As South Africans, we should be worried that our country is in crisis mode – a downward spiral into mass, uncontrollable poverty – despite the Statistician-General Pali Lehohla’s recent positive announcement about the economy.
While the Statistician-General indicates that the economy is growing, I think South Africans should be critical of celebrating this. Most growth was attributed mainly to the primary industries – but without job increases due to mechanisation. We should also remember that recently farmers reported a bumper maize crop.
A few days ago I took my car in for a service and the dealership offered me the service of a driver to take me to work. While he was driving, he was telling me that he is worried that he might lose his job as his company had already retrenched eight people this year. Eight people means eight families have lost access to an income. He further explained that he was taking care of his family (wife and three children) in Tembisa as well as his elderly parents who lived in Limpopo. Working in Kempton Park, he has rented a room closer to work so that he can walk there, and goes home to his wife and kids over the weekend. He shares this room with three other men so that it is affordable: they split the R1,000 rent four ways. If he had to go home every day, he would spend R50 on the four taxis he would take for a round trip.
In Tembisa, I spoke to a mother who relies on her teenage daughter’s grant of R330 to feed her whole family. She explained that she buys mielie-meal for R110, tea for R10, R50 for sugar, spends R45 on powder soap, R10 on bath soap, and vegetables (cabbage going for R10 every week). She keeps R50 for other emergencies that may creep up during the month. She is grateful that her daughter eats from the school feeding programme. Sanitary pads are a luxury that they simply cannot afford – so they use a cloth and plastic which they wash. As a family, they eat one meal a day, otherwise the mielie-meal does not last the month. Clothing is a luxury and they depend on the mercy of donations which they receive mainly from the local church. The situation of her neighbours, and millions of people across the country, is not that much different. This is a crisis.
When we have public meetings during work hours in this community, the vast number of people, especially young people, that fill the grounds is an indication of the high levels of unemployment. This community is made up mainly of people living in RDP houses – they are grateful for their houses because they don’t live in shacks. When you interact with them individually, most wish they could work and provide for their families.
They appreciate the R330 given to them by the South African Social Security Agency but this hardly meets the needs of a child, let alone a family.
They also highlight that there is a gap – women who take care of their families don’t receive a grant so they are forced to use the child grants to provide for the families. Men also complain that there is absolutely nothing for them until they are old and qualify for an old age grant. Many indicate that they are not lazy and would love an opportunity to just earn a living but there is simply no work out there for them. Sometimes when work opportunities come into the community, it is through short-term programmes: for three months they will enjoy providing for their families, but soon after, they are back to having no income.
One man went as far as to say that such jobs are “hurtful teasers” – as they are stripped of their pride and dignity when they become unable to provide for their families again.
Here and there, one finds community members who have business ideas but there is simply no platform to harvest their ideas: give them seed capital and give them business support. This is an economic crisis.
In such a community, people have lost hope and sometimes even the will to live. Knowing that they are physically able to work but are just denied the opportunity. Instead they are surrounded by businesses that are closing down and watch as more and more people lose their jobs, their ability to provide for their family and are stripped of their dignity.
Listening to the news, one learns that the petrol price has gone up: transportation of goods will go up and ultimately food prices will go up. This is not good news for the poor people of Tembisa, and millions more across the country – it is going to make it even harder for them to provide for their families.
The poorest people are the worst affected by South Africa shedding jobs. It is mainly the poor who now struggle to put food on the table. Retailers in poor communities indicate the shrinking demand for luxury items on the shelves – with families now spending mainly on essentials. In this same poor family, where people are working, a bigger portion, sometimes up to 60%, is spent on transport costs. This is going to result in greater pressure on welfare programmes like Sassa. It is simply not sustainable to have more people on welfare than the number of people contributing to the tax base.
This is a crisis.
Although the story is from my lived experience of working in Tembisa, it is a story that many millions of South Africans can relate to. The conclusion: South Africa is facing a serious economic crisis. DM
Watermelons were originally cultivated in Africa.