OMRY MAKGOALE: COVID-19 rules, burnt schools - black people, we must do better


What can we do to raise the awareness and consciousness of our fellow citizens about the dangers of coronavirus getting out of control? What can be done to raise alarm bells to our black South Africans? The killer disease, which originated overseas but puts the well being of poor South Africans most at stake, is here in our midst, in our streets, in our schools, in our malls. President Cyril Ramaphosa has made the clarion call, but can we listen to and follow his directives by staying at home?

In the Western Cape, our people are breaking into bottle stores to access alcohol. Do they think drinking alcohol is more important that saving their lives, or do they just want to drown their sorrows? The time of Coronavirus is a matter of survival. It should be priority number one for all South African citizens - and that includes us blacks. Police Minister Bheki Cele tries in vain to prevent the sale of alcohol during the lockdown period, even though everyone knows that when people are drunk, their discipline declines, they become unruly, and will not adhere to the protection of lockdown.

In Soweto malls, in Jabulani and Diepkloof, at Tembisa in Ekurhuleni, in Alexandra north of Johannesburg, people behave as if everything is normal. Instead of being indoors, they are all over the malls, with shebeens still operating illegally. As a result, we will die in droves.

And as I write, 55 schools have been vandalised in North West province - roof tiles removed, ceilings of classrooms damaged, electricity cables and school chairs stolen, administration blocks ransacked.

Meanwhile, the criminals in Gauteng are on the prowl to vandalise, burn and destroy our schools. A total of 22 schools in Gauteng have been vandalised and destroyed since lockdown, according to MEC Lesufi Panyaza, including four schools torched in Soshanguve.

The futures of our children is being destroyed. The question is, who benefits? The schools that are burned belong to us black people, we, the vulnerable, who require quality education to empower ourselves. Some of the schools appear to be burned down to destroy records. When the school administration is targeted, the question is always why. Let us hope the police will investigate and establish who started the fires. We hope the arsonists will be arrested, prosecuted and serve their term in jail. They seem to have already arrested 66 people.

Last year, before the coronavirus pandemic, schools throughout the country were vandalised and destroyed. Mpumalanga province tops the clock with 72 schools vandalised, Gauteng province with 55 schools, and Limpopo province with 50 schools. These are staggering numbers. All these are schools for black children, the most vulnerable. The question is, why do we as black people destroy our own assets? It means that as the biggest and most vulnerable ethnic group, we do not appreciate the conditions for our own survival.

Clearly, as soon as the local communities can take ownership of the schools and become protectors of the schools, fewer will be vandalised and destroyed.

But we must ask: what is wrong with us black South Africans? Are we not aware of the dangers of coronavirus? Do our children not need education? What makes us so reckless with our lives, and the perilous life of our nation?
We are our own worst enemies.

It is obvious that across the world, there can only be a high death rate for the poorest people living in packed conditions right up beside each other in shanty towns, such as in the favelas behind Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, or in Delhi, or in Diepsloot, or on the Cape Flats. The sharp inequality of living conditions across the world is being reflected very brutally by this global plague, and it is bringing havoc to South Africa.

We must be prepared - there are going to be mass deaths in our packed communities of the poorest. At this time, there is no excuse for political exploitation of the plague, or for mad, reckless refusal to obey the life-saving restrictions that are necessary for saving lives.

But there is a deeper problem.

As a people, we have disempowered ourselves by passively allowing our political leaders to rob the public Treasury, as well as directors of all kinds of essential public enterprises. This is the logic of State Capture. If thieves rule at the top, who can stop them at the bottom?

This coronavirus plague is revealing deep cracks in our social order, just as in many other countries.

Yet the deepest crack in our deeply unequal society is the abyss between us as citizens and the politicians who decide our fate. Until we as voters can control our Members of Parliament by giving ourselves the power to remove any one of them at each general election, we keep ourselves in handcuffs as tight as if we were still under apartheid.

It is the apartheid between ourselves and our governors that is our most dangerous self-inflicted wound. It is up to us to heal it.

For now, let us keep safe indoors until we are given the all-clear.

Omry Makgoale is an ANC rank and file member. These are his personal views.