Economic desperation is never far below the surface in a country where unemployment, depending on how it is defined, is nudging remorselessly towards 40%.

Like hunger in a predator, desperation defines the lives of the estimated 9 million looking for work. It causes teachers to kill rivals in competition for jobs being illegally auctioned off by the teaching union.

It is the madness behind the torching of immigrant-run spaza shops. It lurks behind the self-destructive idiocy of razing clinics and schools to catch the attention of dilatory municipal councillors and officials.

Desperation may be even more compelling in the lives of those who are currently employed but in jobs that may easily be lost.

Think of African National Congress public representatives who will forfeit income and lavish benefits if opposition parties do well in the August local government elections. Since many of these cadres lack employable skills, their lives will be devastated.


Analysts from the Institute of Strategic Studies predict in a newly released study that political violence ahead of these elections is set to reach its highest levels since apartheid ended. Unemployment and a lack of opportunity are at the root of this, but such growing violent protests were also “increasingly motivated by dissatisfaction with the ruling elite and governance performance”.

Aggravating the situation were the actions of politicians, traditional leaders and the Economic Freedom Fighters. The EFF role in the student protests, as well as leader Julius Malema’s inciting statements, all played a part.

While it is difficult to pinpoint the precise causes of political anger and intolerance, it’s easy enough to see the results. SA is in for a rough ride over the next couple of months as the ANC pulls out all stops to win big in August.

One of the areas where the ANC is fighting a particularly nasty battle is in Port Elizabeth’s Nelson Mandela Bay municipality. The Democratic Alliance has expressed high hopes of a win there, although on the face of it they have a mountain to climb.

The ANC’s deployed mayor, Danny Jordaan, is popular and has done a good job in clearing up the corrupt, incompetent mess that he inherited. And the DA’s Eastern Cape leader Athol Trollip, who is its mayoral candidate, has all the disadvantages of being a middle-aged white man carrying what in contemporary SA is the heaviest of all political burdens – he is of farming stock. Shudder!

On top of the usual petty harassment of not granting permits for DA marches and pre-emptively booking venues that the DA wants to use, the ANC has decided to make this battle an unabashedly personal one.

In February there was a call upon the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) to investigate Trollip. It was claimed that there was a historical pattern of racism, abuse and exploitation of workers by four generations of the Trollip men on the family farm, situated near Bedford in the Eastern Cape.

The politically motivated nature of the complaint was obvious. It originated from ANC councillors and a disaffected DA member who had solicited the complaints and promised the complainants compensation.

In any case, whatever might or might not have happened on the farm between 1914 and 2004, the years that featured in the claim, this could hardly credibly be nailed to the door of Athol Trollip. He had managed the farm for only nine years, before its sale in 2004.

Like a cautious rabbit, the SAHRC took a month or so to nibble its way through to the obvious, then conceded that there was no case for Trollip to answer. Nevertheless, the damage to Trollip’s reputation, despite a multi-million defamation claim against one of the claimants, must have been substantial.

This week the Nelson Bay Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security, Fikile Desi, announced another top-level, high-priority, fate-of-the-nation-hangs-in-the-balance, no-holds-barred investigation into Trollip. It seems that Trollip may have committed the egregious crime of transgressing the Fire Brigade Services Act.

It transpires that Trollip and DA workers were driving home through the Windvogel part of Port Elizabeth (PE), when they chanced upon three houses in flames. The fire brigade had not yet arrived, so Trollip and pals helped the homeowners deploy hosepipes and ferry buckets, as well as rescue personal possessions.

When the fire brigade arrived, it was “extremely professional and efficient”, said Trollip in a statement. But the ANC was not mollified.

“Members of the public could easily emulate Mr Trollip’s actions by attempting to extinguish a fire without protective clothing and the relevant training”, says Desi, so an investigation is of “critical importance”.

With this ANC-directed absurdist comedy, the choice that PE voters have to make in August has surely been much simplified.

Will they support the party whose provincial leader faces a possible charge under that cornerstone bit of legislation, the Fire Services Act of 1987, with its maximum penalty R10 000, if guilty of intentionally obstructing a fire office?

Or will they support the party whose national leader has hanging over him 783 charges for assorted criminal acts of fraud and corruption and who, if convicted, would face a maximum penalty a dozen or so years in the chookie?

Follow WSM on Twitter @TheJaundicedEye


  • This Jaundiced Eye column appears in Weekend Argus, The Citizen, and Independent on Saturday. WSM is also a book reviewer for the Sunday Times and Business Day. Follow @TheJaundicedEye.


William Saunderson-Meyer

This Jaundiced Eye column appears in Weekend Argus, The Citizen, and Independent on Saturday. WSM is also a book reviewer for the Sunday Times and Business Day....

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