Poverty is a national emergency
CAPE TOWN held its breath yesterday as it braced itself for one of the largest protest marches in recent history. Tens of thousands of protesters, drawn mainly from the city’s poorest townships, were expected to come to the city centre to give vent to their frustration over their living conditions.
In the end the march did not take place. The City of Cape Town obtained an 11th-hour high court interdict to stop the march, under the banner of the Cape Town Informal Settlements grouping, from proceed- ing. Even so, the police and other agencies covered large parts of the city centre and key public transport nodes under a blanket of security as a precautionary measure. A similar march which descended into an orgy of looting and mindless violence in the CBD last month remains fresh in the memory, and many stores and informal traders opted out of operating yester- day for fear of more chaos.
To their credit, the protest organisers heeded the court order and made public calls for the march to be suspended until they obtained official permission.
Even though yesterday’s march was averted, there are still plans afoot to stage the protest. But more importantly, the basic issues that fuel the deepening anger and resentment felt by those on the margins of our city continue to simmer.
Our city – and our country – sits on a powder keg of poverty, inequality and lack of services and opportunity. We may have breathed a huge sigh of relief that potential anarchy was averted yesterday but we are staring down the proverbial barrel if more is not done to change the lives of the poor. The state and society as a whole needs to do far more to address the basic concerns of our fellow citizens.
Service delivery protests and the explosion of anger witnessed in the centre of Cape Town last month are the symptoms; the cure is to take bold and decisive steps to create a more equal, sharing
and caring society.