The sleepy hellholes of rural South Africa

An unseen tragedy is unfolding in country villages, which seem to awaken only on AllPay day and where getting drunk before breakfast is completely acceptable, writes Roelof Bezuidenhout who lives in the small Karoo town of Steytlerville. Burgeoning rural communities sadly have no income to pay for their newly-acquired amenities – unless they wangle regular payments out of the Department of Welfare.
Issue date 9 November 2007

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one million people have been caught out fraudulently drawing social security grants. This will please most hardworking taxpayers, but the problem won’t be solved simply by taking the thieves off the payroll and punishing colluding officials. Those who have come to depend on a regular illicit windfall to help them survive will now have to do without or find an alternative source of cash. With unemployment in rural areas raging at 90% – helped by minimum-wage laws and the decreasing viability of smaller family farms – crime is the only way out for many (although re-applying for a grant might not be too difficult, depending on who you know).

This new malady has spread to farms too. In some districts there’s hardly a farmworker’s family without at least one member benefiting, legally or illegally, from AllPay. the townships the situation has become critical, with schoolgirls not only paying young men to impregnate them but then offering them a 10% cut of the monthly R180 child welfare bonanza. O f course, dishing out grants creates a culture of entitlement and makes people incapable of coping with life. Many young men never work – instead, they extract a share of the welfare money from older members in the community, often openly and shamelessly, and sometimes by force. Then they head off to the bottle store or drug dealer. I’ve seen strong, healthy skilled artisans shy away from good jobs in favour of easy welfare payments – and become alcoholics as a result – despite the fact that new building projects have given their town more job opportunities than ever before. The more naive say liquor companies and illegal shebeens are partly responsible.

But Distell, for example, points out that targeting abuse is the collective responsibility of the alcoholic beverage industry, national and provincial government, local authorities and police services. Distell cooperates with the Association for Responsible Alcohol Use (ARA) that runs projects like life skills education for urban and rural children and programmes to raise awareness of alcohol-related health risks. The ARA also works with community leaders to promote stable social environments with enough sporting and recreational facilities. A ll this is essential but does not address the underlying dilemma of lack of employment opportunities, leading to hopelessness and a loss of self-respect. The only real solution is to create more work – even if it’s menial pick-and-shovel stuff – followed by a clampdown on shysters who believe it’s their right to raid the welfare budget. If the state is going to hand out money to the able-bodied, then at least make them work for it. We need more projects like Working for Water, particularly in the many economically stagnant districts.

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There’s a great need, for example, to combat soil erosion. More sophisticated employment, even if it initially has to be subsidised, could possibly be created in the value-adding and agroprocessing fields. A human tragedy is unfolding There’s a human tragedy out there unfolding largely unnoticed. Surely a think tank made up of captains of industry could devise practical ways of bringing new jobs – preferably unrelated to primary agricultural production – and new hope to the platteland? they can’t, crime, disease and abject misery will turn these sleepy little townships into unmanageable hellholes. lready, according to detectives, traffickers are moving drugs into the small towns in exchange for fresh, mostly stolen meat. Sometimes, policemen are suspected of being part of the gangs. Perhaps even more frightening is the unease among teachers about the increasing aggressiveness of pupils, even very young ones. If that doesn’t scare you, what will? |fw