31/08/2017 13:05 SAST | Updated 31/08/2017 13:06 SAST

Experts: South Africa's Poor Will Revolt, If They Feel They Have No Choice

"Trouble is looming."


A social uprising could be on the cards if South Africa's leaders do not take drastic action to alleviate poverty, experts have said.

Experts believe if the poor -- who now constitute more than half of the country's population -- are co-ordinated and mobilised by political parties or other organisations, a rebellion or revolt could erupt.

"You just need localised leaders to emerge and generalise a broader revolt," according to Wits sociology professor Devan Pillay.

Watch: Over Half South Africans Live In Poverty -- How Do They Manage To Survive A Month On Less Than R1000?

University of Johannesburg sociology professor Peter Alexander said poor people are often aware of the small benefits of being aligned with a particular party. "Poverty means they are often willing to participate in rallies because they get small benefits like t-shirts," he said.

You just need localised leaders to emerge and generalise a broader revolt.

Oxfam's South Africa economic justice leader Thembinkosi Dlamini believes the extent to which poor South Africans are protesting for services shows "a serious indication that there is trouble looming".

Analysts were reacting to Stats SA's report looking at poverty between 2006 and 2015 at a briefing in Pretoria last week Tuesday which showed 55 percent of South Africans are living in poverty.

Statistician-General Pali Lehohla said overall, the number of people living in poverty has declined since 2005 but has since 2011 has increased to 55 percent in 2015.

Read: South Africa's Rising Poverty Rates Are Indicators Of A Deteriorating Human Rights Situation

Meanwhile, Institute of Security Studies (ISS) Jakkie Cillier said while it is clear that social unrest was increasing most of people in urban areas in South African will would not be affected by the protests.

Cilliers said: "Violence in poor areas will increase and there will be lots of violence but much of urban South Africa will continue functioning."

'People getting organised'
Youth continue to be one of the groups most affected by poverty, as well as people living in the rural areas. Female-headed households also remain significantly poorer than male-headed households, the Stats SA report revealed.

Read: Ferial Haffajee -- Why Investors Are Retreating From Jacob Zuma's South Africa

Professor Alexander warns that there is a new trend which government should closely observe.

"There seems to a new development which is people organising across communities...and this is of course a threat for the status quo," he said.

He makes an example of communities in the South of Johannesburg which united for a common cause. A number of schools were not operating after parents were unhappy with a principal who was appointed at one of the schools.

According to Professor Pillay, those with agendas, political and otherwise, could mobilize the masses for their own benefit.

"One of the trigger issues could be the land issue... people do not have places to stay in the urban areas," he said.

Recently, there have been many instances where people from informal settlements have occupied land illegally. Frankenworld, Syferfontein as well as areas in Pretoria have been targeted by illegal occupants. The Gauteng government said it is trying to acquire land which can be developed for people currently staying in squatter camps.

One of the trigger issues could be the land issue... people do not have places to stay in the urban areas.

Struggling to support their families
Dlamini said the issue of people earning minimum wages and not being able to support their families was a big problem. According to Dlamini transport costs, food prices and energy charges are the main struggles that government needs to tackle.

Dlamini believes that government has to look into the prices of basic needs in order to assist the poor.

Nedbank's chief economist Dennis Dykes believes government is to blame for the high unemployment rate which is leading to poverty. He said that South Africa has been doing the worst among countries with the same kind of economic structure.

"It's an extremely abnormal situation to have such high and persistent unemployment over a long period of time," he said.

Issues such as policy uncertainty and the turbulent political landscape in the country have everything to do with why the country has become less desirable investment destination, according to Dykes.

"Things like the mining industry which should have expanded radically from 2000-2010 actually contracted and has become worse recently," he said.

No foreign investor is about to dash into this toxic political environment and start investing.

He adds: "We should have seen much more significant expansion in the tourism industry but we had fiasco around the biometric testing and the over-stringent requirements which could not be sorted out to take advantage of a global trend in tourism."

Dykes also makes reference to the many changes at the finance ministry since 2015. President Jacob Zuma replaced Nhlanhla Nene with Des van Rooyen. The president's decision to appoint Van Rooyen was met with wide criticism, and within days he bowed to pressure and appointed Pravin Gordhan to replace Van Rooyen.

Gordhan and his deputy, Mcebisi Jonas, were subsequently axed in a dramatic Cabinet reshuffle in March this year, which saw the appointment of former home affairs minister, Malusi Gigaba, as the new finance minister.

"No foreign investor is about to dash into this toxic political environment and start investing what normally are very very large sums in industries like mining," he said.