. Criminal opportunism, however, pays no heed to the concerns of others. 

Jay Caboz
Hundreds of students took to the streets of Cape Town to protest violence in South Africa. Photo Jay Caboz.

Women, fed up by a rising tide of femicide and attacks on young children, laid siege to the Cape Town International Convention Centre, seeking to embarrass the South African government into some sort of action to harshly punish culprits and improve protection of the vulnerable.

Inside, delegates spoke about the fourth industrial revolution and its future benefits.

Fascinating for those allowed inside. Meaningless to those trapped in the brutal reality of surviving South Africa’s harsh realities. 

The good news of a better than expected bounce in Q2 growth was overshadowed by a surge in anger at a state which is seen to be failing its citizens. 

Imagine if we added load-shedding into the mix now? 

It would most certainly drive the country into despair. 

Eskom bragged this week that it had gone 160 days without forced blackouts. The fact that it has only one job and that is to generate enough energy to support growth, seems to escape the battered utility. 

The debt-ridden state-owned enterprise warned, however, that it was unable to guarantee supply as it begins the regular summer maintenance of its creaking infrastructure. 

That is a terrifying prospect. 

The impact of load shedding was a primary contributor to the first quarter economic contraction and the spike in unemployment to an average 29.2% currently. Another round of power outages now would cause considerable further despair. 

Eskom’s inability to generate sufficient power cheaply is symptomatic of broader governance failings. Abject poverty and the rising tide of unemployment is a governance failure. The fact that significant numbers of women feel compelled to protest angrily for something as fundamental as the right to personal security is yet another failure of governance. 

The fact that the country’s intelligence agencies, previously so effective at running up bogus spy allegations to help ex-president Jacob Zuma dispose of his political enemies, is unable to discern the origins of highly organised and apparently pre-planned looting sprees is another failure. 

To have police so vastly outnumbered on the streets that they are unable to contain hoards of criminal gangs stealing from foreigners is also a catastrophic failure. 

No number of government and private sector condemnations and other platitudes will fix the problems. That requires skill, hard work and considerable political will to crack down hard on failings. 

The sentiment expressed by the SAMint this week as it promoted a new collectors range of coins commemorating 25 years of constitutional democracy was lost, as the brutal daily reality of far too many people in this country overshadowed the great achievement. 

It failed to grasp the public mood. As did the World Economic Forum Africa gathering which has entered its second day of proceedings focussing on the impact of, and opportunities a fourth industrial revoloution might bring. 

Until government finds a way of simultaneously addressing the immediate needs of its people, its high level grandstanding on the future is likely to fall on deaf ears. 

Bruce Whitfield is a multi-platform award-winning financial journalist and broadcaster.

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