IT WOULD be an exaggeration to claim that the entire country is going up in flames - but there is enough fire to make one sit up and take serious notice.

IT WOULD be an exaggeration to claim that the entire country is going up in flames - but there is enough fire to make one sit up and take serious notice.

If there is anyone in government who, after the elections, envisaged landing a top job with perks and all, I hope he or she is sobering up and coming to terms with the harsh reality of governing this complex country.

The words fighting poverty rolled off the tongues of many politicians when they campaigned for election and promised the hungry and unemployed a share of the country's wealth. Ruling party and opposition politicians painted a rosy picture of a country that is able to provide opportunities for all.

They made it sound as easy as pap en vleis.

While they travelled far and wide, along dusty gravel roads, interacting with poor but optimistic people, they left a resounding message of commitment and change.

The emotion and vigour with which they campaigned and held the hands of the needy convinced even the doubting Thomases among us that this time it would be for real.

That was then, today the spate of service delivery protests in various parts of our country should convince our leaders that the people will not be silenced.

Howver, the barbaric tactics employed by some protesters must be condemned outright - but should not be a subterfuge.

It is all very well for our leaders to appear resolute and in control when they promise that criminal elements will be dealt with, but it would be much better if they rose to the occasion and answered the desperate cries of the poor.

It can be argued that the protesters need to be enterprising and not wait for government hand-outs.

Fair enough. But if by securing the votes, parties promised free housing, water and electricity, that's what people will wait for. And by the looks of things they are tired of waiting.

Everyone is calling for President Jacob Zuma and his ministers to be accessible and to speak to the people.

But where are the opposition parties - are they not in leadership too?

Sure, those who are in government have a greater burden to provide for citizens of this country, but opposition parties also benefit from taxpayers' money.

They too made promises and won some votes. Every single person who entered a community, stood in front of a crowd, went from door to door and promised that a better future was on the horizon must now show his or her face.

You can't use people and then discard them at your earliest convenience. They will notice it and punish you.

Things have changed. A few years ago the emergence of new and affordable housing in one area raised hopes and expectations.

It sent a message to the homeless that "it's my turn soon". By building a house for one person the government bought the patience and optimism of another.

But now a house being given to one person seems to tell to the one who is waiting that once again I'm being shifted and relegated to the lowest spot in this long queue.

Combine that with local government officials who in some instances do not make time to communicate with residents and this level of frustration and anger makes sense.

The solution to this problem is as complicated as the nature of the problem. But it begins with a change of attitude - make poor people a priority and a centre of all decisions.

Creating time to meet and shake the hand of Sir Richard Branson and every high-profile investor who visits our country is crucial.

South Africa cannot afford to be insular. We must form ties and networks with people and businesses that will bring money to our shores.

At the same time, there is a part of South Africa that cannot be wished away and the people who populate this part need to have their hands shaken too.

As much as our leaders meet in posh offices with the who's who of this world and use sophisticated words to market our country, they must return to the shacks and speak the language of the poor.

And please, no lies, because they remember and WILL agitate if taken for granted.