After getting home from a cheery and dominant Baby Bok performance on Saturday night against Fiji, I decided to order a Gatsby from a restaurant called Sapat’s Palace in Lansdowne, Cape Town, via Uber Eats. After about 40 minutes the driver messaged me to ask whether I lived in Lotus River, and if I did, he’d have to cancel my order because apparently there were people (gangsters) shooting at each other.

I assured him that the suburb I am in is nowhere near Lotus River. However, when he arrived to deliver my Gatsby, he was still fearful of going back home to Gugulethu on his scooter because of the violent crime there. He told me how gangs of youth wait patiently to extort from and rob hardworking people where he lives.

I have even heard stories from social workers who have been warned not to go into parts of Philippi because of how unsafe and violent it has become. One social worker described it to me as a powder keg. Just mere minutes from affluent suburbs, a whole class of urban terrorists is being created by the lack of law and order, the lack of interventional services (social workers too scared to do remedial work with traumatized people, especially children), and by prisoners released back into these poor communities after receiving R11 000 a month (what we pay on average per prisoner). This is after an education in psychopathy, extreme violence, and rape in prison; an education they will use to terrorize, rape, mutilate and murder women and children.

This is simply to say that for all the jostling in the Government of National Unity (GNU) for positions, perhaps the greatest utility of the GNU will be as a counterweight to the extractive political and economic institutions (patronage networks in other words) that the ANC has set up, and the subsequent erosion of state capability that has come with those networks. 

Prison reform

It cannot be overstated how important it is for Dr Pieter Groenewald to initiate prison reform that breaks the power of the gangs in prison. In addition, together with the new police minister, Senzo Mchunu, the government must break the power of gangs outside of prison, while building a police force capable of restoring law and order, preferably by decentralizing the police services. 

The new Minister of Basic Education, Siviwe Gwarube, also has a difficult task on her hands, as she is likely to be fought and undermined at every step if she tries to reform education. Reforming Basic Education successfully has the most potential of any ministry to deliver sustained economic growth and societal prosperity well into the future.

Leon Schreiber, in his new role as Home Affairs minister, must not only clean up the Department in terms of properly securing our borders, but also effectively curtail illegal immigration. He must simplify processes around visa requirements especially for our tourism sector, and also make it easier for much-needed skilled immigrants to be able to get into the country.

All of this would serve the greater purpose of making South Africa safer (dealing with crime), more educated and skilled (a more attractive investment proposition into the future),  more energy- and water-secure (the Deputy ministers will have to do this), especially in relation to all the countries that many of our expats have moved to. 

Don’t underestimate

As I’ve written before in other articles, I don’t think we should underestimate the value of a functioning and safe South Africa for our exiles when combined with cheaper housing, warmer weather and the allure of “home”. Our exiles, if we can attract them back, would act as a multiplier effect to any nascent work done to improve and grow South Africa economically, in much the same way that skilled Jewish exiles did for a hugely faltering Israel. 

I think part of the GNU’s job must not be to sell South Africa only to international investors, but to our exiles as well. The best way to do that is to institute (fight for) sensible growth-oriented policies and good governance, and to ensure that the GNU acts as a significant  counterweight to curb and eventually break the patronage networks that are deeply entrenched in the country. In my own mind, that eventually leads to a federalized South Africa.

A man simply trying to make an honest living for himself should not have to fear for his life because our political elites cannot get it together and get the basics right. Communities and people, especially children, should not be left unguarded against psychopathic and violent criminals created by a prison system that essentially serves to brutalize and pathologize even essentially harmless people (non-violent criminals). 

This is not to say it will be easy, as there will be political players who fear losing access to patronage networks. These have allowed them to profit at the expense of ordinary South Africans. Turbulence is a given in the coming years, but if we can weather those storms there is a good deal of prosperity on the other side, along with a safer and more cohesive society.

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR.

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Sindile Vabaza is an avid writer and an aspiring economist.