South Africans 'gatvol' with politicians: Wits vice-chancellor

15 August 2014 - 12:44 By Leonie Wagner
A violent service-delivery protest in Bekkersdal on the West Rand almost spiralled out of control as stone-throwing demonstrators clashed with police. Seven people were arrested after a community centre was burnt down.
A violent service-delivery protest in Bekkersdal on the West Rand almost spiralled out of control as stone-throwing demonstrators clashed with police. Seven people were arrested after a community centre was burnt down.
Image: ALON SKUY

South Africa’s “out of control” public violence will transform into a revolution if inequality isn’t dealt with now.

This is according to Wits University vice-chancellor Professor Adam Habib, who added that the Marikana tragedy, which saw the loss of 34 miners’ lives during a violent unprotected strike exactly two years ago, was the “most dramatic manifestation” of public violence and inequality.

Habib was speaking at the Institute for Security Studies’s (ISS’s) International Conference on Crime Reduction and Criminal Justice, which started in Johannesburg on Thursday.

Habib said that while public violence was “out of control”, South Africa was not yet on the verge of a revolution, but was heading in that direction if inequality was not addressed.

“While we are not on the verge of a revolution today, if we don't confront this [there will be] serious problems down the line,” Habib said.

According to Habib, there was a “serious crisis” when it came to service delivery failures, which he attributed to “rampant and unthinking” cadre deployment.

"The declining legitimacy of the ANC shows you that there's a serious problem brewing. People are gatvol with politicians, the ANC and the DA,” Habib said.

He added that while inequality was a global phenomenon, how it "manifests itself” in South Africa was “fundamentally different" to elsewhere.

“In Germany, if a child drowns in a pit of faeces, a government falls. In South Africa, it’s business as normal; we've become so immune,” Habib said.

Habib said: "You have to have real behavioural change; we all claim we're dealing with inequality but we're not. …

"We must avoid the romanticisation [of inequality] but also reflect on it. Don't deal with the symptoms alone but also the causal factors," he said. 

Lizette Lancaster, who runs the ISS’s Crime and Justice Hub, added: “People are more likely to mobilise if they feel they have nothing to lose.”

According to Lancaster, police data revealed that violent incidences during public events, including strikes, had increased by 57% in the past two years and by 234% in the past decade.

The provincial hotspots, according to research by the Crime and Justice Hub, were Gauteng, followed by Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

Lancaster added that a “huge catalyst” for these violent protests was a combination of media attention and a non-responsive local government, with violence being fuelled by a poor response by the state through the police.

"Many factors create an environment for communities to feel they need to protest but often it’s the state response that creates such a frustrating environment that violence erupts. Often police create the escalation into violence by using force that is not necessary," Lancaster said.

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