Poverty is a na­tional emer­gency

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - COMMENT -

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.

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