Terry Bell: The dangers of returning to a ‘normal’ South Africa

The events of recent weeks have once again highlighted the gross inequalities and the legacy of apartheid geography that remain South African realities.  They also revealed that the poison of ethnic nationalism continues to course through parts of the body politic. As a result, there are many lessons to be learned, some of which, although vital, will remain on the margins.  Because the loudest cry now is for a return to normalcy, to get back to life as it was, albeit with a few adjustments along the way. 

But it was the very conditions that existed – the “normal” now apparently called for – that created the conditions for the death and destruction in KZN and Gauteng.  Yet an explosion of this kind – or even worse – was warned about by the labour movement in this column more than a decade ago. And, after all, regular, but largely isolated, incidents of burning tyres, barricades and looting have, for years, been part of daily life, not generally reported on by the national media, but mentioned in the daily traffic reports.

The xenophobic (more accurately, Afrophobic) violence that engulfed many townships around the country in 2008 was also a portent of what could lie in store on a greater scale.  Social media provided the spark then that ignited what was widespread — and often politically promoted — resentment against foreigners. But small traders, of whatever ethnicity, who are often desperate unemployed workers trying to eke out a living, are the usual victims.  And they will continue to be so, not having insurance policies or shareholder funds to fall back on….