Income inequality is a major roadblock to economic and social prosperity in South Africa

The Gauteng Provincial Government (GPG) hosted a jobs fair across the province in a bid to address unemployment. Picture: Bhekikhaya Mabaso / African News Agency (ANA)

The Gauteng Provincial Government (GPG) hosted a jobs fair across the province in a bid to address unemployment. Picture: Bhekikhaya Mabaso / African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jun 30, 2023


By Lemeese Steyn

The apartheid government utilised racial capitalism to stimulate white supremacy, racial exploitation, and the accumulation of capital.

Although racial capitalism developed industrial labour, this exploitative mechanism marginalised the working class and established a racial hierarchy. The intertwined relationship of race, gender and class led to the creation of inequalities through the exploitation of black workers’ labour and black South Africans were economically subjected to racial discrimination.

It also stems from a long history of racialised dispossession in urban planning and a labour market divided by race, gender and class inequalities.

Economic inequalities in Black and Coloured communities are stimulated through systematic racism. The homeless and jobless are expected to survive with an R350 Covid grant to sustain their essential needs throughout the month.

Racial capitalism in South Africa emerges from the mutual dependence on racism and capitalism, which leads to human rights violations. But, this oppression increased even more in post-apartheid South Africa.

The unemployment virus which is 32.9% rules the lives of young South Africans, limiting their ability to participate in economic activities and entrepreneurship.

Racial capitalism socially constructed race and class struggles hence Black communities experience social and economic injustices in post-apartheid South Africa.

In South Africa, racial capitalism was not based on a conflict between owners of industrial production and the working class, but it was based on White minorities ruling over Black livelihoods.

I draw this from Harold Wolpe work on racial capitalism in the South African context. One could argue that the accumulation of capital was produced through the economic expropriation of Black communities, utilised as subjects to extensively participate in cheap labour.

For example, Black and White South African’s economic ownership of manufactured products varies where white capitalist demands unlimited labour power to increase profits and Black individuals are required to participate in precarious jobs to meet the demands of the white capitalist state.

Income inequality and unemployment in South Africa also influenced a recent strike in the Westbury community where residents pleaded for economic, political and social opportunities. One resident stated ‘ It is based on the marginalisation of us, coloured people.

We are objecting all of that. The social ills in our communities are based on the fact that we are marginalised all the time and not given fair opportunities within businesses, for our youth.

We are not included in this, so there is no equal equity in any of this for us. We are here to make a mark today for our voices to being heard. And given equal opportunity in these sectors and areas of business’. Without a doubt, these inequalities play a significant role in chronic poverty and economic exclusion.

The South African labour market is divided into two components including, a capitalist economy ruled by white people and a working class occupied by Black and coloured South Africans.

“Minimum wage is not equivalent to the workers’ daily sustenance needs.”

This is problematic because the minimum wage is not equivalent to the workers’ daily sustenance such as healthcare and basic needs of the poor. A classic example is that economic growth is stagnant, and the labour market has low-skilled jobs which often excludes high school graduates.

Racial capitalism in South Africa also negatively impacts black masculinity where racially marginalised men participate in destructive and vile behaviours that result from economic exclusion. In addition, unemployment also declines their breadwinner status as the head of the household and is often classified as subjugated masculinity.

Employment and money are identified as power and prestige in society because of the glamorous lifestyle employed men can afford.

The majority of South Africans live below the poverty line. This explains the economic and social injustices in South Africa. The South African government should implement an innovative and creative business environment that will increase job creation with the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

This can be achieved through good governance principles and entrepreneurship programs to increase the expertise and productivity of self-employed individuals. There should be an equal distribution of land to eliminate racial inequalities in South Africa.

Racial capitalism in South Africa results from intergenerational exclusion. The working class is economically punished for being poor. This human rights violation deprived Black communities of economic and social value by degrading the underclass.

* Lemeese Ledeen Deandre Steyn is a MA candidate at the University of Johannesburg.

** The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of IOL or Independent Media.