Fourteen years after the transition to majority rule, South Africa now face a stern challenge. The outbreak of xenophobic vioence across the Gauteng region this month prove that the current South African government had failed miserably in its mission to provide all South African citizens, regardless of race and colour, with a secure livelihood and a strong sense of democracy.

It is a well known fact that South Africa is now one of the most violent and unsafe countries in the world, with more than 16,000 murders a year. Violent crimes are common place, esepcially in the Townships - slums and informal settlements where the majority of black South Africans still reside.

Many black South Africans are without jobs - the official unemployment figure is 30% and the real unemployment is far far higher - and they lack decent education. While it is true that more and more black Africans have become affluent thanks to the 'Black Empowerment' Programme - a kind of reverse affirmative action - the majority of black Africans are still struggling on a daily basis.

The failure and absolute ineptitude of the current ANC government to address the issue of poverty, AIDS, and prevalence of violent crimes all over the country, suggest that the current political leadership has already served its purpose and should retire from the political scene.
In other words, South Africa of the 21st century needs an entirely new kind of political leadership and political power structure in order to deal with problems that are not heard of during the struggles against the Apartheid in the 1980s and 90s.
Current generation of ANC leaders are mostly in their 70s and 80s, most of them social revolutionaries from the bygone days. Age, in their case however, do not seem to equate with wisdom.
Sadly enough, their political mentality and understanding of what has been going on both within South(ern) Africa and in the wider world are out of date and no longer capable of coping with the current needs of the country/region.
ANC leaders now in power might have contributed to the struggle against the Apartheid during the period 1960-1990s, and their contribution and sacrifice ought to be recognised. But Apartheid days are well over and it is now not racial discrimination that hinders the country's development, but widespread violence and crime problem that put the country on her back foot and seriously threaten to undermine the democratic system in South Africa. It was the black South Africans that suffered under the Apartheid regime; now it IS still the black South Africans that suffer most under the current crime problems. So something must have gone fundamentally wrong. And what is it??Some argue that revolutionary feelings of comradeship might have prevented current ANC leaders to actively condemn Robert Mugabe's actions in Zimbabwe. After all, current ANC leaders used to seek refuge in nearby African countries during the 1970s and 80s. The problem now is, their inaction and tacit tolerance of Mugabe's dictatorship in Zimbabwe means that tens of thousands of refugees from Zimbabwe are now residing in South Africa, both legally and illegally. This influx of immigrants from the north, coupled with the already high unemployment rates within local black South African communities, only serves to fuel inter-ethnic tension and sense of xenophobia among the country's lower income classes. The problem of xenophobic violence against foreigners from other African countries is a time-bomb set to detonate.

Of course, one cannot and should not blame all social problems on any single ruling regime. After all, it is individuals who decide what to do with their own lives. One of the most disturbing features of the South African society at the moment is the apparent lack of awareness (or unwillingness to admit on the part of Government officials) that crime problem in South Africa has already reached an abnormal level and has spun beyond control. Township violence that erupted since last week is just a manifestation on a greater scale of what ordinary South Africans have to endure on a daily basis. People in South Africa have become so immuned to the problem of widespread violence and crime all around them that they do not seem to realise that the life they lead - life with electrified fences, barb wires, fierce-looking guard dogs, high walls, armed security guards, alarms and fire arms in their drawers - is NOT A NORMAL LIFE anywhere else in the world.
There is also a tendency among the South African public to attribute widespread violence in South Africa to huge income disparity and poverty. Many black South Africans also blame immigrants from other African countries - especially those from Zimbabwe, Nigeria and Somalia - for all the crimes that take place everyday on the streets of South African towns and cities. BUT I must say these are possibly the most irresponsible excuses I have ever heard. Low per Capita income and widespread poverty need not lead to widespread violence and crime. Such argument is of utter disrespect to the millions of honest, hardworking South Africans of all race and colour, who earn a low wage and can't make their ends meet, but they have never ever thought of committing robberies just to make some money. It is the issue of honesty and personal dignity. On a wider scale, there are also many countries all over the world whose population are far poorer than black South Africans, but these countries are not plagued by the same level of violence crime as is the case of South Africa.
Just look at developing countries in South East Asia and Northern Africa, where poverty is abundant and incomes are low, but safety is not a menacing problem. It is sad to say this, but the truth is, democracy and human rights are of little value in any society, if they are not supported by corresponding sense of collective responsibility and respect for fellow human beings.

Thus I believe that the root of and solution to South Africa's current problem lay somewhere else, within the country's political and social system. The country has now reached its breaking point. T
he old guards have failed the South African people and indirectly prolonged the misery of their neighbours and fellow Africans in Zimbabwe. It is time that ANC leaders step down and let someone else who have better grasp of the scale and severity of the problem to run the country. For the time being, the real tragedy of South Africans of all colours is, they do not have any viable alternative except the ANC.

Copyright 2008. All text and comments by YC Cheng. All Rights Reserved.

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