🔒 Dirk Hartford: SA’s moment of GNU – time for change

What if Ramaphosa’s GNU cabinet meeting used its power to deliver on promises from the 2024 campaign? By implementing a basic income grant and scrapping VAT on essential foods, the GNU could dramatically improve lives and restore faith in the government. This bold move could prevent unrest similar to Kenya’s recent youth-led protests, showing that tackling deep economic issues is crucial for South Africa’s future.

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By Dirk Hartford

Imagine if Ramaphosa’s GNU cabinet lekgotla meeting on Thursday and Friday agreed on the immediate implementation of something all the GNU parties separately promised the electorate in their electoral campaigns—a basic income grant for the unemployed. ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

It would send a powerful signal to the most economically unequal society on the planet that this is going to be a government, which means what it says – especially to the impoverished, unemployed majority – in election campaigns.

All of the GNU’s constituent political parties were opportunistically united on this issue during the election campaign, for better or worse, so there should be nothing to quibble about now.

It would be one way to focus the GNU’s purpose at its inception while providing a foundation for tackling the more difficult and divisive issues that will come down the track.

It would also be a way to begin to pull the teeth of their MK/EFF opposition. 

Imagine if, in addition to a basic income grant, VAT was scrapped on the basic foodstuffs of the poor. 

Overnight, most South Africans could be at least 15% better off than before the election.

With moves like these, the GNU could take a massive leap forward in building confidence in itself among people who, judging by the increasingly poor voter turnout, have already lost confidence in the system.

Imagine what could happen if the GNU does not do these things. For this imagination, one only has to look at what has happened in Kenya in the past few weeks.

A spontaneous mass eruption of youth-led protests against President Ruto’s Finance Bill—which sought to impose taxes like those that should be scrapped in SA—rapidly evolved into nationwide resistance against the post-colonial political establishment in the #Occupy Everywhere shutdowns of Nairobi and other major cities.

Ruto’s government initially attempted to crush the resistance, blaming it on “criminals”. 

The protests were not led by political parties but were coordinated through social media by activists tapping into mass anger fuelled by high prices, unemployment, and corruption.

If it sounds familiar, it’s because it is familiar not only in South Africa but in almost all African countries. There were and are attempts to echo the Kenyan protests in Malawi, Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Uganda.

In the space of seventeen hours, Ruto was forced to back down from threatening to crush the protests to withdrawing the Finance Bill.

But not before; at least 43 protestors were killed, over 600 injured and billions of shillings of damage were caused.

The situation continues to simmer, with striking workers and their trade unions adding their grievances and voices to those of the youth.

Roughly 42 million South Africans are over the age of 18. About 16.3 million of these voted, and they were only 59% of the 27.8 million who bothered to register to vote.

In the most unequal society in the world, these are frightening numbers, especially on a continent with the youngest demographic on the planet (70% of Africans are under 30 years old).

The leaderless youth revolt against tax increases in Kenya is a harbinger of what lies ahead for Ramaphosa’s government of national unity even before MK/EFF start stirring the pot.

This year, there have also been significant (often youth-led) mass protests in Senegal, Uganda, Kenya, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Ghana. 

These are among the most serious mass protests against African postcolonial regimes since independence in the 1960s. Others, like in Nigeria, are still bubbling up.

Just as the slogan “2024 is our 1994” gained popular currency in our recent election to mean that political liberation is nothing without economic liberation, postcolonial Africa’s younger generation of born-frees is now saying essentially the same.

It all comes down to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s leadership (or lack thereof). 

He championed the basic income grant in the ANC’s 2024 electoral campaign and was in the leadership of the Cosatu-led anti-VAT campaign in the late 80’s. He can and should do it.

Some of us are crowd-cheering his leadership of a GNU with the DA and others because the democratic and constitutional future of SA remains on a knife edge until issues like these affecting the poor are addressed. And who else can lead it?

We have a subliminal longing for a benevolent democratic dictator who will rally the nation’s core forces behind this vision in word and deed.

Cyril could and should be our (don’t read this literally) version of the populist leaders emerging all over the Western world—instead of Zuma or Malema, for example.

What else did 1994 deliver besides the human rights and promises—including the right to vote—in the Constitution? Do we want to defend those or not?

The good thing about everything going down is that the real issues underpinning the 1994 rainbow miracle are ineluctably making their way onto the table.

Until they are seen as dealt with, they will never go away. The likes of Zuma’s and Malema’s will never be neutralised until and unless these issues are at least seen to be tackled.

The old struggle slogan Sekunjalo – “Now is the time” – is as apt as ever.

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