Over the past three weeks I have been profoundly moved by the experiences which I’ve had as the DA’s Mayoral Candidate for Johannesburg while on on the streets of our poorest and most desperate communities.
I would like to share these experiences as they influence my thinking and the kind of mayor I hope to become. What I’ve seen has seared my soul with the belief that we need to think the unthinkable to address the nation’s chronic unemployment situation.
On day one at the Randburg Labour Centre, we reviewed the quality of service delivered by officials and spoke with numerous unemployed South Africans who have to queue each day – rain or shine – to register for a decent job. Managers briefed us on the number of job seekers who visit the centre every month and the success rate of job seekers finding jobs. These numbers horrified me: only 50% of job seekers find a job.
The following day, in Dobsonville, Soweto, Khume Ramulifho and I met black entrepreneurs who were not thriving because of the government’s failure to provide their title deeds. The former ANC mayor of Johannesburg, Amos Masondo, promised title deeds to Soweto’s residents and businesspeople but, to date, almost none have been handed over.
Last Saturday I went to Zandspruit. I was accompanied by my daughter and my team. My heart was shattered. We saw children playing next to dead rodents; grey water (a fast current of human waste and pollution) flowing through the township like a river; low-hanging and exposed electricity cables that kill two to three people a month; young children and the elderly living in pitch-dark huts; learners who have to study by candle-light; the noxious smell of drugs, and so very much more.
On every visit I’ve felt something else: the pervasive loss of hope in the unemployed that lingers like economic oppression. What is to be done? In order to reverse apartheid’s economic legacy, we need to understand the complex forces that shaped it. Let’s join the dots to grasp how South Africa’s lop-sided economy divided between “insiders” and “outsiders” has come into being – and is being reinforced by the ANC of today.
We have to go back to when the patchwork of agrarian British colonies and Boer republics were forged into a unified, industrialised and urbanised economic union at the turn of the 20th century. Oppressive racial politics and the emergence of industrial-scale mining forced unprecedented and major demographic shifts in South Africa’s population. This led to a negative impact on our race relations that persist to this day.
As we wait for the full truth to emerge about the causes of the Marikana massacre in 2012, we remember how extracting diamonds from rocks and processing the low-quality gold ore on the Witwatersrand has always been a deadly and dangerous vocation for mostly black South African men. It also required armies of workers who did not have the opportunity to change occupations.
Mining remains one of the most dangerous occupations today, as we saw again when on Friday 5th February a gold mine collapsed in Mpumalanga. There is also mounting speculation that one of the big mining houses are set to announce mine closures and job losses next month.
To offset the cost of employing so many black labourers and to compensate for the competitive salaries offered to white engineers and administrators, the mining companies offered very low wages to labourers. This resulted in falling living standards in black urban settlements all those years ago.
Where is South Africa today?
Over 8,3 million are jobless and thousands more handicapped by poor education. Is it any wonder dreams are dashed?
Like a line of cascading dominoes, our economy is highly vulnerable to “hot money” – capital inflows that are invested in a country on a short term basis.
It is only a matter of time before we experience the “hot money earthquakes” that frequently afflicted Argentina over the last decade. Luckily, the Argentinians have now elected the former Mayor of Buenos Aries, Maucicio Macri, to the Presidency on a DA-like policy platform.
Finally, the most powerful economic restriction during apartheid was the inability for black South Africans to enjoy private ownership of immovable property. I remember how damn hard it was to break the mould during apartheid.
Isn’t it extraordinary from the perspective of our time machine, how much of this sounds as familiar as an economic news report in 2016? It shines a torch on the lack of economic progress we have made to create an authentic non-racial economy since 1994.
We have of course seen progress since then, but things have stalled so badly in 2016 that the shadows of the past are haunting us all over again.
We need to do three basic things right, first. These are my three pledges:
One: Using the economies of scale of local government, we will connect poor people to learning and adult apprenticeship and mentoring opportunities. We must establish “schools to skills” programmes for teenagers.
Two: We’ll empower women and men by getting them to work. One of my first policy innovations will be for the City of Johannesburg to establish early learning day care centres in every township where children will receive a nutritious meal, love, and a basic pre-school education. If we prepare our children spiritually and mentally for the world, we’ll break the back of apartheid’s legacy.
Three: We will pass ownership overnight so that poor citizens can get their title deeds, own their own homes, and be empowered to access funds to establish their own businesses.
These three simple pledges are just a start to this conversation I will have with thousands and thousands during this campaign, and when enacted in South Africa’s largest city, we will begin to bring change that truly addresses the hopelessness of millions in Johannesburg.
I am a practical man who is interested in practical solutions to solve our deepest problems. DM