Events at Marikana last week, where protesting mineworkers were mown down by police gunfire, will dominate the headlines for days to come.
The horror and tragedy that unfolded near that dusty koppie outside Rustenburg will be revisited during the judicial inquiry announced by President Jacob Zuma and relived in the nightmares of the survivors, their families and friends.
A bloody stain on SA’s post-apartheid record, the Marikana massacre, as it will surely come to be known, comes at a huge cost to all of society.
We should spend time absorbing the details of a plan presented by Minister Trevor Manuel to President Jacob Zuma in Parliament. The National Development Plan is the country’s first long-term blueprint for mapping our collective way out of the fix we’re in.
It’s the result of more than two years of work and aims at taking the country to a future where none of us suffer from, or are threatened by, massive inequality, poverty and unemployment.
Critics have dismissed it as a wish list. Opposition parties have embraced it, but – almost in the same breath – have also questioned whether it can be implemented.
Last Thursday’s calamitous events in Rustenburg, at one of the world’s largest platinum mines, stopped any conversations about the plan before they had even begun.
Here, the striking rock drill operators take home around R4 000 a month, while the mine owner’s chief executive officer nets a salary of more than R1 million a month, and a national office bearer of the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) – its general secretary Frans Baleni – earns R1.4m a year.
It is this sort of gap between wages that help make SA one of the most unequal countries in the world. Under apartheid, race created the big divide. Today, the split is more along class lines.
The measure for poverty used by the National Planning Commission was a breathtakingly low monthly income per person of R432 – which it said was earned by fully 39 percent of the population.
Among the aims of the plan is to reduce the proportion of people earning this little to zero percent by 2030. This would see SA’s Gini co-efficient – which measures the level of income inequality in countries – drop from a high 0.69 to 0.60.
In order to achieve this, though, SA would have to grow its Gross Domestic Product by nearly 5.5 percent a year – and create 11 million jobs over the next 18 years.
Most of those jobs, according to the plan, will come from small to medium-sized businesses and much of the impetus for their creation is predicated on increased exports.
For this to be possible, a range of other things must happen – almost all of them at the same time, and over a long period.
The education system needs to start producing people able to do the kind of jobs needed to help make SA a global player. For that, we not only need capable and dedicated teachers, finely tuned curricula and well-provisioned and staffed tertiary institutions, but also proper nutrition and early childhood education for the very young.
Raising living standards, according to the plan, goes way beyond merely improving the amount of people’s income.
Focusing on 13 different areas, the plan sets out specific targets and recommendations for dealing with the issues that hobble development, including the lack of efficient and affordable public transport.
In addressing the myriad challenges confronting the country, the plan recognises the need for “collaboration between all sectors of society and effective leadership of government”.
While noting the gains made since 1994 – consolidating fragmented apartheid governance structures, for example, and increasing access to education, sanitation, housing, water and electricity to millions of people – the report does not shy away from articulating deep-seated problems in government.
The report talks about the deficit in skills and professionalism in the public service and how reporting and recruitment structures at senior levels allow for “too much political interference” in selecting and managing high-level employees.
”Reforms are needed that will enable people to do their jobs by strengthening skills, enhancing morale, clarifying lines of accountability and building an ethos of public service,” the report says.
To deal with poverty and inequality, the state must play a developmental and transformative role, says the report, but the Catch 22 is that this requires well-run institutions peopled by skilled staff.
“By 2030, the South African economy should generate sufficient opportunity that enables those who want to work the access and possibility to do so,” the report says.
The cost of the breakdown in relations between people and the failure of leadership that led to the kind of bloodletting that seeped into Rustenburg’s dust last week goes much further than dampening the national mood.
It will depress the economy, as investors weigh up whether or not the country is teetering so close to their perceived precipice as to make it worth betting the other way on whether or not we tumble over the edge.
The multiplicity of factors that combined in the explosive cocktail that ignited at Marikana will cost us in real terms.
In the 1980s, when the Struggle against apartheid was at its peak, one of the more useful slogans was “Don’t agonise – mobilise”.
We are not at that same juncture now, but the need to stop agonising and to start mobilising has never been more important.
Marikana can plunge us into doom and gloom, or we can use it as the catalyst to put us, and the country, on the path to healing.
* Gaye Davis is group deputy political editor of Independent Newspapers