THE WIDENING GAP BETWEEN THE HAVES AND THE HAVE-NOTS

THE WIDENING GAP BETWEEN THE HAVES AND THE HAVE-NOTS, THE RICH AND THE POOR IS A THREAT TO OUR DEMOCRACY

Comment by: Ray McCauley

Today, almost half of all South Africans are living below the poverty line, surviving on just over R500 a month — an improvement from 1993, where this was the case for the majority of the population.

Yes, poverty has gone down over time — but clearly not enough. This is only part of the dilemma we face in South Africa, because while poverty levels decline, inequality has increased and the gap between the haves and have-nots continues to grow.

Before I can deal with the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots, it would be naïve of me to ignore the latest unemployment stats which highlight the matter.

The unemployment statistics released two weeks ago by Stats SA should get all South Africans to sit up and take notice. They point to a ticking time bomb which all of us; especially civil society, government, business and labour – should diffuse before it explodes.

The unemployment rate in South Africa increased to 29 percent in the second quarter of 2019, from 27.6 in the previous period. It was the highest jobless rate since the first quarter of 2003, as the number of unemployed rose by 455 000 to 6.65 million and employment rose by 21 000 to 16.31 million.

The number of unemployed advanced by 455 000 to 6.65 million from 6.20 million in the first quarter of the year. Employment went up by 21 000 to 16.31 million from 16.29 million in the prior period. Job losses were recorded in the formal sector (-49 thousand) and private households (-49 thousand) while gains occurred in the informal sector (+114 thousand) and agriculture (+5 thousand).

The labour force also increased by 476 thousand to 22.97 million from 22.49 million in the previous quarter and those detached from it rose by 3 thousand to 15.47 million from 15.79 million.

The expanded definition of unemployment, including people who have stopped looking for work, went up to 38.54 percent in the second quarter of 2019 from 38 percent in the first quarter.

By genders, the jobless rate advanced for both women (31.3 percent from 29.3 percent in Q1) and men (27.12 percent from 26.1 percent). Also, the youth unemployment rate continued to rise to 56.4 percent from 55.2 percent in the prior period.

The above stats show that we are facing a crisis of unemployment that the debate or fight regarding who is to blame for this crisis is long gone. It is time our government puts out an SOS that things are truly bad and we need come together to find some tangible solutions to this crisis especially the social partners. Pointing fingers will not solve the crisis or take the country forward.

The high levels of unemployment have a direct effect on the high levels of poverty which in turn increases the gap between the have and the have-nots and inequality in our country.

The greatest threat this poverty poses is to the sustainability of our democracy. As stated in one of our new democracy’s founding documents, the Reconstruction and Development Plan, “no political democracy can survive and flourish if the mass of our people remain in poverty, without land, without tangible prospects for a better life.” Former President Thabo Mbeki put it somewhat more dramatically in the mid-1990s when he said “when the poor rise, they will rise against us all.”

Poverty and inequality are ultimately the biggest threat to our democracy and to the thread that holds South Africa together. Unfortunately, this thread is coming undone as poverty increases among the majority even as the social wage has increased, thanks to the social welfare policies of post-apartheid South Africa.

According to an Oxfam report of 2017 on inequality and the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots, the rich and the poor, it makes depressing reading – “In South Africa, it takes 4.5 days for the best-paid Executive at Shoprite to earn what a temporary farm worker earns in their entire life – that is, assuming they live up to 50 years.

The report went further to say that worldwide there was an unprecedented growth in dollar billionaires, with one billionaire produced every second day, putting the total at 2 043. They accumulated $762-billion during the past year — at a rate six times faster than that of the average wage of ordinary workers.

“The South African situation mirrors global trends, which in many ways is worse in many instances,” said Gilad Isaac, a researcher at the University of Witwatersrand. About two-thirds of South Africa’s wealth is held by the top 1% and about 90% is held by the top 10% — an enormous concentration of wealth.

In 2017, the report found that 82% of all growth went to the top 1% while the bottom half saw no increase at all.

Political leaders, Religious and Church Leaders together with Civil Society ought to be calling the commanders of capital and policy makers to take a pause, reflect and come up with a Marshall plan to rescue South African from this dangerous path.

Lastly, as we celebrate Women’s Month, we should reflect on our society’s treatment of women and come up with workable solutions on how to fight gender-based violence.

Happy Womens Month!

PASTOR RAY McCAULEY IS THE PRESIDENT OF RHEMA FAMILY CHURCHES AND CO-CHAIRPERSON OF THE NATIONAL RELIGIOUS LEADERS COUNCIL (NRLC)

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