Image: Swiss IM&H (Unsplash)
Confronted by heightened political issues, many have argued that South Africa’s economy is in a perilous state, with slim chances of recovering. Under these circumstances, youth and citizen disenchantment with the country’s political processes is a growing cause for concern that poses a threat to its democratic status. While it is almost difficult to explain and address the proliferation of these challenges, studies have revealed that the political and socioeconomic issues faced by South Africa (SA) today have fueled this heightened disillusionment amongst citizens, especially young voters. It is noteworthy that while the government has adopted and implemented certain measures to address these challenges, no robust attempts have been made to address these them.
While corruption has been an issue that dates back to SA’s colonial history, it is only until recently that citizens have expressed their shock at this widespread problem. Under the nine-year tenure of former President Jacob Zuma, corruption and maladministration became prevalent within the ruling party (the African National Congress). COVID-19 gave rise to innumerable opportunities for corruption to take place in SA. While one would have thought that under these devastating circumstances, several ministers would look past their greed to ensure the safety of citizens, this was unfortunately not the case in SA.
SA has registered over 650 000 COVID-19 cases- making it the hardest hit country on the African continent. During the surge of the pandemic, the virus had taken a toll on SA’s healthcare system and economy. In addition to this, the country was also confronted with an endemic of its own. Frontline employees who worked tirelessly to mitigate the surge of the virus, faced numerous of challenges concerning the shortage in supply and procurement of personal protective equipment (PPEs). Massive corruption surrounding the purchasing and supply of PPEs involved overpricing, substandard goods and services and the giving out of tenders to those who have direct connections with the government. In addition to this, was corruption involving COVID-19 relief packages in the form of food supplies and subsidised funds that were meant to assist unemployed citizens in dreadful and impoverished settings. Growing discontent amongst organisations, such as Corruption Watch (CW) and citizens, revealed that it is indeed a shame that leaders had yet once again failed to do right by their fellow citizens, especially in a country faced with various socioeconomic issues.
Corruption, however, is not the only problem that SA it is confronted with. The lack of job opportunities and the rising unemployment rate remains one of the biggest issues the country has been facing for years on end. Recently, Stats SA reported that the country’s unemployment rate decreased by a sharp 6.8% in the second quarter of 2020 when compared to the first quarter. Moreover, the official unemployment rate fell from 30.1% in the first quarter of 2020 to 23.3% in the second quarter of 2020. Reports indicate that this is the lowest recorded rate since 2009. While these statistics might imply that South Africa is making strides in addressing unemployment, it is important to note that these statistics do not reflect an improvement in the labour market. Due to the hard lockdown imposed in response to COVID-19, many citizens felt discouraged to look for employment due to the lack in the availability of jobs across the country and the lockdown hindered people from being active jobseekers.
Regardless of whether or not this might be a causal explanation to SA’s current unemployment rates, this situation is highly driven by inadequate education and a lack in productivity which is costing many jobs. This of course is in addition to the lack of job opportunities available in the country. Unemployment in SA has contributed to half of the adult population living in poverty. Moreover, it has contributed to the loss of faith that citizens across various age groups have, in the country’s political processes. While the government, through its National Development Plan (NDP), has taken measures in redressing problems pertaining to inequality and poverty, minimum strides have been made. In fact, with the arrival and spread of COVID-19, which has led to the shedding of over 2.2 million jobs, it can be argued that it might take even longer to restore SA’s economy and progress into a SA that has a growing and inclusive economy. One would think that even through corruption, unemployment and poverty, there is nothing else that could worsen the disillusionment amongst citizens across the board.
Faced with what seems to be endless socio-economic issues that have been steadily increasing as years progress, SA faces an ongoing femicide. SA’s femicide rates are five times higher than the global average rate. In fact, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 12.1 in every 100 000 women are victims of femicide every year- a figure five times higher than the global average of 2.6. Furthermore, according to the latest statistics from the South African Police Service (SAPS), an average of nearly 58 people are murdered everyday and a woman is murdered every three hours in SA. Even though President Ramaphosa revealed that the lockdown contributed to an increase in the country’s Gender Based Violence (GBV) rates, it is important to acknowledge that rape culture in SA is a pandemic in itself. This culture is not only prominent in homes, it is also prominent in state institutions such as police stations where most victims experience secondary victimisation and social shaming at the same institutions that are meant to protect GBV victims. Failure in this regard has also fueled the lack of faith in government amongst SA’s youth who have demanded proactive solutions to this issue.
President Ramaphosa has vowed to protect the country’s women and children against GBV and to demonstrate this commitment, the government has recently set the wheels in motion to tighten legislative loopholes. In addition to the R1.6 billion Emergency Response Action Plan (ERAP) to combat GBV and the ongoing femicide, the government has adopted three amendment bills that aim to give full effect to the rights of both women and children in SA. Regardless of these progressive strides being made by the government, the women and children of SA are yet to see the law take its full course.
As aforementioned, it is noteworthy that while the SA government has adopted and implemented certain measures in attempting to address the challenges which it faces, no robust attempts have been made. High levels of socio-economic dissatisfaction and persistent service delivery issues are factors that have heightened political disenchantment with SA’s political processes. Moreover, the lack of redress and transformation in this regard could heavily impact on voter turnout and eventually lead to widespread political violence. Therefore, if meaningful progress towards SA’s challenges is to be achieved, the government needs to urgently deal with the main contributing factors to these challenges.
Nirvaly Mooloo is a final-year student at the University of Pretoria. She is an activist and feminist at heart. Her interests strongly lie in academic fields specialising in Politics and International Relations. Her dream is to one day be the leader that brings change to the livelihoods of others. Nirvaly is one of permanent members of The Art of Politics writing staff.