Our take: South Africa is in your hands

Following last week’s riots, it’s been disheartening to watch our government leaders this week. Instead of making up for failing to anticipate the looting or responding quickly, key government leaders have dissolved into petty fights, blame-shifting or disagreeing on a basic definition of what happened. (The president says it was an insurrection, his defence minister said differently days later.) We won’t bore you with the details but it’s startling to watch and it makes us feel all the more alone. 

…Which may not be a bad thing if we look at how South Africans have responded. Several commentators have made a key point: if this was genuine, widespread civil unrest, it would still be raging now. You’d be barricaded in your home, worrying about your dwindling supplies. The fact is that the vast majority of South Africans said “not in my name” and CHOSE not to join in the looting. Some, like Soweto community leader Nhlanhla Lux, stepped into the leadership gap, spending five sleepless days guarding Maponya Mall. There were also many heartwarming stories of cleanups by a cross-section of society. 

So: our leaders failed us but ordinary citizens stood up. What does this mean? Firstly, our resilience does NOT justify their ineptitude. We should not have to do the work of the government.

The long term solution is to keep pushing for the right leaders. And lucky for us, local government elections are coming up soon. The poll was scheduled for October but a recent investigation by the Independent Electoral Commission, chaired by former deputy chief justice, Dikgang Moseneke, has recommended it be postponed until no later than February 2022 because of the pandemic. 

Our current main political parties leave a lot to be desired and most of them are under pressure at the polls if the last results are anything to go by. South African voters aren’t endlessly forgiving. But what are the alternatives? We’re pretty excited about recent legislative changes and movement around independent candidates. If ordinary citizens can take a water treatment plant from experiencing regular sewage spills to almost blue drop status, equip and prepare a field hospital for Covid patients, and quickly supply food and medicine to those devastated by looting – well, we can definitely run parts of government. 

This article appeared as part of The Wrap, 22 July 2021. Sign up to receive our weekly updates.