Operation Hunger recently engaged with a number of rural householders. This is what one said: “My child broke his leg and had to go to hospital. I sold my three cows to pay for transport and treatment. Now I have nothing left.”
Like this, there are too many households and individuals that fail to provide a basic livelihood.
Food insecurity, homelessness, family fragmentation, shamelessly low wages, a fractured healthcare system and socio-economic volatility persistently flag grinding poverty across the country.
The only constant is that it gets worse and in bad times the poor and middle-income workers bear the brunt. Being paid slave wages requires special attention as most of these workers experience a daily grind to support and feed their families.
Spare a thought for highly qualified, despondent and jobless graduates. Many have a slim chance of escaping poverty, setting in place the next generation of poverty. All this while well-off, cash-piled corporates stand aside and mete out tokenism.
Many mining companies are earning unprecedented profits in the current mineral and metal price boom. But wait and see, as soon as there is a downturn thousands of miners will swiftly be on the streets. Are the mining companies diverting some profits to a contingency for the bad times or are they usurping this new-found wealth for executives and senior management to further entrench South Africa’s spectacular inequality?
Inequality deepened over the past 25 years and we are finding it difficult to emerge from it. Economics Nobel Laureate Thomas Piketty commented recently that schooling and education are crucial to addressing inequality, but we are failing. For every 100 pupils entering Grade 1, only 40 complete matric. We remain as the most unequal nation.
Piketty further said that a country that creates equal opportunities for its citizens will significantly reduce inequality and poverty. Equal opportunities here remains a dream.
Piketty explained that wealth in the globe is concentrated in the hands of the top one percent of the population at the expense of the balance. It’s the very same in South Africa. We are at biblical levels on talking about reducing poverty, inequality and unemployment, but doing very little about it.
A wealth tax now looms large, but how much can the Treasury get from an ever-declining tax base. Those who are paying taxes are also fatigued. People are tired of being in low-paying jobs which leave very little or nothing for savings, leisure and progression.
In 2017 Transparency International assigned South Africa a rating of 43 on the Corruption Perception Index, making us 71 of out of the 180 most corrupt countries on Earth. Any country with a rating of below 50 is said to have very serious corruption problems.
The Guptas, Steinhoff, BEE fronting, arms deal, PPE procurement, systemic tax evasion, anti-competitive behaviour and rampant tender fraud come to mind. This has compounded the runaway fatigue in the country and can now be diagnosed as chronic and will most likely persist for generations to come. This is real.
Some 500 years ago the Catholic Church in Europe allowed sinners to redeem themselves by buying so called “Indulgences”. The money from this went to the pope in Rome. This caused widespread unhappiness and kick started the Reformation in Christianity.
Today we have thousands of churches here, many of which are run by self- appointed miracle pastors, generating massive income and promising wealth and utopia.
Some of them have claimed a cure for Aids and cancer. Millions of our fatigued and gullible congregants are thoroughly duped and quickly agree to part with their hard-earned money.
The only wealthy ones we notice are the self-appointed pastors. There are, however, so many places of worship that do such great work for individuals, families and communities. Modern reformation in religion is now imperative.
We entertain millions of illegal foreigners, billions of rand in counterfeit and cheap imports from Brazil, China and elsewhere — haemorrhaging jobs, tax revenue and business opportunities for South Africans.
We might even be a laughing stock to many who are here illegally, who pay minimum or no tax and make hay while the sun belts down. Very little is being done to mitigate this.
• Rajen Singh is a socio-economic analyst and commentator and writes in his personal capacity.