Photo: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)
Photo: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)

Massive disparities in society must be urgently addressed

By Ben Turok Time of article published Jul 6, 2019

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We all want to build a united country with mutual respect for all our people. But this seems to be getting more difficult to achieve as evidence of increasing social polarisation becomes available.

Two recent reports highlight our dilemma.

A research company, New World Wealth, reports that South Africa has 39 200 individuals with high net wealth of assets of $1million (R15m) or more totalling about $649 billion in private wealth.

What is more, there were 2 200 homes costing R20m or more last year.

Hence we have some of the best residential estate in the world and some of the best shopping areas, which continue to attract the super rich of the world.

At the same time we get regular reports from Mitchells Plain and the Cape Flats that hundreds of youngsters are getting killed in gang wars that are closely identified with poverty and unemployment.

These young people see no future outside of crime and violence and seem to accept that life is going to be nasty and short.

The pattern of gross inequality in lifestyles and material conditions is to be found in many areas in our country.

And the statistics of unemployment, poverty and inequality confirm what we see in our suburbs on a daily basis. On many street corners we see someone begging for small change and there are numerous individuals sitting around waiting for someone who needs a casual worker for a day or two.

What concerns me is that this state of things seems to be accepted by many as the norm from which there is no escape.

Apart from a consideration that it is highly unlikely that the poor will continue to accept these conditions forever and that an explosion of anger is more than a possibility, it is intolerable that we should carry on our separate ways as if there is no alternative.

Where I live, a massive road widening scheme is under way, costing perhaps R200m, and which is wholly unnecessary.

Yet a mere half kilometre away is Masiphumelele, a township of about 40 000 people.

Roads are potholed, there is huge overcrowding, and children play in filthy slime and live in tiny shacks; fruit and vegetables for sale are on display on newspapers in the dust in the street.

Across the main road a new fancy housing estate is being built on land that could have been set aside for the poor.

Is it not time to focus on these huge disparities in our society and demand that the government, at all levels, redirect their spending so that we actually begin to reduce the huge gaps we inherited from apartheid.

It is now 25 years of democracy and these brutal inequalities cannot be allowed to persist.

Prof Turok is a former ANC MP and is now the director of the Institute for African Alternatives and editor of New Agenda journal

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