We need to lean on one another to ensure survival

Economic hardships seem to be an everlasting, chilling echo in our modern society. Picture: Gerd Altmann Pixabay

Economic hardships seem to be an everlasting, chilling echo in our modern society. Picture: Gerd Altmann Pixabay

Published May 14, 2023


By Tswelopele Makoe

Economic hardships seem to be an everlasting, chilling echo in our modern society. A pessimistic, apathetic attitude has permeated the national climate. As the year nears its halfway mark, the economic, social, and political challenges of South Africans only continue to be magnified.

It is therefore inevitable that the latest Social Attitudes Survey conducted by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) conveyed an extremely sharp decline in the overall satisfaction with democracy in South Africa.

The Social Attitudes Survey, released annually since 2003, aims to report on the underlying public perceptions, values, and the overall social fabric of our society, by monitoring political and socio-economic attitudes and values across the nation. It has also proven to be an effective predictive mechanism for advising key policymaking and decision-making processes. This year’s survey has, however, shown a significant downturn in the positive outlook of our citizens, particularly since the survey was last conducted in 2021.

The key determining points in the survey evaluated the overall optimism, life improvement and life satisfaction of South African citizens. Considering that the survey was assessing the future, the report showed a bleak outlook in ways of what lies ahead.

The report emphasised a serious discontentment with the current quality of life, a vexation with the political climate and democratic situationality, and a heavy hopelessness with the notion of future prospects in our nation.

In fact, the report found a high 39% of the population do not see their lives improving whatsoever, and likely worsening, in the next five-year period. Over the past 18 years, the report has shown a sense of stability, particularly with the outlook of the nation. However, the current report obliterates any confidence in the future of our nation.

The findings of the report over the years unveiled a steady decline in the life satisfaction of South Africa’s citizens, from 52% in 2014, to 41% in 2021. This decline in life satisfaction is not only affecting the upper class, but particularly the underprivileged.

Economic empowerment is key to survival, especially in a capitalist context like South Africa. However, our economic trajectory has shown the affordability of life in our nation to be increasingly critical. The price of food, transportation, education, and general liveability.

According to Numbeo research, a single person in South Africa needs an income of R8 875, excluding rent, to afford an adequate lifestyle in our current economic climate. A family of four would require R30 000 a month, excluding rent, to ensure survivability. Statista estimated that by 2025, about 18.5 million will live within the poverty line.

These figures are deeply disheartening, considering that 2023 has brought about a myriad economically strenuous challenges. The reverberations of inflation, the ravaging power crisis, the impact of climate change on food and productivity, the declining sustainability of almost every facet of our society, among many others, is much to cry out about.

The lack of action taken by our leaders and decision-makers, not only nationally but also continentally, has been detrimental to our overall improvement. The level of distrust, deception, constant gas-lighting and blatant denial of our detrimental national situation has only exacerbated our dreadful situation.

This has most definitely contributed to the gloom-ridden outlook on our futures and our democratic society. This shows that a continuation in the way that our political sector grappled with our societal issues needs a major overturn. What is evident is that we can no longer tolerate the greedy, individualistic nature of our political environment with the leadership of this country.

It is starkly true, more than ever, that we cannot look to our leadership to address the troubles of our people swiftly and effectively. Our challenges will require a collective and intentional collaboration by all the sectors of society, to truly address.

Furthermore, the unemployment rate, particularly among the youth, continues to soar at 35.6% as of February 2023. The national power outages have not only compromised many existing jobs, but also deemed our society increasingly vulnerable to crime, medical crises, food, and water spoilage, and wreak havoc with vital communication networks. All these challenges require additional spending and economic power to overcome, which is impractical and impossible for a huge segment of our population.

The issue of affordability of life is not merely a matter of purchasing luxuries, but actually maintaining one’s investment in critical protective mechanisms such as life insurance, medical insurance, and transportation to be able to work, go to school, and make a living. This is particularly difficult for women, who constitute 51% of all unemployed citizens as of 2021.

Underprivileged women face an array of challenges, discrimination and violence. They not only live in unsafe areas that make them increasingly vulnerable to crime, sexual exploitation, intimate partner violence and human trafficking, but they predominantly work informal sector jobs which are highly unstable and unsafe.

According to a thesis by Elin Aronsson and Julia Carlsson at Vaxjo University’s Department of Social Science, women constitute 70% of all people living in extreme poverty. In 2022, UN Women reported 244 million women living in extreme poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. This is due to the lack of economic and institutional power, material resources, norms and traditions that hinder the development of women.

According to research by the Institute for Economic Justice, women are predominantly more likely to be unemployed, compared with men. Those who can attain part-time jobs or jobs in the informal sector are often highly strenuous, precarious, and menial job roles that do not require much certification or qualifications.

Although jobs such as cleaning, cooking and child-rearing are dominant among women, men are often increasingly being encouraged to uptake these skills. Unfortunately, women continue to be side-lined from representation and participation in economic activities that allow them to earn a sustainable earning. Economic inclusion, based on race, gender and class, continues to be very real challenges faced by women.

In fact, a woman who does the same job as a man is likely to be paid less. Institutional workplace discriminations such as maternity leave, predatory workplace behaviour, and issues of equity are all excuses that are rooted in the fibre of workplaces that seek to systematically exclude and subjugate women.

Despondency refers to a loss of hope. It was recorded across all the race and gender groups in South Africa. Despondency with the climate of South Africa has been more so promulgated by the youth of the nation, many of whom notably sat out of the recent local elections. The youth of South Africa constitutes 35% of the population. Their evident withdrawal from political participation has been crippling to the ideals of an inclusive, representative society.

What is particularly concerning is that this withdrawal will result in less and less influence on the issues that affect them, and the possibility of engaging meaningful transformation. Although it is redundant and disheartening to continuously plead for adequate services, accessibility and inclusivity, change cannot be made from the outside.

The survey showed that the rate of pessimism about the future was higher in older generations than in younger ones. This indicates that the failure of grappling with political, social, institutional, and economic challenges in society will snowball, and this will directly impact the future outlooks of citizens.

Our nation’s decision-makers undermine the power of happy citizens. Citizens that are joyful, positive, and empowered are more likely to be creative, idealistic, and transformative. They are more likely to enact positive change in our society, and as such, build the fabric of our society.

The government constantly reiterates that it is not here to create jobs, but rather, here to facilitate an environment that is conducive for employment opportunities. I would wholeheartedly argue that they are not committed to this facilitation. I would argue that the minute challenges, such as proper infrastructure and meaningful development, are key to fostering a safe and productive community.

I would argue that the commitment to transparency of political, educational, and social institutions needs to be at the forefront of the national mandate in order to truly inspire the lives of our citizens.

There is deterioration in the fabric of the nation. This gleaming hopelessness that pervades our society is a stark warning of our future. We cannot afford to disregard the pitiful state of the nation, the increasingly contentious lived realities of our citizens, and the despair of those who will surely lose the fight for survival if our state does not improve. Political, civic, and institutional chaos cannot continue to be normalised.

I implore the decision-makers, community leaders, religious leaders, young and old leaders, to rally behind your citizenry, and to ensure that we grapple with our many social issues in a creative, collective, and sustainable way. As the cracks of the fibre of society begin to deepen, we will need to lean on one another to ensure that our populace does not crumble.

*Tswelopele Makoe is MA (Ethics) Student in the Desmond Tutu Centre for Religion and Social Justice at UWC. She is also a gender activist.

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