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Is South Africa Becoming Plutocratic?

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Ever since the advent of the democratic project of 1994, South Africa has had to confront an insidious fact of a new struggle: classism. This, however, doesn’t invalidate a historical fact to the effect that the race based economic policy of the now defunct National Party has largely created the problems that are pertinent to the national consciousness of the Republic. Race and class were carefully married in order to produce the monolith that some have referred to as ‘white’ capital. The democratic project has, through our world admired Constitution, put measures in place to attempt to breakdown the monolith of ‘white’ capital and level the economic playing fields for all citizens to participate meaningfully in the economy of the country. But lugubriously the chasm between progressive policies and implementation has left us with the pre 1994 status quo safely intact with the only notable difference being that the neo struggle has increasingly taken on a class character as opposed to a purely racial.

  Ours is a life based constitution. Meaning that the right to life of the individual is non-negotiable and as such the quality of enjoyment and prolonging the said life ought to be just as paramount otherwise failure to practically realize such a constitutional imperative would render it(the constitution) superfluous  at the very least. If ever there was an absence in the quality and prolonging of one’s life, it’s evidenced by the grave state in which the public healthcare system is in and its bitterness is exclusively tasted by people almost ineluctably domiciled in the working class strata  of our  seemingly gold-less ‘rainbow nation’. While on a routine visit to the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital, President Zuma said he was “shocked” to find the biggest hospital in sub Sahara Africa in the state it was in. If the inadequacies of a hospital situated in the country’s most celebrated township “shocks” the president, what more will the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial, where cases of scores of infants dying have plagued the hospital, and more remotely situated hospital around the rural landscape of the Republic do to the First Citizen? A country with the capacity to almost effortlessly host a billion rand soccer world cup had no business ‘allowing’ more than 100 infants to cheaply die between January and April this year. Former union firebrand and minister of labour, Jay Naidoo, who is now chairperson of the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, says, “Critically, we have extended the access to the constitutional rights to education and health. But poor quality and standards continue to penalise the poor…Our health statistics on infant mortality, HIV/Aids, and TB are a shocking indictment, reflecting a country at war.” Do you concur with Naidoo’s assertion?

The same can be said, and can’t be over emphasized, of the short comings of the public schooling system. The recent industrial action clearly demonstrated that children dependent solely on government for the full operation of their schooling are mere bargains chips in the struggle for better pay cheques between educators and the state. It’s not the children of St Mary’s, King Edward, Pretoria Boys and Girls Highs and others of affluent communities that have to pull a rabbit out of the hat in order just to catch up to the time lost during the strike but it’s those from the townships and rural area, who are conveniently mainly African black and coloured. In a speech published in the Mail and Guardian in 2009 and titled “Where were you?”  , political analyst, Prince Mashele said:”I raise it (Where were you? Question) because I agree with Roberto Mangabeira Unger, who writes in Democracy Realised: “ The perversion of economic growth and its fruits begins when we attempt to make up for the scarcity of public goods by producing more private ones, and to find in private consumption a barren solace for social frustration.” Who among you would argue that we have not yet reached a perverse stage in the evolution of post-apartheid South Africa, where the public sector is the least preferred and the private is the most preferred?”

The issues of private healthcare, schooling and other private experience  speaks to the abundant and undeniable fact of the government’s inability to effectively fulfil it’s constitutional requirements but of even greater importance it’s the fact that the growing number of people affording private service is inextricably linked to the structural inequality that characterizes the South African democratic experience. The Presidency’s Development Indicators of 2009 and many others across the world point to the fact that we have, sadly, surpassed Brazil as the most unequal society on Earth. The hallmark of the President Mbeki administration was its ability to stabilize our economy. The period between 2003 and early 2007 has been referred to as the ‘boom years’ because of growth of the economy was at 5-6% and a few black people began to swell the middle class strata which was previously exclusively white. And marketing terms such as “Black Diamonds” were coined for those upwardly mobile parvenus. But the ‘boom years’ had little real meaning to those people structurally designated on the periphery of the economy and this is indicated by the fact that in 2008 the country’s poorest 10% per capita income was R1041 while the richest 10% took home R97899. The Chilean writer, Ariel Dorfman, who was in the country in July to deliver the Eighth Nelson Mandela Memorial Lecture, described South Africa as being both tragic and beautiful. “What is astonishing is there seem to be more security firms than schools or hospitals. I see Chubb everywhere. A country where the prosperous have to live in fear of the 75% of people ‘out there’ is one that will end up unhappy.”, further lamented Dorfman. For as long as democratic economic prosperity seems to be enjoyed only by people of certain classes, then we should not be shocked to see the increasing violence against those living in the affluent areas of our both tragic and beautiful country. Mashele reminds us that:”We should be wary of behaving as if the poor are powerless. When the gap between the poor, middle class and the rich is allowed to yawn, the poor have a way of outsmarting those think they know it all. The destitute have it within their power to take over society in ways that leave the middle class kicking and screaming from the margins as if they are little children crying for help” . Boom gates and private security firms can’t protect their clients all the time. The yawning cleavage between arrogant opulence and desperate destitution nurtures the conditions that will make manifest Mashele’s words.

At present there seems to be a default communiqué to the effect that if you are poor you will easily die of even the most preventable illnesses, your children will taught the most sub par standard of education and law enforcement agencies will aid you three or four hours after what ever brutal experience you may have suffered. All the while your compatriots in the propertied class lose little sleep after learning of your daily experience through print or electronic media.

One can only hope that the soon to be implemented National Health Insurance scheme will go a long way in ameliorating the immoral disservice given to the more 60% of the population that’s not under medical cover but it’s not easy for one to be overly optimistic about the NHI because the government can’t want to introduce a new system that requires well capacitated working staff while we have yet to fix the current problem with the public healthcare system. “Essentially,

 this inclusivist socio-economic agenda must provide poor people with hope: it must inspire them and they must come to believe that even if they are not the immediate beneficiaries of our democratic transition and economic transformation, their children and grand-children will at least realise the promise of a better life for all.”, wrote University of Johannesburg Deputy Vice Chancellor, Prof Adam Habib in The Thinker.

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