In 2001 during some of Zimbabwe’s darkest days we drove from Harare to Cape Town, it was mainly for holiday purposes and a bloomin' good one it was too, but we also had to leave Zim' for a while due to the mess there. It’s a long story!
While we were in South Africa we had a great time and met some fab people, some of whom we went on to work with when we moved to SA three years later. I remember at the time having a number of conversations with folk about the Zim' situation and was asked the same question a few times.
“Do you think SA could go the same way as Zim'?”
My answer remains the same 11 years later but so too does the caveat I put on my answer.
I honestly believe SA cannot and will not go the same way as Zim' and I believe there are a number of reasons for this, amongst which include an independent judiciary, a fully independent and robust media and a multi-party parliament with a healthy constitution.
However, my caveat to this answer was this: SA must change and those that continue to enjoy privilege and prestige, mainly the white folk, must adopt change before change is forced upon them. Adopt change now and help to shape it or wait and do nothing and when change comes you won't like it.
Fast forward 11 years and I believe this even more today than I did back then. We moved to SA 8 years ago and all I’ve seen in that time is the whites retreating into gated communities, putting up ever higher walls and electric fences and bemoaning the fact that the govt is racist because whites are denied opportunities based on the colour of their skin (seem to have heard a similar story somewhere before). The wealthy have just got a lot wealthier, the houses being built are getting substantially bigger and yet the guys in the townships struggle more and more with each passing year.
Just up the road from where we live there are some large housing developments going on despite the economic climate. What amazes me is that the workers building the houses are from the townships. Each day they come to work and lay bricks etc. in houses that are 10, 20 or 30 times bigger than their RDP houses or shacks.
Someone up the road has recently acquired an Aston Martin DB9. It’s a truly stunning car but not really very appropriate in this context. Regardless of the driver’s view, he bought that car with money made of the backs of the black labourers who are barely paid a living wage for their troubles. Wherever that guy goes in his DB9 he has to drive past townships at some point each day. So how does he justify it?
My point here is that in the 8 years that we’ve lived in SA there is no indication of the whites/wealthy adopting change. Sure there are empowerment projects reaching into townships and helping some folk to improve their lot but the reality is that the majority of folk (for that read ‘black’) in the country are struggling by from day to day barely being paid a living wage.
At some point those guys are going to rise up and demand change and change will be forced upon the wealthy. Some will think it'll never happen but there is a precedent for it here in SA. A few years ago a wave of xenophobia swept through the townships as local black guys got angry at the Ethipopian, Somlian, Zimbabwean and other immigrants who they felt were taking their jobs and houses from them. I have no doubt that xenophobia played a part in this but I also believe that the underlying cause was a sense of economic injustice. Others were doing better than the locals (work ethics would require a whole other blog post) and they took up arms to sort the problem. I'm convinced that one day these same guys are going to wake up and smell the roses and realise that their fellow Africans are the least of their problems.
No doubt Aston Martin will sell many more DB9s before that day comes.
I'm going to follow this post up shortly. Stay tuned.