Burn, the beloved coun­try

CityPress - - Voices -

Fire, fire, fire. Why do we burn so much? In 2005, when res­i­dents of Khut­song went on the ram­page – set­ting alight houses, li­braries and com­mu­nity halls – be­cause they ob­jected to new de­mar­ca­tion bound­aries, the then head of gov­ern­ment com­mu­ni­ca­tions Joel Net­shiten­zhe warned against re­ward­ing such vi­o­lence by giv­ing in to the com­mu­nity’s de­mands.

It sounded cal­lous and was hardly mu­sic to the ears of the peo­ple of Khut­song, but it was an im­por­tant ad­mon­ish­ment.

Net­shiten­zhe warned of cre­at­ing “per­verse in­cen­tives” in re­act­ing to the vi­o­lence by cav­ing in to de­mands. A few years later, his boss, Thabo Mbeki, was re­moved from of­fice and gov­ern­ment duly re­sponded pos­i­tively to the peo­ple of Khut­song.

So, as schools, uni­ver­si­ties and trains are burnt down al­most daily, we have to won­der if we are not reap­ing the re­wards of re­fus­ing to lis­ten to Net­shiten­zhe’s wise words.

This week, as South Africa cel­e­brated the Uni­ver­sity of Fort Hare’s 100-year an­niver­sary, the build-up to the cel­e­bra­tions was marred by fires as stu­dents burnt build­ings and their con­tents.

The au­di­to­rium build­ing at the Uni­ver­sity of Johannesburg (UJ) was also fire-bombed; the costs of the dam­age amount to more than R100 mil­lion. Dam­age was also done to the com­puter labs above the au­di­to­rium. And more than 23 schools were burnt in one week­end in Vuwani, where res­i­dents are re­sist­ing the de­mar­ca­tion for a new mu­nic­i­pal­ity.

A mem­ber of UJ Fees Must Fall was quoted as say­ing that stu­dents be­lieve that the only way to be heard is by burn­ing down build­ings.

On Fri­day, the pres­i­dency is­sued a state­ment re­ject­ing com­ments that vi­o­lent protests are the or­der of the day be­cause this is the lan­guage that gov­ern­ment un­der­stands best and it re­sponds only when there is may­hem.

Th­ese two state­ments go to the heart of the prob­lem: the per­cep­tion that le­git­i­mate de­mands are not recog­nised as such un­til in­cen­di­ary ac­tion is taken. It is a might­ily dan­ger­ous per­cep­tion, which is feed­ing a cul­ture of im­punity.

The gov­ern­ment should treat this as a na­tional emer­gency and move fast to cre­ate a cul­ture of re­spon­sive­ness within its ranks. If not, we risk be­ing in a per­ma­nent state of rev­o­lu­tion.

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