As we – the Assembly of the Unemployed and our comrades in the Cry of the Xcluded – laid our demands at the doors of Parliament, and various government departments around the country, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni ignored calls to meet with us. Instead – while his lackey gave us the typical empty platitudes about acknowledging receipt of our demands – Mboweni announced a budget that betrays any and all promises made to the poor and working class by this corrupt government.
We have routinely shown the government that the money is there, imali ikhona, if we tax the rich. What is lacking is the political will, so now we are stuck with budget cuts to social services and wage freezes to public sector workers, a fancy way to say government is transferring the cost of the crisis on to the working class and the poor.
This is despite Mboweni claiming to support and embrace “a sustainable future, and work towards a green and just transition” during his speech. As part of the Cry of the Xcluded we have stressed the importance of a just energy transition because our conditions demand that we do. Our comrades all over Mpumalanga live under the waste of active and inactive coal mines and power stations. Our comrades in Xolobeni fight for their land so they can further develop their own eco-agricultural processes. Our comrades in Makhanda fight to have clean running water and a municipality that delivers basic services. All this while the comrades in Port Elizabeth face the dangers of Day Zero, accompanied by the greatest threat – desalination – while they’re also grappling with the problem of hunger and food insecurity. Our comrades in Cape Town fight for permanent jobs that would improve the conditions in our townships that have no running water or sanitation, where sewage runs through the streets.
Nothing about the budget speaks to this reality. These are of course struggles that our comrades are committed to, despite the enormous threats these have brought into their lives.
Instead, the primary aim for Mboweni and the National Treasury is to dance to the tune of big business and fat cat politicians. Caring more about debt payments, even if it means taking food out of the mouths of the poor, continuing to enrich the private sector and predatory global financial institutions. As an Equal Education learner announced to the hundreds gathered outside Parliament, Tito is cutting down spending on education. But it is not only education that is suffering. Healthcare is being decimated, and so are local municipalities. Our comrades in the Back2Work campaign know the pain of being able and willing to work for local municipalities, but being rejected or limited to exploitative R11-per-hour work. Yet Tito blunders on with his austerity programme. As we have said before, we need more spending, not less.
In a statement we released days before Mboweni’s Medium-Term Budget Policy Statement, we highlighted this imperative to spend more money instead of cutting spending. We have not, and will never, advocate spending money for the sake of it. That is the approach of the rich and powerful. We want money to be spent on meeting the very same needs and rights this government has claimed to embrace and promised, but failed to deliver.
We are tired of waiting on the government to come up with a pathway and a route that speaks to the unemployed in places like Port Elizabeth, whose townships such as Zwide – home of Springbok captain Siya Kolisi – have been ravaged by job losses, poor medical infrastructure and food insecurity long before Covid-19 made things even worse, despite a significant portion of the population in the area being highly skilled retrenched workers, suckered by this economy.
In realising that the government lacks the will to follow through on the promises of “land, dignity and jobs”, and to build an economy that #WorksForUs, we are determined to resist and fight until we win these basic demands.
Our journey is not new. In February 2020, following a national caravan collecting demands from the unemployed and working poor from Limpopo to Cape Town, we held our first Real Jobs Summit on the doorsteps of Parliament.
Following endless deliberation and spirited contestation, the Cry of the Xcluded, our alliance with comrades in labour and land rights movements around the country, has agreed on a programme to build a South Africa that works for the poor and the working class. This programme for a renewed South Africa speaks to the most pressing socio-economic needs facing the country. It places the poor and working class at the starting point. It means then that we should not shy away from measures geared towards the redistribution of wealth and land from the rich and powerful.
This is why “end austerity, tax the rich” has been our call at protests across the nation, from Emalahleni to eThekwini to Mangaung to Marikana to Upington, and in every province in the nation. We are not making a one-off demand.
To the state, we promise this: our demands for a dignified basic income grant, permanent public sector employment, a functioning public service, millions of climate jobs for a just transition and land for the people will be met. If not, we will continue to press and push and take to the streets until you do. Our hunger will not abate, neither will our anger. Over the next year we will continue to embark on our programme of mass action, across all nine provinces, until our demands are met. If not we will continue to fight until this corrupt system caves in to the demands of the working class, both the unemployed and the employed.
We may be the Xcluded but we are not voiceless and powerless. We will not rest. We will fight until we are heard. DM/MC
Siya Mama is co-researcher at the Centre for Post-School Education and Training and an activist at the Assembly of the Unemployed. Khokhoma Motsi is an organiser of Botshabelo Unemployed Movement, an affiliate of the Assembly of the Unemployed. He is an activist fighting for the social needs of his community.
"Don’t reinvent the wheel just realign it." ~ Anthony D’Angelo