Azad Essa asks: Has the post-Apartheid bubble burst?
Has the post-Apartheid bubble burst?
The deaths of 34 striking miners, shot by police at Marikana, may undermine officials’ narrative of peace and progress.
And then came the game changer.
Thirty-four striking miners were killed and scores more were wounded when police unleashed a spray of bullets at the assembled crowd outside the Lonmin-owned platinum mine at Marikana on Thursday, in what is being described as the most violent police operation since the end of apartheid.
“The gloss of [hosting] the FIFA World Cup was always an attempt to communicate a different story of what was happening on the ground,” he told Al Jazeera.
“Now the world has caught a glimpse of this other reality.”
Despite being classified as an upper-middle income country by the World Bank, unemployment in South Africa sits between 25 and 36 per cent. An estimated 50 per cent of the population lives under the poverty line. Recently, Unicef said that seven out of ten children live in homes that endure severe poverty. The group also discussed a set of circumstances that places the country in an unlikely position to be able to reunite its diverging societies of rich and poor.
Then in June, the World Bank applied its newly developed Human Opportunity Index to South Africa and the results were far from flattering.
While the report lauded the impressive gains made in access to primary education, electricity and telecommunications, it noted as well that the spatial effects of Apartheid still determined how well these services were actually distributed.
President Jacob Zuma himself has alluded to failed economic transformation when he said, also in June 2012: “The structure of Apartheid-era economy has remained largely intact.”
The disparate world of rampant inequality, where the black majority continues to live in an apparent disconnect from the vision of the new dispensation, was echoed widely in angry editorials of the The Sowetan and Amandla magazine, the morning after the shooting.
The Sowetan described South Africa as “an abnormal country … where the value of human life, especially that of the African, continues to be meaningless”, while Amandla said the tragedy “sums up the shallowness of transformation”.
It is the narrative of transformation, South Africa’s ability to emerge from an ugly past through negotiations and reconciliation that has been abruptly torn asunder by events in Marikana this week.
“The lack of humanity on both sides is a slap in the face of what we thought was possible,” explained Ari Sitas, sociology lecturer at the University of Cape Town.
Similarly, Lubna Nadvi, an activist and lecturer in politics at the University of KwaZulu-Natal told Al Jazeera: “The underbelly will rear its ugly head every once in a while, if the country’s real problems are left unaddressed.”
While the world hails South Africa as the definitive gateway to Africa, encouraging the country to assert its clout more prominently across the continent, a growing discontent lurking beneath the surface has been brushed aside. Low-income suburbs are crippled by an overwrought electrical grid; dusty townships remain lawless and insecure, and up to 12 million South Africans live in slums, where they face poor sanitation, barriers to water access and attacks on human dignity.
“Many communities protesting against poor service delivery suffer police repression and excessive state violence on a daily basis,” Mngxitama said.
South African police say they were acting in self-defence at Marikana on Thursday, but the scale of the damage, recorded in part by television cameras, has once more set off alarm bells concerning the capacity of the police and a perception among some regarding their inclination towards violence. In 2011, police behaviour was highlighted when community leader Andries Tatane died after a beating, reportedly at the hands of police, during a protest in Ficksburg in the Free State.
Sipho Hlongwane, political correspondent at Daily Maverick, said that the most shocking aspect of the Marikana incident was the reportedly slow response of the police and authorities.
“This incident did not come out of the blue, like perhaps the [Andries] Tatane incident … it was brewing for a week. Ten people had already died and still the police and authorities did nothing,” he said.
“The ANC will stop at nothing to defend the narrow interests of the political elite.”
Hlongwane’s observation is particularly significant when viewed in the context of police operations at community protests in recent years.
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