Eco­nomic in­equal­ity in SA needs to be ad­dressed ur­gently

The Sunday Independent - - Dispatches - GE­ORGE DEVENISH The man who would be king, ■ Devenish is Emer­i­tus Pro­fes­sor at UKZN and as­sisted in draft­ing the in­terim con­sti­tu­tion in 1993.

THE res­o­lu­tion adopted by Par­lia­ment that pro­vi­sion must be made for the ex­pro­pri­a­tion of land with­out com­pen­sa­tion in a man­ner that does not neg­a­tively af­fect the econ­omy or food pro­duc­tion has pre­cip­i­tated an in­or­di­nate vol­ume of dis­cus­sion and dis­course in the pub­lic me­dia.

Al­though the un­equal dis­tri­bu­tion of land and the fail­ure of our demo­cratic dis­pen­sa­tion, which has been op­er­a­tive for nearly a quar­ter of a cen­tury, to ad­dress this mat­ter is dis­turb­ing, it is not the only as­pect of in­equal­ity in South Africa.

There are many other as­pects of in­equal­ity that are equally dis­con­cert­ing as that re­lat­ing to land, al­though im­por­tantly it should not re­sult in us ne­glect­ing to con­sider other as­pects of in­equal­ity and thereby to un­der­stand and tackle the prob­lem holis­ti­cally.

South Africa is one of the most, if not the most, un­equal so­ci­eties in the world and most in­formed com­men­ta­tors would agree that there has been in­suf­fi­cient progress in this re­gard since the in­cep­tion of demo­cratic govern­ment with the com­ing into op­er­a­tion of the in­terim con­sti­tu­tion on April 27, 1994.

This does not mean that we have not made progress in nearly 25 years as a na­tion. In many re­spects, sig­nif­i­cant progress has been made, in our po­lit­i­cal de­vel­op­ment, in re­la­tion to hous­ing, elec­tri­fi­ca­tion and wa­ter sup­ply to poor and ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties, so­cial wel­fare and grants to about 17 mil­lion per­sons, health and hu­man rights.

De­spite all of this, we re­main a very eco­nom­i­cally un­equal so­ci­ety. It is this in­equal­ity that needs to be ad­dressed, with the ur­gency it de­serves. Fail­ure to ad­dress in­equal­ity holis­ti­cally ren­ders our con­sti­tu­tional and po­lit­i­cal sys­tem un­sta­ble and in­deed has the po­ten­tial to de­stroy our sys­tem of demo­cratic govern­ment in a vi­o­lent and rev­o­lu­tion­ary man­ner. Land is in this re­spect an im­por­tant is­sue, but most cer­tainly not the only one.

Fur­ther­more, the in­equal­ity that ex­ists is not merely between whites and blacks; it is more com­pli­cated than that.

It is an in­equal­ity between a mul­tira­cial mid­dle class and a poor class of es­sen­tially African per­sons who live in great poverty, are poorly skilled and ed­u­cated, and eke out a mere ex­is­tence.

As pointed out by Karabo Mashugane (“SA still one of most un­equal coun­tries”, Cape Times, April 5, 2018) this star­tling in­equal­ity has not been sig­nif­i­cantly re­duced 15 years af­ter the en­act­ment and in­cep­tion of broad-based black eco­nomic em­pow­er­ment (B-BBEE) leg­is­la­tion. The Na­tional De­vel­op­ment Plan was bril­liantly con­ceived with many co­gent and no­ble ob­jec­tives, one of which was to re­duce the Gini co­ef­fi­cient from 0.7 to 0.6 by 2030. But it will not be achieved un­less there is a rad­i­cal change in the na­ture of gov­er­nance in South Africa.

To be ab­so­lutely blunt, the nearly 10 years of the Zuma pres­i­dency and ad­min­is­tra­tion, be­cause of its es­sen­tially cor­rupt and in­com­pe­tent na­ture, has ex­ac­er­bated eco­nomic in­equal­ity in South Africa.

There are, how­ever, no magic so­lu­tions to this prob­lem and the res­o­lu­tion by Par­lia­ment and the ANC con­fer­ence of ex­pro­pri­a­tion of land or prop­erty with­out com­pen­sa­tion to­gether with so-called rad­i­cal eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion, what­ever this may mean, will not re­solve our prob­lems of eco­nomic in­equal­ity in­stan­ta­neously.

It is sub­mit­ted that the only re­al­is­tic and fea­si­ble so­lu­tion to the se­ri­ous prob­lem of gross eco­nomic in­equal­ity for the Ramaphosa ad­min­is­tra­tion is that ex­plained by Ray Hart­ley in his in­sight­ful bi­og­ra­phy of our new pres­i­dent ti­tled in which he states that Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa must find a way to bring growth back to the South African econ­omy.

It is man­i­festly clear that Ramaphosa re­jects the magic so­lu­tions by stat­ing, as pointed out by Hart­ley, that: “We will not tempt our peo­ple into think­ing that com­plex, in­tractable prob­lems can eas­ily be solved through words that sound rev­o­lu­tion­ary but are lit­tle more than wish­ful think­ing.”

Ramaphosa is, how­ever, a saga­cious and skil­ful politi­cian, re­al­is­ing as Hart­ley points out, he as pres­i­dent is walk­ing a tightrope that re­quires that it is po­lit­i­cally nec­es­sary and ex­pe­di­ent to use the lan­guage of the rad­i­cal left like rad­i­cal eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion and ex­pro­pri­a­tion of land with­out com­pen­sa­tion, but in such a way by propos­ing and ini­ti­at­ing a vi­sion of a strong and growth-driven econ­omy. Ramaphosa has the skill and ex­pe­ri­ence to do this, hav­ing been a pow­er­ful trade union­ist, po­lit­i­cal ne­go­tia­tor and a suc­cess­ful busi­ness­man.

It is sub­mit­ted that a mean­ing­ful growth-driven econ­omy is the only re­al­is­tic op­tion for the mul­ti­ple prob­lems we as na­tion face in re­la­tion to eco­nomic in­equal­ity and the poverty and so­cial in­jus­tice that still pre­vail in our coun­try af­ter nearly a quar­ter of a cen­tury of demo­cratic govern­ment.

It is also es­sen­tial to re­tain and fur­ther de­velop our con­sti­tu­tional democ­racy and free­dom and hu­man dig­nity.

South Africa is a coun­try of in­fi­nite po­ten­tial. We are ca­pa­ble of re­al­is­ing a strong growth-driven econ­omy and Pres­i­dent Ramaphosa has the lead­er­ship abil­ity to bring this about.





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