Time to tackle in­equal­ity

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS -

The re­lease on Mon­day of Ox­fam’s in­equal­ity re­port, en­ti­tled “An Econ­omy for the 99 Per­cent”, couldn’t have come at a bet­ter time in South Africa than now when the grow­ing dis­con­tent among the black ma­jor­ity has pushed po­lit­i­cal lead­ers to pledge to ad­dress eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion and land redis­tri­bu­tion.

As we re­ported yes­ter­day, Ox­fam’s re­port, de­lib­er­ately re­leased to co­in­cide with the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum’s an­nual gath­er­ing of po­lit­i­cal and busi­ness lead­ers in Davos, Switzer­land, makes for sober­ing read­ing: the su­per-rich are get­ting richer, and the poor are get­ting poorer.

Iron­i­cally, the theme of the Davos gath­er­ing this year is “Re­spon­sive and Re­spon­si­ble Lead­er­ship”. We hope that it lives up to its prom­ise to tackle in­equal­ity and yank the po­lit­i­cal and busi­ness lead­ers, who in­clude the own­ers and bosses of some of the world’s big­gest cor­po­rates, out of their com­fort zones.

We should take the wealth-gap prob­lem much more se­ri­ously, and en­sure that wealth is shared equally among all of our peo­ple. It is ob­scene that three peo­ple in South Africa own the same wealth as the bot­tom 50 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion.

Glob­ally, just nine men own the same wealth as half the world’s pop­u­la­tion – that’s 3.6 billion.

In South Africa, the rich­est 1 per­cent have 42 per­cent of the to­tal wealth. What this sim­ply says is that more than two decades of democ­racy have failed to deal with what is es­sen­tially an apartheid eco­nomic struc­ture that has rel­e­gated the ma­jor­ity of our peo­ple to the mar­gins of the econ­omy while a few en­joy the cake.

The lat­est num­bers show that we need in­ter­ven­tion in the run­ning of the econ­omy, so that we can’t have this un­ten­able sit­u­a­tion in which only a few peo­ple own the econ­omy while the rest of the pop­u­la­tion is stuck in poverty and barred from eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity in a demo­cratic coun­try.

And it is not for lack of poli­cies to ad­dress poverty and in­equal­ity in South Africa. Our gov­ern­ment is good at draft­ing pol­icy, but faces chal­lenges in im­ple­men­ta­tion – in some cases be­cause of lack of drive, and in oth­ers be­cause of sys­tem­atic re­sis­tance from those ben­e­fit­ing from the sta­tus quo.

Mean­while, the anger and dis­con­tent in our com­mu­ni­ties grows by the day. Even when gov­ern­ment spends bil­lions on in­fra­struc­ture projects and other ar­eas of growth, the money finds its way into the pock­ets of the same peo­ple who have amassed ob­scene wealth dur­ing and since the fall of apartheid.

The sta­tus quo must change. Now!

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