This should be seen as an important discourse on the issue of race that is opportune and necessary at this juncture of our political and constitutional pilgrimage. What is required is a constructive discourse.
Although whites should not be demonised, they must be involved in addressing the fundamental problem of black poverty in the interests of both socio-economic justice and political stability.
It is the primary responsibility of the ANC government, which has been in power since 1994, to reduce poverty, create employment and effect greater economic equality than exists.
The responsibility does not only rely on the government of the day. Inter alia, opposition parties, faith-based organisations and civil society must, of necessity, be involved. The white community is affluent, skilled and has great resources and can play an important role in the rehabilitation of African communities in a very constructive manner.
It is essential that we understand the extent of the poverty that exists.
An unconscionable 14 million persons go to bed hungry in the country every day, according to a report of the SA Food Sovereignty Campaign. The UN Children’s fund (Unicef) has stated that 15% of children in Gauteng are hungry every day, and 12% go to bed without a meal.
According to the SA Survey 2016 about 36% million live in relative poverty.
This constitutes about 19 million people, of whom 7.5 million are African.
These statistics are mind-boggling and present both the government and the community with an inordinate moral and political challenge. Twenty four years after the inception of a democratic dispensation, we still have poverty on such a vast scale that is morally debilitating and threatens political stability as a constitutional democracy. Although there are no instantaneous solutions, the government and civil society should be doing more to alleviate poverty.
It is reported that Mmusi Maimane’s comments at the Freedom Day rally last week have led to disagreement in the DA, some like Nqanga Bhanga, Eastern Cape leader of this party, supporting him, declaring that the matter was simple.
In contrast, others like Ghaleb Cachalia, who was quoted in the City Press (May 6) saying the matter was complex and required ongoing engagement.
His concern was the juxtaposition of white privilege and black poverty. The debate and contrasting political views expressed in the DA on this issue is to its advantage and should not be deterred by some leaders “fearing they could alienate white voters”.
It is reported that President Cyril Ramaphosa, in answering questions in Parliament on May 8, backed Maimane in his apparent dispute with some members of the DA (The Mercury, May 9).
This is a test for the maturity of the DA and its leadership. Maimane should be congratulated on being prepared to raise a courageous and controversial issue of seminal importance in a public meeting.
Although there are no magic or instantaneous solutions there are related matters that need to be debated openly and courageously, like the unequal distribution of resources, such as land, between affluent whites and very poor blacks, and the contentious issue of “expropriation of land” without compensation. Although there are likely to be differing views, this should contribute to a healthy and meaning debate, even if feathers are ruffled in the DA and its supporters.
What is required is a wide-ranging debate on economic policy. If the DA is to be a serious contender for political power at a provincial and national level, its economic policy would have to be one of social democratic nature, involving, inter alia, a basic income grant, a national health insurance plan and meaningful poverty alleviation programmes on a national scale.
A resource-driven economy is essential for the rehabilitation of our economy after the huge destruction that occurred during the Zuma presidency.
Ramaphosa has embarked on ambitious policies to change the discredited and corrupt Zuma economic strategy and facilitate a resource driven economy involving large-scale foreign investment.
This is, however, only half of the economic equation. The other half must involve addressing poverty and inequality in a very meaningful way.
This will involve debate and discourse on economic policies involving social democracy. It is hoped that Maimane’s comments on white privilege and black poverty can precipitate such a public discourse and debate not only within the DA but in the body politic as a whole.
The white community with its skills, resources and great wealth has a fundamentally important role to play.
What must be avoided is the “blame game” by demonising or endeavouring to punish the present white community for the injustices of imperialism and apartheid, which cannot be condoned.
South Africa is a country of inordinate potential and vast human and material recourses. It requires competent, non-corrupt and wise government to bring about social and economic justice for all our people by embracing economic policies that are designed to bring about such transformation.
In this regard, the white community has an indispensable role to play.
* George Devenish is Emeritus Professor at UKZN and one of the scholars who assisted in drafting the Interim Constitution in 1993.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media