Violence and Chaos in Haiti and South Africa

Editorial

Haiti had still not recovered from the devastating cyclone that had struck it nearly a decade ago. South Africa after the legacy of Mandela had engaged in the process of building a viable democracy.

Suddenly, mayhem has engulfed both countries. Haitians suffered a lot during the ‘Papa Doc’ Duvalier years with their ‘tontons macoutes,’ but once the dictator was gone they had hoped for better days to come. There was a semblance of a return to a more orderly form of governance, one more stable and lending its ears to the people who had faced hardships for so long. Governments changed but the lives of the people did not undergo as fast an improvement as they would have wished. Given their dire initial starting point, even small incremental changes in their conditions as regards food, housing, employment, education and health would have meant a lot to them.

Willy-nilly, despite the persisting political instability, positive changes were taking place, albeit slowly. Unfortunately came that devastating cyclone, with thousands of deaths and damage to human habitations and infrastructure. The UN along with many organizations in the US stepped in to provide emergency and then medium- to long-term support in reconstruction and re-instituting the essential services as a basis to scaling up all amenities that a functioning country requires. Alas, there was mishandling and diverting of food aid and millions that were being poured in. Poverty, unemployment, poor health and educational services have continued to plague the country.

Against this backdrop there was bitter political rivalry brewing, and then the brutal killing of President Jovenel Moïse in  his residence. There had been calls for him to step down, but they went unheeded. No less than 39 persons have been identified and arrested as having forged the conspiracy to assassinate the President. The protests and violence that have followed his death mean that the country is likely to slide backward again, both socio-economically and politically.

On the other hand, South Africa is a much richer and much more developed country with enormous resources of gold and diamonds, along with well-established health, educational, financial services that can rival the best anywhere, as well as a functioning legal system with a strong judiciary, including a Constitutional court. The outgoing President Jacob Zuma, after resisting initially, had had to bend to the rule of law, and having been found guilty, and realising that the system was stronger than him, voluntarily gave himself up to the police. He was sent to jail to spend the 18 months of imprisonment that he had been imposed.

His supporters took a different line. In the looting, vandalism and hooliganism that they have unleashed, they have cut the ground from under their own feet. They have destroyed beyond belief those businesses that gave them employment and their essential provisions, and instilled fear and loss of confidence not only among the business class, but in society at large. For not even small and medium entrepreneurs in the townships have been spared, their means of livelihood gone for ever, a future of poverty staring at them. Worse still is that among them are many single mothers with many mouths to feed.

On the other hand, there have been no less than 70 deaths at least. Was this a simple protest or was it an insurrection, an attempt at subverting the state? To what extent is tribalism involved? Whatever be, the grim reality is that in both Haiti and South Africa, rebuilding is going to be a long-drawn affair – if at all it can begin under conducive conditions that their respective citizens only can bring about. Tall order indeed.

one nagging thought that keeps coming back when we take cognizance of these disturbing events: Mauritius has been lucky in having SSR and his Labour Party preside over the destiny of the country and for having instilled a culture of tolerance and power sharing since the early days of independent Mauritius. Neither Haiti nor South Africa has been as lucky, except for the brief five-year period when Nelson Mandela was at the helm of the latter country. One wonders whether things might have been different here if the Independence Party had lost the 1968 elections…


* Published in print edition on 16 July 2021

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