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Amid the national mourning for those killed in the violence at Marikana mine, not much attention was paid to the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF’s) latest report on the country, which has warned, once again, that chronic joblessness poses a threat to SA’s continued stability.
The IMF asserts that if not addressed, “the stubbornly high unemployment rate could become politically and socially unsustainable”.
The fund also raised our burgeoning public sector wage bill as a “concern’’. It urged that the “composition of spending needed to be rebalanced away from the wage bill and toward capital spending’’.
This is not the first time alarm has been sounded by the IMF or international ratings agencies about our inability to tackle meaningfully our biggest challenges. Indeed, some of our more competent and sophisticated government ministers are aware of the dangers posed by our inability to get to grips with worsening inequality and poverty.
The government’s own National Planning Commission has identified the issues and also offered solutions. There is consensus among labour unions, business and the entire population about our priorities. We all agree that radical measures need to be taken to set things right.
Yet in spite of much talking and comprehensive plans, nothing meaningful is being done. It’s like we are on board a runaway train and we all know something’s got to be done to avoid an accident, but we won’t agree on a course of action to avoid it.
Take the government’s youth wage subsidy proposal, for instance.
President Jacob Zuma and his government think it’s one tool among others that can be deployed to deal with youth joblessness and business warms towards the idea.
He unveils the plan in his State of the National address and the government even puts money aside to carry it out. But the proposal is blocked by its partner, the unions that claim it could result in older workers being replaced by younger people who would be cheaper to employ.
End of story.
What this means is that a popularly elected government, with a mandate to serve all the people for the common good, is so beholden to its unelected ally it can’t do its job.
Yet the same unions that won’t compromise on proposals to deal with joblessness complain that business and government are not serious about dealing with the issue.
The mind boggles.
The question is what, then, is the point of the governing alliance if not to solve the country’s pressing challenges in the national interest?
In Germany labour unions and government have agreements to keep peace in the workplace and to work together for the common good.
Our unions are embedded in the government and claim they want the country to succeed, so why can’t the parties agree on a common strategy to achieve common goals?
One wishes for a political figure with the backbone to do what is right for the country, not what is politically expedient.
The number of leading empowerment figures who used to be champions of the people when still officials of the National Union of Mineworkers makes for interesting reading.
There is Cyril Ramaphosa, former NUM secretary general, now a dollar multimillionaire who sits on the board of Lonmin, the mining company at the centre of the Marikana shooting. Marcel Golding, Ramaphosa’s deputy at NUM, another dollar millionaire who is linked to companies such as television station e.tv and substantial stakes in the gaming business. Then there is James Motlatsi, former NUM president who now sits comfortably as deputy chairman of the board of a leading gold mining company.
One does not begrudge these men their fortune, but their overnight wealth must stick in the craw of a miner who can barely make ends meet and calls a shack home.