This article was first published on City Press on 21 July 2022
Leave us alone with our coal stoves
According to the South African constitution, everyone has inherent dignity and the right to have their dignity respected and protected. Yet, this so-called right is violated daily by our own government, not because of any particular malice (although there’s also plenty of that); they are just unable to fulfill their promise. This right to dignity was premised on greater reliance on the state; the state would provide housing, water, electricity, etc, to the poor. Now, they are simply unable to meet these obligations, meanwhile the poor have become ever more dependent on the government to do what they promised.
To give a practical example, if you live in one of the areas that were electrified and provided water and sanitation after 1994, you eventually got used to the government providing something that was objectively better than what you had provided for yourself before. Well, now that the government utility that was supposed to provide your electricity is failing, you have to spend days without power for cooking, washing, ironing and everything else. You no longer have your coal stove, which while it was not ideal, you were able to cook on it. Now you can’t cook at all, and you are told to be grateful to the government that provided you with electricity.
With water it’s the same story in many municipalities. Whether because of pumps failing due to loadshedding or simply municipal bankruptcy/incompetence, you have to spend days without water to drink, wash yourself or flush your toilet. Yet the constitution says you have a right to dignity. What does it mean in practice? Can you do anything with this right on paper?
What South Africans now need is some honesty from their government - things will not get better. We will not all have housing, electricity, sanitation, water, a quality education etc. To the extent that we get any of these things it will be through our own efforts. The government has failed utterly, when the government cannot defend citizens in one province out of nine, against looters - their most basic responsibility - how can they ever hope to provide things that require complex engineering and maintenance?
If they cannot defend women from rape and ordinary South Africans from murder, how can they provide electricity to every poor person as well as a house? The answer is they cannot, and the more time passes the more this becomes apparent. The emotional outburst by the Minister of Police when asked simple, but well-informed and relevant questions by Ian Cameron of the Action Society NGO speaks volumes. These people have run out of ideas, they have no idea how to ensure that detectives don’t have a backlog of an average of 300 dockets each, and that they receive proper training.
It boggles the mind that anyone can still have any hope of having their problems fixed by people who have no real incentive to do so. These are the same people who caused the economic devastation of lockdown, which was the direct cause of the looting in KZN last July, never mind the jobs lost that will never be recovered. Even when things are going well on their own, they find a way to mess them up.
Messing things up is their main job, from proposals to introduce a National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme which would destroy the private medical system that citizens who can afford it use as a way to escape the failed public health system that is more likely to kill you than heal you. While still having to be taxed to pay for the public health system. They also want to take away the very same guns that citizens used to defend themselves in KZN and Gauteng last July, through amendments to the Firearms Control Act. This Act already makes it impossible for millions of people to defend themselves because the process of acquiring a license is time consuming and costly.
Everywhere the government meddles, disaster soon follows for the average citizen. Is it not time to tell them to leave us alone with our coal stoves, jojo tanks and solar panels? To leave us alone to figure it out for ourselves and not interfere, including in how we choose to defend ourselves against the criminals they can’t stop? Perhaps then we’ll have a chance at real dignity.