The government would do well not to ignore last week’s mass protests led by Cosatu.
You cannot ignore it when tens of thousands of citizens throughout the country express their disappointment at your policies.
You cannot then just brush off the protests as if nothing happened.
One of the important things about last week’s protest – and there were many – was the fact that not only Cosatu members protested, even if they were, by far, the majority.
However, it was the first time in a long time that protesters were so demographically represented, and demographics is something our government takes seriously.
This should be an indication to the government that they have managed to upset people from all walks of life and not just the poorest of the poor, who probably have more reason than others to be upset with government.
But even if the protesters were only poor people and Cosatu members, the fact that they came out in their numbers in the way they did should also worry the government and the ruling party.
Here is a protest led by one of its alliance members, which turned out to one of the biggest protests against the ruling party’s policies ever.
The protests even got support from leading members of another part of the alliance, the SA Communist Party.
Politics is all about numbers and if the government added up those opposed to the tolls roads and labour brokers – the key issues of the protests – then they should be worried.
But even more worrying should be the fact that these protests are probably symptomatic of a bigger problem in society. There appears to be a growing number of people who are fed up with their lives and many issues facing us as a society.
There is a part of their problems that the government can justifiably say they can do nothing about because of the impact of international economic pressures such as the issues in Europe and the Middle East, but the tolls roads, for instance, appear to be an issue where the government can intervene.
These despondent people are looking for any way to express their anger.
My fear is that unless the government listens, their anger will be expressed in more and more aggressive and potentially violent ways.
I don’t mean to be alarmist, but part of the role of the government is to be sensitive to the needs of the people it is supposed to serve.
Understanding your people’s needs means you should at least appear to be listening to them, even if you disagree with them and don’t intend to do anything about their issues.
The fact that the government at this point appears not to be prepared to listen will just play into the hands of radical elements among the protesters and justify, in their minds at least, when they wish to take more aggressive protest action.
I understand that a lot of the protests against government policies in the next few months will be guided by the upcoming ANC policy conference in June and the ruling party’s elective conference in December.
Opposing factions in the ruling party alliance will want to flex their muscles ahead of these conferences in an attempt to gain the upper hand.
This became clear when suspended ANC Youth League leader Julius Malema used the protest in Johannesburg to show the ruling party that he still enjoys a lot of support among ordinary people. In some ways he was trying to tell the ruling party: you touch me and you stand to lose the support of these people who you expect to vote for you.
But political expediency is only a small part of the problem. A serious concern is that, politics aside, there are issues, mainly economic, that our government is not tackling with the vigour that one would expect.
If government is dealing with it, it should be taking the public into its confidence a lot more so all of us can understand a lot better what is at stake.
The toll road issue has clearly hit a nerve among members of the public who feel they are already being taxed to death without also having to pay exorbitant amounts to use public roads.
So far, in my humble opinion, the government has not done enough to communicate clearly why there is a need for toll roads when they could have used other creative ways of raising the necessary money.
Taking the public into your confidence through a proper education campaign could assist in demystifying issues such as the toll roads.
As long as issues such as these are allowed to fester, it will allow an opportunity for political manipulation and exploitation by unruly elements in our society.
Ryland Fisher is the editor of The New Age