Apartheid fault lines remain in place – Zwelinzima Vavi

Address by Zwelinzima Vavi, General Secretary of COSATU, to the Social Cohesion Summit, Kliptown, July 4 2012

Thank you very much for your invitation to speak at this important Summit on “Creating a caring and proud society”. It is highly appropriate that we are gathered herein Kliptown, the birth place of the Freedom Charter, which laid the foundations for our democratic constitution.

The obvious question we have to ask is: How far have we succeeded in making a reality of the lofty ideals so well articulated in that historic Freedom Charter?

Have we built a society in which:

  • “The people shall share in the country’s wealth;
  • “The national wealth of our country, the heritage of South Africans, shall be restored to the people;
  • “The mineral wealth beneath the soil, the banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole;
  • “All other industry and trade shall be controlled to assist the wellbeing of the people.”
  • “The doors or learning and culture shall be opened for all”

These surely have to be the cornerstones of a socially cohesive society, but the sad reality is that while we have a constitution and laws which give better guarantees of social justice, human rights and equality than most other countries in the world, in practice millions of South Africans are denied these rights, especially the above socio-economic rights, in what has become the most unequal nation in the world.

The apartheid fault lines remain in place in employment, healthcare, education, housing, transport, and across the spectrum. A rich, mainly white, minority gets the lion’s share of wealth and economic power, access to world class healthcare and education services in the private sector and a lifestyle amongst the most luxurious in the world.

Meanwhile the overwhelmingly black, poor majority suffer from deep poverty, massive levels of unemployment, pathetic levels of service delivery in healthcare and education, housing and transport, and little hope of escaping from a daily struggle to survive.

Income inequality has increased across the board. In 1995, the Gini coefficient stood at 0.64 but it had increased to 0.68 in 2008. The share of employees in national income was 56% in 1995 but it had declined to 51% in 2009, i.e. there has been reverse redistribution from the poor to the rich.

The top 10% of the rich receive 33 times the income earned by the bottom 10% in 2000. This gap is likely to have worsened, given the fall in the share of employees in national income and the global economic crisis of 2008.

And inequalities in income and wealth ownership are still racialised. An average African man earns in the region of R2 400 per month, whilst an average white man earns around R19 000, a racial income gap of roughly R16 800. Black women are yet to be liberated from the triple oppression. While most white women earn an average of R9 600 per month, African women earn R1 200, a racial income gap of R8 400. 56% of whites earn more than R6 000 per month whereas 81% of Africans earn less than R6 000 per month.

Almost all the top 20 paid directors in JSE listed companies are white males, and in 2008 the top 20 directors of JSE-listed companies earned an average of R59 million per annum, whilst in 2009 the average yearly earnings of an employee was R34 000.

The means of production remain concentrated in white capitalist hands: 50% of JSE is account for by 6 companies and more than 80% is accounted for by large banks and companies engaged in the core of the minerals-energy-complex. Estimates of black ownership of JSE-listed companies range between 1.6% and 4.6%.

This inequality is by far the biggest obstacle to national unity and social cohesion, and no amount of talk at summits like this will bring us closer together unless we can solve the underlying structural problems within our economy which are the root cause of our unemployment, poverty, inequality and social divisions.

In June and July 2010, however we enjoyed a few weeks when it seemed that despite everything, we still could come together as a united and cohesive nation, when we hosted, so successfully, the FIFA World Cup.

As COSATU said immediately afterwards: “For 30 days South Africa was at the centre of the world. We will never forget the atmosphere, as we joined hands with each other and the rest of the world to enjoy what was both a great sporting extravaganza and also a celebration of our common humanity. It gave us a glimpse of a future in which all South Africans work efficiently and harmoniously together…

“…It was a foretaste of how a future South Africa could look, if we have the political will and national unity… If we can come together to organise such a successful sporting event, why can we not do the same to tackle all the other challenges we face as a country?”

COSATU seized the opportunity to capitalise on the mood of confidence and hope that we saw in those 30 days. In October 2010 we organised a Civil Society Conference attended by close to 60 community based organisations, NGOs and the mass democratic movement, to take forward the 2010 post-World Cup Declaration.

That conference made a declaration which could well set the tone for this summit in Kliptown. It concluded that while we have many good laws and policies, too many remain on paper, with little or no implementation. Delegates called for a year of mass mobilisation on economic policy to bring down the astronomical levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality.

In a reference to a problem that is still highly relevant today, the conference called on government to prioritise building and refurbishing schools and to ensure that all schools receive adequate support from the education departments at all levels.

It called for unity in support of the transforming our health system, implementing the National Health Insurance Scheme, fixing our public hospitals and defeating the scourge of HIV/AIDS to build a healthy nation and improve our country’s life expectancy.

There was a firm commitment to campaign against crime and corruption, which is nothing but stealing from the poor to feed into narrow elites’ selfish accumulation interests. Corruption kills the spirits of the majority, black and white, who want to work hard to build their country.

That was almost two years ago. Unfortunately today that optimism is fading. The inequalities in access to healthcare and education remain as wide as ever. The Limpopo school textbook scandal has put the spotlight on the ongoing struggle of poor, African learners to gain access to even the most basic educational tools.

Unemployment today stands at an outrageous level of 36% by the more realistic expanded figure, and there is a particularly severe crisis of youth unemployment. Young people constitute 63% of the working population, yet they make 72% of the unemployed. If we fail to provide these young people with the prospect of work and an income, the consequences for us all will be tragic.

The yawning gulf between the extreme poverty of the majority and the excessive wealth of the minority lies behind the mushrooming of often violent service delivery protests, which tend to be in poor communities like Zandspruit and Dieplsoot which are just a short distance from the wealthiest suburbs of Sandton. We are sitting on a ticking time-bomb and the prospect of a completely incohesive society.

Allegations of serious crime, corruption, squandering of public resources and woeful incompetence, hit the headlines almost daily. More and more people seem to think the route to greater income equality is to help themselves to more money illegally, through manipulating tenders or other corrupt devices in order to get rich quick.

The squalid morality of the capitalists, based on ‘me-first’ and ‘survival of the fittest’ is seeping even into our own revolutionary movement, dragging in its wake huge problems of factionalism and disruption.

The ANC Policy Conference confronted this and many other of these problems and we hope that many of the good ideas in the discussion papers will be passed into policy resolutions at Mangaung in December.

There is no longer any argument that we face a national crisis and need a radical shift of policy to tackle the triple challenge of unemployment and inequality.

Unfortunately however, many previous conferences and NGCs have passed similar fine resolutions, but they have remained on paper. The challenge for this Summit and society as a whole over the coming decade is how to fundamentally restructure our economy, create decent, sustainable jobs, eradicate poverty and drastically narrow inequalities.

Unless we do this, then gatherings like this will sadly come to be seen as little more than talk shops, and we shall return in ten years time to discuss exactly the same problems, with the only difference being that they could be even worse.

But I end by coming back to the World Cup. Although now it seems a long way in the past, we must never lose sight of the glimpse it gave us of how we could indeed become a more united and cohesive society.

The greedy crooks and the incompetent bureaucrats are still a tiny minority of South Africans. There are millions of honest, committed South African citizens who are willing and able to make a contribution to build a new cohesive and equitable society. Our task today is to give leadership to such people and build a movement for change.

Working together to confront the triple challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequalities can take us closer to our dream of creating a truly egalitarian, united, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous South Africa.

But any attempt to forge true unity based on the current realities will make our task a lot harder. True reconciliation does not only mean that we must embrace the radical policy shift to address underdevelopment affecting the majority but it also means we must embrace the calls made amongst others by Bishop Desmond Tutu for a once off wealth tax that will reinforce government’s efforts to address what we inherited from our ugly past. Regrettably this call has been frowned at by many.

Issued by COSATU, July 4 2012


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