It is no secret that the South African economy is in the hands of a minority population group, white people. Prosperity, therefore, in its economic sense is white in complexion. I have said it before and i will say it again that it is an injustice not only to black people but to the nation as a whole for a majority population group to continue to be structurally and systematically marginalised economically. We all make a lot of noise about transformation, something I am passionate about, but progress in this regard is unacceptably slow. A key social indicator that transformation has taken place is the elimination of systematic poverty. In the case of South Africa, we also need to eliminate the racial structure of such systematic poverty. This will lead to reduced inequality, both in the class and race paradigms of such inequality. So what do we need to focus on to make sure that all this happens? The answer lies in what I believe are the cornerstones of structural racism: Capital, the market place, and the workplace, with capital being the overarching and over-powering of the three.
Capital is a super power in South Africa. Its power is rooted in its ownership of the means of production and economic resources. It should be noted that capital in South Africa is a monopoly in the hands of a white minority. This means that white capitalists have structural power over South Africa and its economy, and consequently society.This gives rise to the structural racism that the majority of black people in South Africa, who are a majority population group themselves, most often experience. It is my belief that capital is so powerful that organised capital, which is usually the formation that capital takes – organised, has a louder voice in infuencing the state than any other group or formation. The threats of disinvestment which leads to a collapse of the economy are enough to scare off any leftist or socialist policies which would be attempting to make their way up and position themselves in the state. Capital does not need political power, nor does it need to be in government, to remain powerful. It only needs what it already has: structural power and ownership of means of production. But it does need the labour of the working class to remain productive. Therein lies the power of the working class in forcing capital to make some concessions and relieving the stranglehold capital has over society. It is often the position of many capitalists and those who think along neo-liberal lines that it is capitalists that create wealth, and it is them alone. I disagree with that view, because in my view it is not only them who create the wealth. Labour, with their effort, energy, and physical work, co create wealth together with capital through the employment relationship within the framework of the laws of the land. The working class are the proverbial drawers of water and heuwers of wood for industry in South Africa. They are the worker bees who work for the hive but never get to taste the honey. One would ask, then, having this paradigm, why capital still has so much power over basically everything, yet they are only co creators of wealth? the answer is hunger and poverty. One should never underestimate the power of poverty in rendering people submissive. South Africa, therefore, to correct this situation, needs to create a black capitalist class so that capital becomes representative of the diverse make up of the South African population. Although this will not eliminate class inequality, it will go a long way in eliminating racial inequality. Also, black South Africans themselves need to create entrepreneurs of themselves. It is not ideal for black South Africans to expect entrepreneurship to be thrust upon them, they need to actively seek out entrepreneurial opportunities, with the state actively assisting them in this regard. This does not come without a certain bias. The bias is necessary in order to transform South African society. To wait for capital to decide to transform would be like waiting for a lion to one day decide it will not eat a buffalo because it is wrong to do so. The scenario is highly unlikely. Government must focus efforts at ensuring that the business environment is such that wealth is maximised, and in the same space ensure that transformation is not a choice but a mandate for those who want to maximise wealth. Policies must be explored where these two go hand in hand: wealth creation and transformation.
The Market Place
The South African market place is dual in nature and neo liberal in outlook. Dual because there are two sectors within the same market: the formal and informal markets. Neo liberal because ours is largely a free market where market forces are “free” to interact with very little regulation. It has always been my view that to jump from colonialism and apartheid straight to liberalism does nothing for the previously oppressed. In fact, it entrenches the ills of past discriminatory regimes. The children of the oppressors have more to gain in a liberal setting than the children of the oppressed, especially in the unique context of South Africa. It must be highlighted that, again, the two markets are racially structured, with the formal markets where the real wealth is created dominated by whites, and the informal markets where no real wealth is created being dominated by blacks. Government has introduced measures and transformatory legislative frameworks, such as BEE and preferential procurement, in an attempt to tilt the South African market place in favour of previously disadvantaged people and groups, but this has had very little effect, with most of the private sector refusing to adopt real and ambitious transformation plans, especially in their procurement and employment strategies. It becomes clear that capital, through control of market forces, is unwilling to transform. There is very little empowerment of SMME’s and black suppliers in the private sector.
Government is still the biggest employer of black people in South Africa. In the private sector, the rate of absorption of black people is still considerably lower than is the case with their white counterparts, in all education levels. Particularly in the labour intensive industries, 90% of all management and decision making roles are occupied by white people, with the low level, hard labour jobs being occupied by black people. This paints a very depressing picture of the South African workplace. The South African workplace is a classic example where, in the words of one famous American comedian, “Black people have to fly in order to get to where white people walk to…” Government has again tried to intervene by introducing employment equity and affirmative action. But these are merely words without the will and action by private sector. The private sector is expected to draw up EE plans, usually over a three year or five year period. Most private sector companies do have these plans on paper in their files, but more often than not these are just for the purposes of compliance. They are unambitious at best and non existent at worst. It must be understood by all that it is all good and well for Government to lead initiatives in an attempt to transform South African society, but without capital, the market, and business’ input and effort there can be no transformation. Government alone cannot transform anything. The workplace presents a key opportunity for real transformation, where black men and women raised by working class parents can become the emerging middle class, who will in turn raise the black upper income and capitalist class. But only if the private sector comes to the party. Universities have a role to play in transforming the South African workplace. The current situation where students are merely being taught (besides their curriculum) how to fit into a workplace dominated by western constructs must be interrogated. But to properly interrogate that we must first interrogate the structural and institutional make up and character of South African universities, particularly the premier universities such as Wits and UCT. Students should rather be taught to stand out than to fit in. It must be understood by universities, for example, that etiquette does not transcend cultural backgounds. To look at an elder in the eye is a sign of honesty in white culture, but is a sign of disrespect in African culture. An African student cannot, therefore, be expected to look at interview panel members in the eye during interviews, because that is not the etiquette the student grew up with. It should rather be a choice than an imposed societal expectation.
The Desired Paradigm?
An ideal society would be one where all people of all population groups not only share equally in the wealth of the nation, but also share equally in poverty as well. If there is wealth and economic prosperity, let all, black and white, colored and Indian, share in that wealth and economic prosperity equally. If there is poverty, let all, black and white, colored and Indian, share in that poverty equally. Poverty cannot be for one race, and economic prosperity for another. As for class inequalities, I believe that in the South African situation class inequalities cannot be adressed without first, or simultaneously, adressing racial inequalities.
The struggle continues.
Linda Sidumo is a Bachelor of Commerce graduate majoring in Logistics (UNISA), an Honours student at University of Johannesburg, and an employee in the Transport and Logistics industry. Views expressed are strictly his own. Follow him on twitter @TshaweNkosi.