South Africa is far from what Tunisia was like pre-revolution (for one it is not governed by a one-party police state; or it does not conducts mass arrests of its opponents; and if you insult the president you don’t get tortured and jailed indefinitely), but the parallels of small-town cops beating to death a South Africa Everyman because he was angry with poor or non-existent service delivery (water, electricity, roads, housing) are eerily reminiscent of what happened to a certain fruit vendor in southern Tunisia. (Here‘s video footage from South African TV news of the murder.)

But if you asked someone in Meqheleng where Andries Tatane was murdered (yes, I did look up the largest township in Ficksburg in the Free State Province) whether they are as frustrated as your typical Tunisian circa 2010, I wonder what they would reply?

Would the ANC’s proper electoral mandate and liberation credentials outweigh the impression that those in power–personified by President Jacob Zuma, and his Ministers or ANC leaders like Tokyo Sexwale, Sicelo Shiceka, and Siphiwe Nyanda, etcetera–are amassing wealth and governing just like Hosni Mubarak and Ben Ali?

My hunch is a few years from now the residents of Meqheleng or any of the townships or squatter settlements won’t care how legitimate the ruling party’s mandate is: poor service delivery is poor service delivery.

You know at least for now in further Tunisia parallels the people of Ficksburg have ratcheted things up a bit.

Which leads me this:

Does that 18-year old in Meqheleng know the basic dynamics of what is happening in North Africa or the Middle East? Are vernacular radio and local papers giving the “Arab spring” coverage, at least to the point that that 18-year old realizes how crap Mubarak was and, closer to home, how dismissive the ANC leadership has been to their demands the last 17 years, basically the span of his or her entire lifespan?

Trevor Manuel, the former finance minister, said in the aftermath of the Paris riots that Cape Town (see our previous posts on that city) is treading water. And Moeletsi Mbeki, Maoist brother of Thabo, has drawn a depressing picture for the country following the events in Tunis.

We shouldn’t be surprised when in the absence of meaningful political representation and mediation, the atrophy of social change, the lack of redistribution of wealth from white to black, and in a context of socially acceptable and government sanctioned accumulation through nepotism, cronyism, and political-connectedness, the structural violence of South African life finds vivid and widespread expression.

“Service delivery” protests (a misnomer if there ever was one), or what passes as xenophobic, domestic, interpersonal violence, wanton brutality on the part of security apparatus, all these are all symptoms of the greater malaise.

Further Reading