There is anger in South Africa after police used a water cannon against poor, black, disabled people while a government minister looked on.
Many see it as another example of how the ruling African National Congress (ANC) treats ordinary people with contempt.
Social development minister Lindiwe Zulu was conducting a spot check last Friday at the benefits office in Bellville, Cape Town, where around 400 people were queuing outside to collect payments. Many had been there overnight without food or water.
In December, 200,000 people had been told their disability benefit had lapsed and that they had to reapply—in person.
When Zulu arrived, people queueing outside shouted, “You only want to speak to the media,” “You don’t want to speak to us,” and, “We are hungry.”
Showing all the arrogance so typical of the elite, Zulu instructed those waiting to “socially distance” and climbed into an armoured police van.
When people were slow to respond, the police opened fire with a water cannon.
Abeeda Radyn, who had been queueing since 11pm the previous day, told the GroundUp news website she had arthritis. “All I did was put on my hoodie when they started spraying, because unlike the others I couldn’t just get up and run away,” she said.
It was the third week she had come to queue.
“I need that grant because it puts the food on my table. It is what helps my children get through school,” she said.
Far from apologising—or resigning—Zulu was unrepentant and defended what had happened. “I was in a meeting upstairs when I looked and saw that police were using the water cannons,” she said.
“It’s painful to see that happening, but on the other hand, we also have to be realistic. We have to be realistic because I was physically there myself, I could see the danger of people infecting each other.”
This comes from the same South African government that has repeatedly allowed non-essential businesses to stay open and neglected the welfare of ordinary people.
As she made her statement, Zulu added that there would be no extension to the payouts of either the temporary disability grant or the Covid-19 relief grant which comes to an end on 31 January.
Ronnie Kasrils, former freedom fighter and ANC cabinet minister, told Socialist Worker, “Shame on our government. The police hosing the elderly and disabled people by water cannon, desperately queuing overnight to register for their social disability grants, is an outrage.
“How utterly shameful and unforgivable.
“Wake up South Africa to this inhumanity. Had this happened under apartheid we would have been up in arms.
“Heads should roll.”
South Africa remains one of the most unequal countries in the world.
The wealthiest 10 percent grab more than half the nation’s income, while the poorest 40 percent shares just 7 percent.
That’s set to worsen as the pandemic has seen two million job losses.