Wednesday, February 27, 2008

What can South Africa learn from Kenya?

A hotbed of high expectations for change fuelled by poverty, inequality, elitism and tribalism made Kenya explode (see earlier posts on this blog).

Fast forward. A hotbed of high expectations for change fuelled by persistent poverty, rising inequality, elitism and racism made South Africa.... 

There are certainly risks.  Whether the anger will spill into the streets of South Africa will need some careful analysis.

It is a plausible scenario that the changes started in Polokwane will continue with the election of a more leftish leaning president (whether this is Mr Jacob Zuma or not). In such a scenario, this is where the comparisons with Kenya's misfortune will most likely stop (and South Africa be faced with other kinds of questions). 

If for some reason, the expectations of the poor masses are not met by these changes there are a few very important differences with Kenya.  South Africa has invested in a massive insurance policy in the form of basic needs provision and social grants. Despite the fact that unemployment remains very high, and inequality is increasing, up to 12 million people (mostly children though) receive grants from the state. Angry, unemployed drop outs from school, usually in their late teens and twenties, are not covered.  This remains a big risk. The persistent challenge remains for the economy to absorb them.

However, with most basic needs covered, the question remains whether relative deprivation will make the crowds angry enough to turn into violent mobs.

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