Potholes on the road to a better life for all
Saturday was one of those terrible days when one gets the feeling that our country is regressing to the dark days of the early 1990s.
A large group of men, many of them striking Anglo-Platinum workers, occupied the Olympia stadium in Rustenburg in a bid to stop a Cosatu-organised rally from going ahead.
The group set alight Cosatu and National Union of Mineworkers' T-shirts and flags to protest against what they said is the trade union federation's collaboration with employers.
Two Cosatu members - one of them Billy Zulu, a national organiser at one of the federation's affiliates - were beaten up by the mob.
Only the intervention of quick-thinking photojournalists helped save Zulu's life.
Police later had to use rubber bullets and water cannons to chase the occupiers away from the stadium and allow the Cosatu rally, which was to be addressed by general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi and other tripartite alliance leaders, to continue.
The invasion, the mob violence and the use of force by the police was reminiscent of the last days of apartheid rule.
During those extremely violent days, some political parties and groups would forcefully occupy venues that their political opponents had booked for events.
They did so to prevent their rivals from winning over the hearts and minds of local residents and to intimidate anyone in the area who might approve of the views of the rival political party.
The advent of democracy in 1994 should have meant the end of such intimidation tactics by political parties, trade unions and other civil society groups. But, as they say, old habits die hard.
It is not all doom and gloom, though.
The ugly scenes at Olympia stadium are the exception rather than the rule.
We are a much better and, dare I say, safer society than we were two decades ago.
The outcomes of Census 2011, which were made public yesterday, attest to the steady progress made over the past decade or so in improving South African lives.
For instance, the average annual household income has more than doubled from R48385 to R103204.
Statistics South Africa, which is responsible for the census, said this 113.35% in household income is impressive when considering that the Consumer Price Index "indicates that income should have increased by 77.5%" during the same period to have stayed in line with inflation.
On the education front, despite all the concerns about the quality of public schooling, it is still great news that the proportion of people who completed matric has increased from just over 7% in 1996 to 12.3% in 2011.
Among black citizens, the number of those without any form of schooling has decreased from 24% to 10.5% during the same period.
Whereas only 47.1% of households used electricity for cooking in 1996, Census 2011 shows that 73.9% of households now do so.
But Census 2011 also reminds us that South Africa remains with many serious problems which, if left unattended, would plunge us to the kind of social instability that would make the events in Rustenburg a far more commonplace occurrence than we would like.
Unemployment remains extremely high at 40%.
The unemployment rate becomes even more shocking when it is considered in relation to the various population groups.
While only 10% of whites and 17% of Indians are unemployed, the figure is as high as 31.5% among coloureds and 46.3% among black citizens.
The average household income for whites rose from R193820 to R365134 between 2001 and 2011.
However, among blacks, the figure increased from R22522 to a mere R60613 over the same period.
These are the inequalities South Africa will have to urgently address if we are to become the thriving and stable nation we seek to be.
Many of those who took part in the violence at Olympia stadium were either unemployed or among the lowest wage-earners in the country.
If South Africa is to make a complete break from its violent past, it has to urgently address these fault-lines by adopting policies that are specifically aimed at uplifting these groups.
Failure to do so can only result in many within these groups becoming despondent or resorting to the kind of violence that would shake the nation to its very foundation.