Time to tackle inequality
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!