Comparisons are always dangerous, as local circumstances differ. But it is not inconceivable to see the first signs of this frustration in resistance against the government’s e-tolling system.
If one looks deeper, it is not about the e-toll system per se. This system is only an outlet for the disappointment and anger felt by gatvol people. What are the factors feeding into this anger?
I am not a Marxist, but economics is a very strong determinant of social action. The poor see how — 20 years after liberation — “others” drive in smart cars, move to the suburbs, go to private hospitals and send their kids to former model C and private schools. The “others” are mostly those with political connections and friends in local government where tenders are awarded.
So, the poor feel cheated. And to fund their material aspirations, they turn to microlenders and those who were so quick to build entire banks on unsecured lending. We know this has reached breaking point. Marikana tells the story of workers desperate for cash as they see little at the bottom of their pay slips.
The middle class is squeezed from all sides. Jobs are less secure, if you can find one. What is breaking the camel’s back are the additional taxes paid to try to salvage where the government failed: huge private security costs, expensive medical aid, rising school fees and — yes — toll roads that have already been paid for via normal taxes and will cost more to administer than is rationally acceptable.
One tends to think the rich just buy their way out of all social messes. There is, however, a limit to this. Even in a smart suburb, people do not feel safe. Even the Mercedes-Benzes and 4x4s have to drive on pot-holed roads. To start and expand your business is notoriously difficult in South Africa. The rich also make a quick calculation: do I get value for my money from the services of the state? The answer is easy. (So, why pay additional money just to drive to work?)
I would prefer to see our nation stand up against the Protection of State Information Bill, against the political messing in our judicial system or against the rape crisis. But it seems we are not such a principled people after all. We prefer to respond when our pockets are hit.