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South Africa’s socio-political situation is not unique

Aug 24, 2022 | General | 0 comments

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As Covid-19 still ebbs and flows, many borders are reopening and South Africans are beginning to travel again. What they are discovering is that the world has changed since the first lockdowns. Some good, some bad – but all interesting. Although South Africa has found itself in a bad place recently, it is obvious that we are not alone in being disgruntled and sometimes it helps to look beyond our borders to gain a little perspective.

In a world connected by the internet we do not have to travel to know that many regions are currently in socio-political crisis, but there is no way to gain a proper understanding of what a situation is like until we have our feet on the ground.

We have been fortunate to hear first-hand accounts of the situation in Europe from people who have travelled recently. In the UK, the consequences of Brexit and Conservative Party politics are becoming real, while on the mainland the war in Ukraine is affecting everything from supply chains and energy prices to immigration policies.

Inflation has accelerated worldwide and populations under living cost pressure blame politicians for not being able to shield them. Populist opposition parties are pushing for votes of no confidence in incumbent leaders, hoping to fast-track their own ascent to the levers of power.

If this sounds familiar, it is because many countries are struggling with similar issues with similar effects on the average citizen. Although Ireland is nearing full employment – which is obviously a scenario in stark contrast to South Africa’s – there is a growing groundswell of discontent from those under 35 who cannot get themselves onto the property ladder. Inflation is running at over 9% currently and the government has stepped in to cap rental increases, bringing Ireland in line with countries like Germany that have had a similar arrangement for years.

Young people who are doing relatively well financially cannot buy or rent a house of their own. The likely result is that there will be a major shift in the political system where a so-called workers’ party will come to power. Sinn Fein, which has a history in Northern Ireland and in the past 15 years has built a significant base in the Republic, is clever, streetwise and runs a brand of populism that will give the party a real chance at power two years from now. The two older Irish parties have entered into a coalition, but popular sentiment – and time – is against them.

The situation has not been made any easier by the arrival of 40 000 Ukrainian refugees, in addition to Syrian refugees, who have been welcomed by the island nation for the last five years.

In Germany, inflation and concerns around availability of supplies like sunflower seed oil, have caused residents to begin stockpiling commodities. Their electricity has also become much more expensive thanks to the conflict in Ukraine, meaning this may be a difficult winter for much of Europe – not to mention the ever-present threat of Putin’s nuclear arsenal.

In the UK too it was impossible to ignore the ongoing Ukrainian conflict. There are special queues and desks to handle arrivals of refugees and those who can are either sponsoring Ukrainians to travel across or are hosting displaced people in their homes. Those who have had to flee are now trying to start anew in a country where they know nobody, probably do not speak the language and have all their worldly possessions in a suitcase. Even if they are well qualified, they face an uphill struggle until – or if – they can go home again. Ironically, at the same time Europe is struggling with a shortage of workers to fill lower-paid positions – especially in the tourism and leisure sector. Restaurants often stay closed on some days of the week because they are short of staff.

From a purely practical perspective, chaos and delays in travelling to and from Europe have been caused by staff cuts during the height of the pandemic and a lack of capacity now that borders have reopened. Train travel within the UK is expensive, as is driving a car (with rising fuel prices). Many people have taken to campervanning as a way to holiday on the cheap.

It’s not all doom and gloom – moving around Europe also shows trends, such as the explosion in the number of electric cars, that we are bound to see in South Africa soon enough. It is also, on the whole, a wonder of convenience and modern technology, where it is possible to go cashless and digital for almost everything.

Although South Africa has found itself in a bad place recently, it is obvious that we are not alone in being disgruntled with our political parties and leaders. The rest of the world is also trying to cope with immigration issues, runaway inflation and rapidly changing economies. On the positive side, our travel infrastructure still works well, we have a population desperate to work if we can create the jobs and we are currently far from the threat of war. In the face of all the challenges, we find a way to make things work. It helps sometimes to gain a little perspective.



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