CityPress - - Voices - Mondli Makhanya

Try do­ing re­pair work on an elec­tronic gad­get in any of South Africa’s cen­tral business dis­tricts and your ser­vice provider is likely to be a Pak­istani. Try get­ting your hair done here and the per­son do­ing the job is likely to be a Fran­co­phone African. Your painter in the na­tion’s main sub­urbs will be Malaw­ian. If you buy top-up gro­ceries from a town­ship spaza shop, the man on the other side of the counter will prob­a­bly be So­mali.

Ven­ture into a few en­claves of our ci­ties and you will be treated to sump­tu­ous cui­sine from dif­fer­ent parts of Africa.

If you wan­der into the dodgy parts of the ci­ties to score nar­cotics you will prob­a­bly ... (okay, maybe let’s leave this one out).

But se­ri­ously, things are so bad that South Africans have even lost con­trol of their mafias and crim­i­nal syn­di­cates.

The point is that demo­cratic South Africa has be­come a mag­net for for­tune-seek­ers and sur­vival­ists from all over the world. They look at us from afar and see a land of op­por­tu­nity, a land where seeds can be planted on fer­tile soil and healthy plants can sprout. So they come our way. Some get here and strug­gle. Some just get by while some do very well for them­selves.

But the bot­tom line is that they seem to seize op­por­tu­ni­ties that South Africans seem un­able to do. This has bred re­sent­ment among lo­cals who see this as tak­ing away their op­por­tu­ni­ties.

This re­sent­ment has led to at­tacks on for­eignowned busi­nesses and spurred South African busi­ness­men to lobby gov­ern­ment for greater pro­tec­tion from th­ese “in­vaders”.

It has also fu­elled stereo­types about South Africans be­ing lazy, un­mo­ti­vated and overly de­pen­dent on gov­ern­ment to give them a leg up.

There is a grow­ing per­cep­tion, par­tic­u­larly among the mid­dle class, that the poor sit with their mouths wide open wait­ing to be spoon-fed.

This per­cep­tion now seems to have found its way into the top ech­e­lons of gov­ern­ment.

This week, Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma and Hu­man Set­tle­ments Min­is­ter Lindiwe Sisulu echoed this view, say­ing that the gov­ern­ment’s roll-out of ser­vices since 1994 had made South Africans too de­pen­dent on the state.

“When for­eign­ers come to South Africa, be­cause they are not used to gov­ern­ment hand­ing out, they get here and see op­por­tu­ni­ties and thrive ... Our peo­ple are wait­ing for gov­ern­ment.

“Our peo­ple are not used to stand­ing up and do­ing things. Th­ese ones are not ex­pect­ing any gov­ern­ment to do any­thing so they get here, see op­por­tu­ni­ties and ex­ploit them,” said Zuma.

Sisulu con­tin­ued on Zuma’s theme when she warned peo­ple un­der 40 not to ex­pect free hous­ing from gov­ern­ment be­cause this pro­gramme was meant for those who had been messed up by apartheid.

“I don’t know of a coun­try that gives free houses to young peo­ple. Free hous­ing in a few years will be some­thing of the past. You have lost noth­ing...” was her mes­sage to South Africa’s young peo­ple. Th­ese com­ments caused a storm. Com­men­ta­tors and or­di­nary South Africans slammed the two lead­ers for pass­ing judge­ment on cit­i­zens from the com­fort of their air­con­di­tioned, blue-light lim­ou­sines. Zuma was re­minded about the R246 mil­lion that the state had spent on his pri­vate res­i­dence.

But lost in the furore were a few nuggets of truth in what they were say­ing.

The post-1994 or­der did cre­ate a cul­ture of de­pen­dency. It was an un­in­tended con­se­quence of the need to cor­rect the wrongs of the past and to give peo­ple a tan­gi­ble taste of free­dom.

The mass roll-out of wa­ter, elec­tric­ity, hous­ing, wel­fare, ed­u­ca­tion and other ser­vices were nec­es­sary. The free pro­vi­sion and heavy sub­sidi­s­a­tion of a few of th­ese ser­vices was also nec­es­sary. Any­one who ar­gues oth­er­wise should be placed in a Valken­berg ward next to that guy from Bris­tol.

But just as much as we needed to re­verse the rav­ages of apartheid, we also need to deal with the dis­em­pow­er­ing ef­fect of the free ride we have given South Africans.

Im­mi­grants are eat­ing South Africans’ lunch be­cause they do what new ar­rivals do any­where in the world: they work hard to es­tab­lish a liveli­hood in their new land. This is not to say South Africans are in­do­lent, as has been claimed.

They just need to shake off the no­tion that “Pre­to­ria will al­ways pro­vide” and re­place it with the idea that Pre­to­ria will give you the means and tools to pro­vide for your­self.

Wean­ing South Africans off this cul­ture will take bold lead­er­ship, but not the sort of lead­er­ship that sends mixed mes­sages.

Dur­ing the elec­tions cam­paign, the Zu­mas and Sisu­lus boasted about the “good story to tell” on all the won­der­ful things the ANC had done for “the peo­ple”.

Months later, they seem to have con­ve­niently for­got­ten this good story and con­de­scend­ingly tell South Africans to get off their butts. Right mes­sage, wrong tone, wrong mes­sen­gers.

If ever we needed a jolt about the ur­gency of this wean­ing from the de­pen­dency cul­ture, it came in the form of Fi­nance Min­is­ter Nh­lanhla Nene’s medium-term bud­get speech this week.

In paint­ing a dire pic­ture of South Africa’s eco­nomic prospects, he sig­nalled that the bet­ter life for all his party and other par­ties had promised vot­ers in May might ac­tu­ally turn out to be a bleaker life for most.

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