Oscar van Heerden | In a country of catastrophes, let’s be the revolutionaries

At a time when our young democracy is imploding and unable to cope with various disasters, we must be the revolutionaries we once were, writes Oscar van Heerden.


Since Nelson Mandela spoke at the parade in Cape Town in 1991, we have faced many disasters as a nation.

When Dr. Cornel West talks about the American Empire, he reminds us all that we live in a time of resilience and resistance, a time of decay and decline. He could talk about us here in South Africa. Perhaps there are lessons to be learned from West to introspect on our own conditions here at home.

It is clear that we live in a time when our young, post-apartheid democracy is imploding and unable to cope with the various disasters.

A broken system

There is the ecological catastrophe of natural disasters and water shortages, the economic catastrophe of unemployment, poverty and wage stagnation as well as wealth inequality. A political catastrophe of corrupt leaders and general citizen apathy, the civic and social catastrophe of broken relationships, broken families and broken communities. And finally, there is spiritual catastrophe, where greed is good and might is good, and anyone who opposes it is seen as unbalanced and clumsy. The system, says West, is so hemorrhagic, so broken, and we wonder why it can’t be reformed or reformed.

Let us learn about each of these disasters and see if, indeed, we can muster the social cohesion needed as a society to fight against these destructive tides.

Ecological catastrophe is perhaps the greatest threat we face as a nation. Multiple disasters ranging from ongoing pandemics (which will only get worse over time) to natural disasters, such as out of control veld fires, droughts in many parts of the country, not just the Eastern Cape, hacking of our natural resources in our oceans and the continued slaughter of our species of rhino. All of these are out of control with our law enforcement agencies losing the battle against the natural elements and the criminal elements.

The economic disaster is a second unmitigated disaster here at home.

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Unemployment is off the charts and rising. This will spark frustration and anger and eventually lead to peaceful protests, which will turn into civil disobedience and eventually into a full-scale revolt, far worse than what we experienced in the July riots of last year. . A social wage in unemployment will keep this revolt at bay for a while, but if structural changes and solutions are not found soon, this eventuality of revolt will take place. Poverty levels go hand in hand with the issue of unemployment.

Our people want their dignity, and they want it already yesterday. The only way to remedy this phenomenon is to create jobs, jobs and more jobs. Our people are more than happy to voluntarily submit and work under very harsh conditions if need be, but at least they will be able to hold their heads up high and provide for their families.

Their dignity will be restored.

Plague on our democracy

Inequality remains a stain, a blight on our democracy, on our flag, and certainly on our Constitution, and the only way to fix it is to address the above two issues. Without finding lasting solutions to this economic disaster, we will be doomed.

The political catastrophe is the one about which everyone has so many opinions and everyone has the solutions for the politicians.

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Don’t spend money on nuclear power, it’s simple. Don’t spend money on more coal-fired power plants, even though we have unlimited coal reserves. Don’t buy a massive flag for the country or a national orchestra worth R30 million. Who needs the arts when poverty and inequality are so high in South Africa? Hell, who needs Olympic teams or national sports teams?

Surely this is a waste of money? Even though it is the arts and sports that keep us sane during these pandemics and disasters. It is poets, musicians and athletes who give meaning to these tumults.

Another view is that the ANC should just implode, and all will be well in Mzansi.

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These are all short-sighted and populist opinions. We are not a first world country contrary to popular opinion in some quarters of our country, so we cannot afford to go all out with alternative energy sources such as wind and solar. Germany is replacing them with massive amounts of gas and oil. Can we afford it? No. A mixed energy plan is the best way forward for a third world country like South Africa, and yes, coal and nuclear have to be part of that equation, lest we get left behind with technologies constantly growing around the world.

Corruption must be fought at every turn, yes, but it cannot become the total objective of our political system, not at the expense of race and class politics in our country – issues that have yet to be resolved. We must also find ways to help these leaders in their quest to create a better life for all South Africans. We must become active citizens and take a proactive stance in achieving the socio-economic status of all citizens, black and white.

Equally significant is the civic and social catastrophe since the very fabric of our society is being torn apart by alcohol and drug abuse in all of our communities across the country.

ANC leadership battles

The ANC is concerned about leadership battles within the party while MPs are concerned about anything and everything that is irrelevant to the ordinary citizen of this country.

Nyaope, also known as Wonga, is a form of black tar heroin, which is destroying our youth there. It destroys our future. At almost every corner of our townships we find our young people huddled together, uninterested in finding work because there is no work to be found. They are not interested in school because what is the benefit of education if it cannot lead to meaningful employment. They abuse alcohol to forget all that is wrong with their miserable lives. They know they are the invisible ones in our society; they are the ones we don’t want to talk about, to rehabilitate or to give hope to. In fact, they don’t have any hope and we can’t give them any either.

We seem to be running out of meaningful ideas. And so our young miners are dying in unregulated taverns and shebeens. So drunk they probably didn’t realize when life was sucked from their young bodies. How callous we have become as a nation.

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And then there’s the spiritual catastrophe, where greed is good and might is good, where we the have-nots don’t care. We build higher fences, electrify them and hire private security to keep our family safe. We pay for private health care and insurance and ensure that we live in protected areas so that we never face the poverty, unemployment and inequality I spoke of above. We live in a false consciousness.

West says one could choose the option of absolute condemnation and, in fact, most white people have opted for that. What do you expect from a black government, they say. I told you, it was only a matter of time. But we must all recognize that this government is racist, xenophobic, corrupt and much more, but they are an expression, a symptom, a symbol, the crystallization of these things in our very society. This battlefield with our souls is raging, I know it.

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Although we as South Africans enjoy Bokke’s victory and they are still the number one team in the world, we also know that there is an uncomfortable truth in the recesses of our subconscious. And as I’ve written before, we know the abused, tortured, tormented little girl (who represents all of these disasters) in the basement of our democracy.

We can choose to fight, become active citizens and set this scared little girl free, thereby emancipating us all, or we can choose to be the ones to walk away from Omelas.

Let’s be the revolutionaries we once were.

– Dr. Oscar van Heerden is a specialist in International Relations (IR), where he focuses on international political economy, with a focus on Africa, and SADC in particular. He is currently Deputy Vice Chancellor at the University of Fort Hare.

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Thelma J. Longworth