The danger of empty promises

People without hope may be prepared to sacrifice everything, even their lives and those of others.

Two incidents in the last month or so worry me deeply, because they show just how fed up people are with empty promises – and how desperate they’ve become. The first, of course, was the Marikana mine tragedy, where illegal strikers were mown down by the police. This in itself is a terrible tragedy, but it is made worse by the fact that the miners admitted they were prepared to die for better salaries!

According to journalists who were at the gathering, the miners’ leaders spelled out the danger that the men faced if they continued with their violent protests. In fact, one leader evidently begged them not to carry on, as he realised that the heavily armed police were prepared to open fire and kill them. Yet the men went ahead, fully aware of the potential for disaster.

Following this awful event, a man was arrested after purposely smashing the glass doors of Luthuli House, the ANC’s headquarters in Johannesburg, with a piece of wood. Apparently he was a disgruntled unemployed person who, after many years of being without work and listening to empty promises, simply ‘lost it’. Like the miners, this man was fully aware of the dangers of doing what he did.

Luthuli House is one of the most heavily guarded buildings in the city centre, and bristles with armed police. He knew he would be arrested, if not shot, yet he still went ahead. Are these signs of people becoming so gatvol that they just don’t care anymore? Speaking personally, I would only do what these men did if I felt I had nothing left to lose. If a man is willing to die, it means he is already dead inside – a person without hope. These are the results of empty promises of decent jobs and a better life for all.

Are our farmers without hope?
Recently, hundreds of farmers descended on the Birchwood Convention Centre east of Johannesburg to hear about the government’s plans to recapitalise their farms. Farmers told minister of Rural Development and Land Reform Gugile Nkwinti that the planting season had arrived and the recapitalisation needed to happen fast. Well, yet another promise was made. According to Nkwinti’s spokesperson, the recapitalisation monies were to be unlocked within a week or two.

I certainly hope that he keeps his word. Over the past few years, I have seen farmers who occupied land given to them by the State become so sick and tired of broken promises of support that they have simply left the farms. How many more are thinking of packing up and going?

Unlike the Marikana tragedy, there would be no immediate bloodshed if those farmers left their farms vacant. But what of the future? What would happen if we ended up with too few farmers and the country were unable to feed itself, or if food prices became unaffordable?

Would people become as desperate as the Marikana miners or the workless man at Luthuli House? Would they be prepared to sacrifice their lives in rioting because they had nothing left to lose? Empty stomachs and empty promises make a dangerous combination. Is government as worried as it ought to be? I hope so.