The Constitutional divorce we cannot afford

By Narend Singh, IFP Chief Whip in Parliament

President Ramaphosa, in an address to the nation in July regarding the looting and violence at play in our country, accused instigators of trying to destabilise our constitutional democracy.

His description fell far short of how people experiencing these events actually felt.

The lack of security forces meant to be provided by the state – as per section 198 of the Constitution – to safeguard the constitutional right to peace, forced many to live in fear and gave a green light to the devastation that followed recently.

Over the past weeks, we have seen extensive footage of the devastation caused by this civil unrest. This has undoubtedly cost people their livelihoods and entrenched poverty in our nation. Our economy is being brought to its knees by the consistent failures in service delivery, lack of good governance and poor political will. This does not paint a bright picture for our communities.

Tragically, as a nation, we have lost lives during the recent civil unrest, Marikana, Life Esidimeni and in the fight for democracy. We are collectively poorer for it.  It is my belief that every single life in this country matters.  As a nation, we cannot afford to see such violence erupt at any time within our borders. We have fought too hard and too long to build a society that no other place in the world can replicate. Our citizenship under the Constitution needs to be met with a capable government, which can deliver on promises to the people in order to prevent unnecessary deaths, looting and violence.

Recently, there have been reports of deaths in the Durban suburb of Phoenix, which has again brought about an unacceptable, gut-wrenching blow to South Africa.  Investigations into these deaths have not yet revealed the cause and motives for these deaths. A call must be made to the local community to cooperate fully with the police investigation, to bring those criminals responsible to justice.

The media and certain African National Congress (ANC) members have been reporting that these attacks are racially-motivated, yet no facts from the investigation have been presented.

This investigation is still in its infancy and to prematurely conclude that race motivated these deaths is of great concern to me, as well as many communities in KwaZulu-Natal.

Responsible journalists should work with facts and evidence at their disposal, an ethical practice which, it appears, has been shown the door.

ANC members usually await the outcomes of an investigation before stating their position on individuals or communities, like with the Zondo Commission. However, suddenly, some are spearheading a campaign to taint an entire community.

What possible gains could be made from these destructive attacks by the media and the ANC on communities in South Africa? Surely the majority believe that unity brings prosperity.

As a member of the South African Indian community, I can say that we do not accept racism, murder and criminality in this country. We support all calls for justice to be served for the families of all the deceased in these recent tragic events. No person will defend those guilty of murder – irrespective of motive. Granted, as with all communities, a few criminal elements do exist. These must be uprooted to prevent them from violently ripping apart our hard-won, multi-layered social fabric.

The looting, destruction, mayhem and death we experienced in early July, are not the characteristics of our nation, nor can we afford to deviate from our constitutional commitments.

These social ills should never have occurred if our government was truly committed to safeguarding all South Africans. Our communities would not have been put in such aggravating circumstances if the government had a rapid response to what was going on. If they had deployed security forces to protect our right to live in peace and free from fear, our right to property, the right to a safe environment, the right to maintain public order and most importantly, the right to life, we may not have seen the same levels of devastation.

This government remained hidden whilst the country fell into a state of anarchy, with citizens living in a state of fear and lawlessness. The criminality was not managed and caused mass panic among residents, who quickly realised they were in the dark and on their own, without protection from the police and security forces. Many communities established roadblocks to protect their food security, which they watched dwindle as factories and supply chains were looted and burnt.

Some accounts of looting have also highlighted the burning need for our nation to address the triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality.

The failure of government to address many of these challenges over the past 26 years, whilst stealing from the country and the most vulnerable, has dealt a blow that we may spend generations trying to overcome. The looting and destruction of property has further cemented an immediate future of unemployment and starvation.

As communities were left out in the cold and on their own to defend their livelihoods, jobs, property and lives, so too will they be left to rebuild this country – if the current government remains in place.

Civil society must be strengthened to become the main contributor in addressing the social ills of our country. There have been – and currently are – many great initiatives by organisations who express genuine concern for the wellbeing of their fellow South Africans. We should take the opportunity to salute their efforts, and participate actively where we can.

The media, too, has a responsibility to focus on nation-building, and to give exposure to civil society organisations, businesses and people with community upliftment initiatives.

Ministers must be placed on notice, by the President and the people of South Africa. They need to know that their infighting within government has directly led to the breakdown of our social fabric. Their immediate task is to now work together to build a capable, intelligent and responsive Security Cluster.

The government’s divorce from our constitutional values has revealed its inability to provide services, security and protect lives. South Africans need to stand united in defence of our common will – the Constitution – and make choices that will serve us better in the long term.

I recognise the efforts by some political leaders, especially His Majesty of the Zulu Nation, King MisuZulu kaZwelithini, and the traditional Prime Minister of the Zulu Nation, His Excellency, Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, for calling for calm and peace during this difficult time for our nation.

Now is the time to commit ourselves to rebuilding – not only of infrastructure, but more importantly, to rebuilding our unity in diversity in our many communities, and our nation as a whole.