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Poverty, inequality and unemployment fuel the anger, bitterness and stoical fatalism of our poor

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Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is currently a Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Fort Hare University and writes in his personal capacity.

In order to stimulate the economy and inject much-needed cash back into it, many governments opted for a social wage of sorts. We must follow suit. It would mean bringing another seven to eight million adults into the social security net and expanding our social welfare system.

As I go through the report on the July riots, my reading of it crystalises around two elements. On the one hand, there is the ineptness and lack of capabilities of the security and law enforcement agencies and, on the other hand, there are the internal factional battles in the ruling party. Both these elements loom large throughout the report.

Whether we want to blame the police for their inaction over the nine days, or the so-called massive intelligence failure to give us early warning, or indeed the role of the SANDF, it doesn’t matter. This was simply a massive failure, all round, full stop.

From an intelligence point of view, a policing and public order point of view and a governance failure from our executive arm point of view — all were incapable of providing the necessary security and safety of ordinary citizens and private businesses. This is a direct result of the hollowing out of our institutions during the State Capture years. Appointing incompetent people in a number of these directly contributed to the inept approach by the institutions during the riots. The report goes some way to make recommendations to avoid such in the future. Let’s see if any will be implemented.

It is the second element that I find the report to be very light on — the panel simply advising that internal factional battles in the ANC must end because it has a negative impact on broader society and the economy, as observed with the loss of more than R50-billion during these protests and lootings.

Now here, the president continues to preach unity in the party, saying he is prepared to fall on his sword with regards to the abuse of public money for party political ends. Ironically the RET faction is baying for the president’s head in this regard, perhaps not fully understanding that he is also protecting them and trying to save their party. Now to all of them involved in this action or inaction during this period, the president, the ministers, managers in the various security agencies and indeed the law enforcement agencies that would now have to implement consequence management, I say to you the following:

“When you choose an action, you choose the consequences of that action. When you desire a consequence, you had damned well better take the action that would create it.” Or to put it differently, “we all make choices, but in the end our choices make us.”

The perpetrators must face justice and jail time if needed because you did wrong, full stop. Equally important though, the enforcers must act decisively and with speed to implement consequence management. Without this, the message to the nation is that’s it’s OK to participate in wrongdoing even if it hurts the country and its citizens.

Now, with the State of the Nation Address (Sona) looming large, one other key factor that everyone says contributed to the July riots is the socioeconomic conditions of our people. Poverty, inequality and persistent unemployment contributed their fair share to the anger, bitterness and stoical fatalism in which our poor find themselves.

I have written about this previously in which I call out the private sector and the wealthy in our country and ask what it is they are collectively doing to correct such historical injustice, but on 10 February 2022 in his Sona, I think the president can announce a huge difference in the form of an unemployment grant, and not so much a universal basic income grant per se.

Given the devastation of the Covid pandemic on most economies, a number of developed and developing economies opted to transfer cash in hand to many of their citizens. These social assistance packages are a necessity given the large-scale negative impact the pandemic had on those economies.

And so, in order to stimulate the economy and inject much-needed cash back into it, many governments opted for a social wage of sorts. We must simply follow suit. It would mean bringing another seven to eight million adults into the social security net and expanding our social welfare system. This the president must do to alleviate the ongoing suffering of the most vulnerable in our society.

The various measures to fund such an allocation will have to be a reallocation of public expenditure, a freeze on the public service wage bill for two years, perhaps we don’t need a fully-fledged Arts and Culture Ministry, similarly a Sports Ministry.

As ordinary citizens, we too can make a contribution through a slight hike in personal income tax, corporate income tax and value-added tax. We have to do this, good people, lest we find ourselves in the footsteps of Lebanon, which is now officially a failed state. The country simply could not recover post the 2008/09 financial crisis and the debt levels kept on rising, no radical interventions were sought and the rich and the banks in that country decided to cut their losses and run. We can and must avoid a similar fate. And all I’m saying is that an unemployment grant is a step in the right direction.

So, to avoid another July riot and looting, we as a country must take responsibility collectively. Yes, we can! Implement consequence management of the Zondo Commission reports, the SIU PPE corruption report and the July riots report. Continue to implement structural changes in our economy and attract further investment for infrastructure. And finally, expand the social assistance wage for the unemployed in our country.

Be all you can be, Mr President, history will judge you. DM

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All Comments 7

  • Agree with everything you say in principle Oscar. I have this lingering concern though. The more you get for free, the more you want for free. And the more you get, the less likely that you will seek employment of any kind. Many small business owners or home owners sometimes prefer to employ foreign nationals, simply because they are perceived to be less lazy, hard working, than many local citizens. Where to you draw the line on who should qualify for such an unemployed grant. Will a restaurant owner who lost his business due to Covid qualify? And then, who will monitor the situation? And how much abuse of the system can actually occur?

    • Coen, great comments but my impression is that the argument “the more you get..the more you want” is a bogeyman used across the world by the wealthier classes (not accusing you of being wealthy 😊). There are isolated instanced where this happens (Reagan’s welfare queen) but research doesnt back this up. I cannot quote the research but have been reading about this for several years.

      The abuse in South Africa would more likely be some officials piping money to family or friends directly or via contracts. Creating a bureaucracy to figure out who qualifies would only create more opportunities for this corruption. The basic income grant with no means testing makes sense. For those who have income, it is recouped via taxes.

  • Spoken like a true red-faced socialist. Always finding reasons to spend other people’s money to perpetuate a system of dependence that legitimises a large, bloated welfare state as a fait accompli.

    Here’s my take.
    A welfare state kills entrepreneurship because it requires taxation to be high. In order for entrepreneurship to flourish, taxation needs to be low. Entrepreneurship ironically renders a welfare state unnecessary. The two are essentially mutually exclusive. One produces endless dependence and slavery while the other produces innovation and adaptation. Now, Oscar, which do you suppose is going to help people to help themselves?

    Here’s another question for you Oscar. How much of the poverty, inequality, and unemployment in South Africa is due to the poor having too many babies? It is simple arithmetic but these idiot Lefties like Oscar refuse to acknowledge what is plainly obvious because it doesn’t suit their aim of destroying the middle class (by making them feel guilty for working hard and thinking rationally).

    The welfare state is ultimately unsustainable and the further down the rabbit hole it goes, the more it inevitably relies on tyranny to exist. And tyranny is easy when your whole population is enslaved anyway. Oscar knows this, just like Karl Marx did back in his day. Oscar and people like him are perfectly okay with tyranny as long as they get to be the tyrants. The middle classes with their independence and self-sufficiency are his worst enemy.

  • The ANC has done absolutely nothing to reign in wasteful spending and corruption. Until we see any kind of proper action and accountability, increasing tax rates and reducing the already near collapsed service delivery spending is simply a way to steal more money and cause even more misery, not just for the poor, but the whole country, including what precious little jobs we have.

    Yes it’s urgent, now let’s see that urgency applied to curbing wasteful expenditure…you know like having tenders for 80k for a set of kneeguards you can get at builders for 200 bux.
    I am absolutely not against an income grant, but in the South African context, where we already have very high social spending, BEE, public salaries that are way out of sync with private salaries (just another form of income grant if you are honest), shrinking tax base, reducing service delivery especially for the poor, it’s just not possible to fund this sustainably at this point in time.

    You talk about other countries, which ones do you mean, because it’s pretty clear that there is no other country past or present that can be properly compared to the situation in SA
    Instead we are supposed to pay more taxes (and I am sorry they won’t be “slight” and you know it), which really just serve to enrich more in the ANC and buy votes for the next election. All this while almost everything we pay taxes for is collapsing for all in this country.

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