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Wood, Fire and the Ashes- The Recent Insurrection.

It takes a single matchstick to set ablaze an entire field. After the passionate encounter with the warm flames comes the reality of ashes; cold and dull. This describes the context within which South Africa finds itself today.

It took a single event to set ablaze instability and violence, however, there could not have been fire without wood and it appears that the wood was long stacked up and ready way before the matchstick was brought close. The dire socio-economic conditions that a significant portion of the country's population is subject to served as the wood that had been accumulating on the ground and was set alight by a single matchstick.

Fire has the ability to keep warm but when the flames exceed their intended purpose destruction becomes inevitable. During the insurrection masses of South Africans seized the opportunity of finding warmth from the fire, salvaging what they could, for most it was to put bread on the table. Those who lit the matchstick looked with satisfaction as the masses rushed to destroy their own livelihoods, like prey falling for the bait.

As South Africans, we are now left facing the ashes; cold and dull. Factories, shopping malls, and even schools now lie on the ground. Major food supply routes and other important supply chain routes have also been disrupted. Although there is no apparent urgent threat to food stability the threat to livelihoods on the ground is grim. Thousands of ordinary South Africans are now left unemployed with little hope in sight, considering the economic status quo. Moreover, it is the small and medium enterprises that face the real risk of not being able to open their doors again. The economy has taken a significant number of steps backwards, on the backdrop of having already taken a few due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy.

Even more concerning are the multitudes of school children who are now left without places of learning. The threat to the future of the South African economy is more real now than it has ever been considering the slowness of the government in resolving the infrastructure challenge that has been prevailing in the education system for decades. If there is anything the insurrection has achieved, it is to perpetuate the cycle of poverty and inequality. What is more unfortunate is that the perpetrator is the victim of his own deeds. South Africans are now faced with the reality of what remains, the ashes, the consequences of their actions.

This portrayal may sound like an exaggeration, however, if the recent events and the resulting consequences are not placed under magnification, the citizens risk being repeated victims of the same fate. South Africans may have underestimated the matchstick factor, they may have underestimated the wood factors that were accumulating on the ground, but if they continue to underestimate the consequences they would be delaying and underestimating their ability to build the South Africa they are content with.

South Africans are known for their resilience, strong will and undying hope for a better tomorrow. Even in the face of ashes, they have not shown despair but took it upon themselves to pick up the pieces of what has been broken and challenged ourselves to see beyond the ashes. There is, however, a need to see opportunities in the ashes. To the layman, ashes may not seem useful, they are a discouraging sight, yet there is more to them than what meets the eye. Wood ash, in particular, contains nutrients amounts such as aluminium, magnesium, phosphorus and sodium which are essential for plant growth and restoring the pH balance of grass- to make pastures greener.

This is an opportune time for South Africans, the Government, and the Private sector to join arms and take advantage of the nutrients in the ashes. Sometimes simplicity is key. These partnerships need not be complicated to be effective. The ultimate goal is to secure livelihoods, empower the working-age population with skills and create opportunities for it to thrive or at least survive.

During Operation 'clean-up' South Africa, the citizens came out in numbers to volunteer to clean up the shopping centres and malls that had been destroyed. This act indicates that the citizens are ready and available to offer their time, effort, and with some, skills to good effect when opportunities are present.

Although it will take at least two years before the malls that were burnt to the ground to re-open, while others will take several months, according to the South African Property Owners Association, this is an opportune time to harvest members of the workforce. In the interim, the government and the construction sector can form a partnership where the government allocates resources and funding to the construction sector whose role will be to absorb and upskill the members of the working-age population that are currently unskilled and unemployed.

These partnerships will require effective and efficient planning, coordination and execution, however, these create job opportunities for those armed with expertise in these areas but are currently unemployed. Other sectors, however, such as the education sector require much more urgent attention. The schools that have been destroyed cannot wait for two years for learning to resume, a temporary solution is needed. The government can partner with businesses that manufacture mobile classes to ensure that learning continues. Community members and NGOs can also partner to ensure that children from disadvantaged homes continue to obtain nutritional support that they obtained from the education sector's nutritional programme.

Ultimately, these partnerships have the potential to achieve three results: (i) Establish strong communication, interaction and workmanship between the government, private sector, and the South African citizens (ii) Safeguard the livelihood of the affected and (iii) Upskill the working-age population to potentially reduce the future unemployment rate.

It is an opportune time to deal with the root of our country’s problems which proved to be fertile ground for destruction. Left unresolved, the wood will accumulate again, ready for the next matchstick.

So, what opportunities do you see in the ashes, if any? Let us know in the comment section below or write to us at

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