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Pretoria - The country is going to see more violent protests unless the gap between the rich and the poor is narrowed, Cosatu secretary general Zwelinzima Vavi has warned.
Speaking at the University of Pretoria’s Groenkloof campus, where a new public debate entitled the Sowetan Dialogues was launched on Thursday night, Vavi said the gap between the rich and poor in SA was worsening instead of getting better.
He said there was actually a redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich.
Last year, the richest 10 percent of the population, which is predominantly white, shared more than R380 billion, while the poorest 10 percent shared just more than R1bn, he added.
Vavi said blacks, who constituted 74 percent of the population, shared between them 41 percent of the country’s wealth, while whites, who constitute only 9 percent of the population, had the lion’s share of 45 percent.
He said the poor were beginning to ask themselves difficult questions as to who the main beneficiaries of the democratic dispensation were.
It was clear, he said, that it was those who enjoyed the good life under apartheid.
He warned that unless the ruling party acted swiftly to correct the situation, it would soon have a new enemy.
That new enemy would fight a new struggle to make freedom worthwhile.
Vavi said the country needed a new breed of leaders with a culture of serving the people, and not people who were getting into power to enrich themselves.
“I wish Chris Hani was here to see those dog fights for positions, and how those in leadership positions are driving cars worth millions, while workers like those at Marikana are struggling to make ends meet,” he said.
He said those in government had to remember that they were elected by mostly poor people.
“Mangaung will have to resolve structural deficiencies in the distribution of wealth,” he said to applause from the audience.
Commenting on the shooting of mineworkers at Marikana, Vavi said individuals and organisations had to be held to account, and those found to have acted recklessly had to be punished.
He said mineworkers had the right to strike for higher wages as companies made millions out of the workers’ sweat.
But he said there was a need to educate people not to carry arms when they protest, and that “pangas and spears must be left at home”.
“Workers toil kilometres underground, doing the most dangerous work under the most unhealthy conditions and face death every day,” Vavi said.
He said for all their hard labour they earned between R5 000 and R6 000 a month, while Lonmin’s chief executive officer earned in excess of R854 000 a month, which brought his annual salary to more than R10 million.
He said farm workers, who fed the nation and got abused by their employers on a daily basis, earned R1 500 a month, an amount he said was some people’s monthly DSTV subscription.
“Security guards, who spend the whole night standing at malls to make us feel safe, earn R1 828.”
Vavi said four out of every 10 South Africans were unemployed and did not have social security and that 57 percent of the population lived in poverty, most of them women.
This humiliation of the people by poverty couldn’t be allowed to continue.
Vavi sent the audience giggling with laughter when he said while the Marikana situation was a tragedy the country would rather forget about quickly, it had diverted attention from the Limpopo textbooks saga, much to the relief of some people.
Meanwhile, former president FW de Klerk has hit out at Cosatu, accusing the labour federation of defending inequality challenge facing the country.