Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Little change

Three weeks after South African police shot dead 34 miners at the Marikana mine in the worst case of police violence since the end of apartheid, there is still no sign of a breakthrough in the pay dispute. It has highlighted one of the world’s biggest wealth gaps.

South Africa's wealth is spread more unevenly than in any other country in the world. Nearly 20 years after apartheid, a tiny minority, mostly white, holds most of the wealth, and a huge majority, overwhelmingly black, still lives in poverty. In South Africa today, by far the most important class struggle is between labour and capital. Leaders of both workers and employers come and go, but the same basic struggles between these two classes continue. Citigroup estimated in 2010 that South Africa had the world’s richest mineral deposits, worth $3.5 trillion. In the mining industry a handful of huge multinational mining monopolies make billions of rand of profits, extracted from the labour of workers who toil in the most wretched, unhealthy and dangerous conditions underground, for wages that come nowhere close to the value that their labour creates for their employers. The rock drill operatives (RDOs) at the centre of the dispute perform a more dangerous, unhealthy and difficult job than anyone else in the world. They face death every time they go down the shafts. Yet their monthly earnings are just R5600. Lonmin's financial officer, Alan Ferguson, who earns R10,25m a year, or R854581 a month, 152 times higher than an RDO.

Cleaners in Metros earn R13,51 and R10,07 an hour in KZN. Domestic workers earn a meagre R1639,82 in metro areas. Farm workers who toil under all conditions of weather and seasons earn R1503,90. Hospitality workers earn R2240,60. The security guards on duty for 12 hours earn R1828.

Today the top 10% of the rich accounted for 33 times the income earned by the bottom 10% in 2000. This gap is likely to have worsened when you consider that we lost 1,17 million jobs due to the global economic crisis of 2008. In 2008 the top 20 directors of JSE-listed companies, who are still overwhelmingly white males, each earned an average of R59m a year, while on average an employee earned R34000 in 2009. The richest decile earns about 94 times more than the poorest decile. Africans, who constitute 79,4% of the population, account for 41.2% of the household income from work and social grants, whereas whites, who account for 9.2% of the population, receive 45.3% of income. The poorest 10% of the population share R1.1bn, while the richest 10% share R381bn. Since the African National Congress took power 18 years ago to end whites- only rule, 60 percent, or about 23 million, still live in poverty and 28 percent are jobless, according to government data. The gap between rich and poor in South Africa is worse than Honduras and the Central African Republic, according to the World Bank. The Gini coefficient, a measure of income inequality, was 0.63 in South Africa in 2009, the highest of 25 developing nations surveyed by the World Bank. The index was 0.59 in 1993. ( zero means society is totally equal, while a reading of 1 means the society is completely unequal.) “Black income really hasn’t changed,” Peter Attard Montalto, an economist at Nomura said “That shows that the amount of progress made by the ANC is clearly limited.”

 Poverty and inequality are named routinely among the key challenges facing South Africa today. Four out of every 10 South Africans have no job or adequate social security. Black people will tell us of their continuing humiliation by poverty.

The bulk of South Africans who do not have medical aid and therefore use the crisis-ridden health institutions. A white person born in 2009 expects to live for 71 years, whereas an African born in the same year expects to live for 48 years. The health and well-being of South Africans is worsening rather than improving, according to a key indicator. Globally, tuberculosis (TB) rates are declining, but in South Africa rates are up. TB is four times as common in South African adults as among Zambians. "TB is the child of poverty, but also its parent and provider," said Nulda Beyers from the Desmond Tutu TB Centre at the University of Stellenbosch. "The factors promoting the development of this disease are largely social and environmental," said Beyers.

This negative trend is mirrored in the country's maternal mortality rates - the number of women who die during or after childbirth. While neighbouring African states are seeing a decline in maternal deaths, South African rates are rising.

Capitalism creates inequality. When the the word ''freedom'' was used surely it did not mean 'freedom to exploit others.

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