Poverty being used as vote-catcher

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Copy of ST_kids beg0 AP IN NEED: Homeless children beg at car windows in the streets. It is dehumanising to use peoples poverty as a bargaining chip when you have the means to eliminate it, says the writer. Picture: AP

South Africa must be one of very few countries in the world where having a political science degree might hamper your chances of understanding politics.

Fortunately, one does not need a degree to predict that the ANC will comfortably win this year’s elections.

South African politics do not always follow a logical pattern.

For example, the ANC government’s most strident critics – the black middle class and whites – are the biggest beneficiaries of the post-1994 state.

Statistics show that as a group, whites have become wealthier under ANC rule. Forget the attention-seeking white conservatives who complain about the still relatively small number of poor whites – it has never been a better time to be white in South Africa.

Traditionally white-owned businesses have been able to trade profitably in countries where the South Africans usually arrived to search for and kill “terrorists” or to flee the terrorist state that pre-1994 South Africa was.

WEALTH GAP WIDENING

It has also never been so good to be black and middle class. The gap between rich and poor has not only widened since 1994 but the gap between black poor and black rich is itself the size of the Grand Canyon.

It is no exaggeration to say the poor have become poorer and more degraded.

Those who have the least to show for being part of what some call the new South Africa – the landless peasants and the urban unworking class (the rate of unemployment in this cohort does not allow for me to call them a working class) – will ensure that President Jacob Zuma is at the helm for another five years.

They will do so despite the reality that the state does not offer protection when they are thrown off the farm they had lived and worked on for generations, or when the ANC chooses to ignore the concerns of its own alliance partner Cosatu with regards to youth wage subsidies, labour brokers and e-tolls, to say nothing of the more radical voices from those further left of the ANC.

The unworking class will vote the ANC into power despite their own children being the ones who are affected by the state dragging its feet in establishing the basic norms and standards that would make school a place that has what it takes to offer effective learning that could prove an escape from transgenerational poverty.

NUMSA COURAGE

It is because of these reasons that one must congratulate the National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) for having the courage of their conviction in resolving to stop subsidising the ANC or mobilising for the party in the forthcoming elections.

Numsa must know that its decoupling from the ANC will not prevent the party from winning the election.

Even Numsa’s critics know that the union has a valid point. To say, as Cosatu says at each election season, that the ANC is the best vehicle for realising working class aspirations is a half truth – which also makes it a half lie.

The ANC has become to the labour movement something similar to an erstwhile charming and romantic lover who in marriage has become abusive.

The trade union plays the role of the battered spouse who hangs on to the possibility that her man might change and be the sweetheart she fell in love with.

Twenty years on, the partner becomes more indifferent knowing that he is loved.

Numsa’s opponents within the tripartite alliance know this. That is why the best they can do is to tell the union to “fork off” – whatever that means.

VOTE CATCHER

The ANC knows that where it has attempted to respond to the needs of the class that keeps it in power, it has cynically used the social security net as a vote catcher rather than the catalyst for positive change among the poorest.

The ANC tends to cast those who question the sustainability of ever-increasing social grants as conservatives who are anti-poor and racist.

They can wag their fingers as hard as they want but they too know that what the poor want is the dignity that comes with earning their own living and not having to stand in long queues to collect the pittance the state gives them.

It is a shame and nothing to be proud of that the state has increased the number of those who depend on hand-outs for their sustenance.

To truly reduce poverty is to reduce the numbers of those who must take a begging bowl to the state.

To use people’s poverty and hunger as a bargaining chip when you have the wherewithal of eliminating both evils, is the worst form of dehumanising them.

Having reached 20 years of democracy, we cannot afford to beat about the bush.

The ANC must decide which side it is on. The answer will not be what it says on its manifesto. It will be how it uses the popular power it wields. -Pretoria News

Fikile Moya is executive editor of the Pretoria News

* The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.



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