Cent-wise and rand-foolish in rural-urban migration
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By Dr Wallace Mgoqi
FROM THE collapse of the influx control laws, the pass laws, in the late 1980s, to the collapse of the apartheid edifice, it was clear that without the concomitant development of the homelands and rural towns and villages, there was going to be a stampede from the rural areas to the urban areas, as people sought a better life.
Indeed, with the dismantling of the apartheid laws, regulations and ordinances, it was “open sesame” in the sense of “a free or unrestricted means of admission or access to the job market”.
Immediately after 1994, the influx was fast and rampant. Small townships, such as Langa, Nyanga and Guguletu in Cape Town, were bursting at the seams, with every open space targeted for occupation, including pavements. Officials gave up trying to enforce the law. The problem could not be dealt with at an operational or administrative level.
Where did the problem arise?
Laws such as the poll tax and other forms of taxation, including curtailing the number of livestock a man or household could keep, were deliberately introduced to force people to go to the urban areas or farms to look for work, and form labour pools, from which white employers could recruit cheap labour. This introduced the notorious migrant labour system, which had a cancerous effect on African family life.
In my own family, my grandfather, who was born in the 1880s, as a young man had to work in the mines in Joburg. Generations have gone through this. My father, in turn, also trekked to Cape Town, around 1945, where he met my mother. She also had come to Cape Town to seek employment as a young woman, and they got married, and I arrived in 1949.
Happily, my father left us the inheritance of a stable family of seven siblings under difficult circumstances. He was a labourer at the Maitland Abattoirs until his retirement. I am eternally grateful to him for this, having seen many children whose families could not bear up under the weight of all kinds of oppression.
Sadly, even when this migration was in its infancy, no parallel action was taken by the metropolitan municipalities, in particular, to partner with the rural metros and municipalities (district and local municipalities) to build bridges.
There was the Cities Network, which brought together the city managers of the various metros, but these did not translate into programmes such as infrastructure development projects that would help to anchor rural municipalities and keep their people in jobs and other income-generating activities.
Far from saying that the rural-to-urban migration should be stopped, as it is a world-wide phenomenon, the point is that if the urban municipalities extended a helping hand to the rural municipalities, there would be a win-win outcome.
On the contrary, when some of us experimented with doing exactly this we were accused of inappropriately using the resources of urban municipalities in areas outside their jurisdiction, for the benefit of people falling outside their jurisdiction.
This, in essence, is what I refer to as “being cent wise and rand foolish”, because it would cost less to invest in a planned, structured way into these areas than to develop temporary infrastructure and services in urban areas, without planning, to cope with a never-ending stream of rural dwellers who have come to make the urban areas their home.
Those who sacrificed their lives so that other people could have a better life would be sad that the people they fought for and for whom they died still live in squalor or despicable conditions. I am sure that all these heroes and heroines would bemoan the fact that they died for this. On the contrary, they died to shape the world for good.
We owe it to the departed to see a different landscape than that which they left.
Recently, speaking in a private meeting with the chief executives of the various companies in the Sekunjalo Group, group executive chairperson Dr Iqbal Survé said something profound: “We are not doing this (business) for ourselves or for money, but for the people we employ. We have a duty of care. They may never know what we have done for them, but we must do it, in an environment with 72 percent youth unemployment and 32 percent unemployment. Don’t be selfish, be open hearted. It is about people. Think with your heart and not just your mind only. Combine thinking rands and cents, which is a science, with thinking with your heart, which is an art.”
He was relating how, around 1997, he and his friends started a company called Sekunjalo with only R250 000, but which is now valued in billions. His businesses now employ about 3 000 employees, whose direct descendants are about 20 000 people, whose livelihoods would be destroyed if these companies were prevented from trading, as some banks have chosen to close the companies’ banking facilities. It is a shame!
Dr Survé was highlighting the fact that acting from self-interest, we will never see the ugly face of South Africa. For as long as those who have this, thinking rands and cents only, not about people and their entitlement to human dignity as well, we are doomed to stay with the problem.
For as long as we think narrowly of “our rights” instead of “self-enlightened interest” we will never arrive at a win-win outcome and resolution of the problems at hand.
We have to get out of the mind-set that spending our resources in the outlying rural areas, where our people come from, is a waste of resources.
The national, provincial and local government authorities will have to convene an imbizo to work out how to stem the rampant proliferation of informal settlements; how to bring investments to well-run municipalities; and how to encourage people who are keen to participate in the rehabilitation and restoration of the land that had been neglected for hundreds of years now to be productive, profitable and sustainable in its use.
The state should also be encouraged to release land, even on a leasehold basis, for productive and sustainable use in cropping, livestock and other forms of agriculture.
Dr Wallace Mgoqi is the chairperson of AYO Technology Solutions. He is a former attorney and advocate, former Chief Land Claims Commissioner, former commissioner of the Commission for Gender Equality and former Acting Judge of the Land Claims Court (2014 to 2019).
*The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL or of title sites