Language: A Useful Tool in Exclusion

A broad, and socially accepted definition of commerce is simply the activity of buying and selling. Trade, is defined as the act of buying and selling goods and services. These are but two of many terms which, used collectively, make up the jargon used to construct the South African economy. This jargon, language, is the point of departure in attempting to understand why the majority of black South Africans are still excluded in South Africa’s mainstream economy and, consequently, its benefits.

When playing economics in South Africa, one often hears, and utters, words like hawkers, informal traders, the black market, oonoztand (stand people), street pedlars, without observing the (deliberately) negative connotations these labels have on black men and women who, more than anyone, live the economic principle of scarcity. Its one thing to have scarce or limited resources, these men and women have nothing at all, yet they still manage establish themselves, albeit at the periphery, in a system that is designed to exclude them.

The legitimate business people we call hawkers and informal traders are not only excluded structurally and institutionally in our economy, but the everyday language we use in business seeks to delegitimise their legitimate and legal business activities. Take fruit and vegetable stalls for instance, the owners buy or produce fruit and vegetables, and then sell them to willing buyers on the street; an act of buying (or producing) and selling. Why is that not called commerce? Why is it called informal trade, instead of just trade? Is it because they have no access to land nor capital to build the fancy air conditioned fruit and veg cities of this world?

The other day, while loitering around Pretoria CBD looking  for a retailer for my monthly supply of veggies, I walked past Shoprite in Church Square. In front of Shoprite are a number of fruit and vegetable traders with stalls set up (in a formal shopping mall, they would be called pop up stores). I decide to buy from the stalls outside instead of inside Shoprite. The first thing I noticed is that: fruit is fruit and veg is veg, as long as they are not rotten. Onions from the stalls outside are just the same as the onions inside Shoprite. The second thing I noticed is that the onions on the stalls outside are much cheaper than the formal onions of Shoprite. I bought more than a month’s supply of vegetables for less than R100! And, something you would not believe, they are still in my fresh in my fridge. OMG! Who would have thought!

What I am trying to say is, the use of language in the South African trade and commerce front suggests that there is a distinction and segregation between black business and white business. Anyway, besides language, that distinction and segregation is clear in terms of access to capital and markets.

Above that, these business people not only face a focused attempt to delegitimise their commercial activities, they also face an attempt to criminalise their activities. It has become a familiar sight to see these business people being harassed by police, being the subjects of random searches and all. I have never heard of any of the big corporates, even those ones who outrightly break the law, being subjected to random searches.

As if that is not enough, even legislation is against these business people. take, for example, some of the municipal by laws of the Joburg metro with respect to informal traders:

  • The (municipal) council may declare any place in its area of jurisdiction to be an area in which informal trading is prohibited.
  • An authorised official may remove or impound any property of an informal trader which (a) he or she reasonably suspects is being used or which is intended to be used or has been used for or in connection with informal trading and (b) is found at a place where informal trading is prohibited.
  • Informal traders are not permitted to create smoke, fumes, odours, noise, or pollution of any kind.

These are just 3 by laws among quite a few. And one can immediately observe the difference in treatment of informal traders and mainstream, formal, business. There are areas where informal traders are prohibited from operating, notwithstanding the possibility of any demand for their goods and services in these areas. Yet mainstream business is allowed to operate almost anywhere, anytime, and as we see everyday, anyhow.

The property of an informal trader is not protected, as is that of mainstream, formal, business.

Informal traders, oomama noo tata bethu (our mothers and fathers), may not, under any circumstances, create smoke, fumes, noise, even if those elements are products of the fusing of inputs to their operations. Needless to say, it is only formal business that can do this. They are the only ones who are allowed to poison the environment and make a profit from it.

The reason I wrote this, is, that I would like to make a call to lovers of progress in general, and black people in particular, to observe the language we use. The black men and women who weather the storms and sit everyday along the side of the road in the name of commerce and trade, are legitimate business people. And that is what we should start calling them, instead of words that are deliberately used to denigrate and malign their commercial activity.

Considering the fact that these business people have very little to no resources, I would say they are more advanced business people than most, if the respected economic principle is anything to go by.

They are business people. Qha.

 

Linda Sidumo is a BCom graduate, a public servant, and chairperson of the Education Access Campaign (www.educationaccesscampaign.org). Views expressed are strictly his views and do not represent the views of any organisation or group of persons.

Neo Liberalism: An Enemy of Black Power in Africa?

There are quite a number of definitions of what neo liberalism really means. Since German scholar Alexander Rustow coined the term in 1938, it has had a number of different definitions through the years until now. Broadly speaking, neoliberalism incorporates policies such as the elimination of price controls, a deregulating of capital markets, privatisation, a considerable reduction in state influence and control on the economy, etc. This means that protagonists of neoliberalism will usually push an agenda where the market is free to do what it likes without any state intervention. And more often than not, neoliberalism and capitalism are inseperable. Some scholars have even suggested that neoliberalism is ‘hyper capitalism’.

In South Africa, it is interesting to note that protagonists of neoliberalism are mostly white people who, ironically enough, are generational beneficiaries of state control during Apartheid and the colonial period. It is no secret that the Apartheid government in South Africa intervened to make sure that white people prospered and black people barely even participated in the economy. There are some white owned multinationals that exist today, that were actively assisted by the Apartheid state. Yet when the democratic government introduces policies such as BEE and EE, policies necessitated by the fact that black people were deliberately prohibited from participating in the mainstream economy, the same people call it reverse racism and too much state intervention. But, is neoliberalism really the answer to the problems of Africa? Or is it just a hedge that shields white supremacy and provides a barrier to the accumulation of black power?

Many antagonists of neoliberalism prefer a socialist flavour to policies, especially in Africa where we are dealing with a mass base of people, black people and Africans, who are previously oppressed and were deliberately banned from accumulating wealth. Africans have been living a life of legislated regression and deterioration for centuries. Indeed, I am one of the antagonists of neoliberalism.

Such antagonism is met with fierce critique of any thought patterns with socialist propensity. Everyday we hear about the failures of socialist states and policies. to protagonists of neoliberalism, one failed socialist state is a failure of all socialism. Conveniently, no one mentions the failures of neo liberalism in the world.

Scholars agree that the Great Depression of the 1930s, which brought about high unemployment and extensive poverty, was as a result of economic liberalism. Intellectuals were organised in Paris in 1938 to renew liberalism. Among them were Louis Rouger, Walter Lippmann, Friedrich von Hayek, and Alexander Rustow. While they agreed on the failure of liberalism, they did not move away from it. Instead, they proposed a ‘new kind of liberalism’. Interestingly, when we analyse failed socialist states, we never propose a ‘new kind of socialism’. We rubbish socialism in its entirety.

Post World War II, Chile embarked on neoliberal reforms, led by a group of students that were exposed to Friedman, Arnold Harberger, and Hayek. These included privatisation, deregulation, and a reduction in the role of the state. The policies resulted in widened inequality, a negative impact on wages and working conditions of Chile’s working class. Germany, while embracing neoliberalism, insisted on placing humanistic and social values on par with economic prosperity. They aimed for both market economy and social justice. Protagonists of neoliberalism were outraged, calling this ‘inconsistent aims’.

David Harvey described neoliberalism as a class project designed to impose class on society through liberalism. David M Kotz informed that neoliberalism is “based on the thorough domination of labour by capital”. Sociologist Loic Wacquant argued that neoliberal policy for dealing with social instability among economically marginalised populations following the retrenchment of the social welfare state and rise of the punitive workforce, privatisation of public functions, decrease in collective working class protection via deregulation, rise of underpaid labour is the criminalisation of poverty and mass incarceration in the USA”. And that “by contrast, it is extremely lenient in dealing with those in the upper echelons of society, particularly when it comes to the economic crimes of the priviledged class”.

Neo liberalism promotes, consciously or sub consciously (I believe the former), exploitation and social injustice. It increases inequality, which, in South Africa, is racial. It promotes self over social collective.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF), the most influential proponent of neoliberalism for over five decades, has also admitted the failures of neoliberalism in its article titled Neoliberalism: Oversold?.  In this article, the IMF concedes that instead of delivering growth, some neoliberal policies have increased inequality.

Also, neoliberal economics have a negative distributional effect. In a country like South Africa that has a mass base of people that still have to ‘catch up’ economically, and a white and elite minority that enjoys a bulk of the wealth unjustly, the playing field will never be level if we continue to insist on the current neoliberal capitalist agenda.

Furthermore, in South Africa, where deregulation still exists to an extent, the private sector refuses to transform and transfer skills and wealth despite the albeit weak regulation system we have. I do not want to imagine the fate of the poor and working class in a completely deregulated South Africa.

Maybe it is time people rethink liberalism. Our right to self determination is at stake.

Linda Sidumo is a BCom graduate, a public servant, and chairperson of the Education Access Campaign (www.educationaccesscampaign.org). Views expressed are strictly his views and do not represent the views of any organisation or group of persons.

 

White People Survive Yet Another Sarafina

40 years, and one day, ago, students in Soweto decided that enough was enough. They decided that they were rejecting Afrikaans as a medium of instruction at schools in Soweto. That is probably the simplistic view that the students took in describing their actions. What they probably did not realise at the time was that they decided to put their bodies on the line in the continent wide fight against colonialism and cultural imperialism, a decision that would cost most these students their lives at the hands of an oppressive white government.

Since 1976, the June 16 date is used as a commemoration and day of rememberance for those young people who selflessly laid down their lives fighting injustice.

And more recently, every year on this date we religiously wear school uniforms at work and on the streets, post the famous Hector Peterson photo on social media, post inspirational messages and articles, and watch Sarafina.

While we willingly take part in these and other activities, which are more sentiment than action, the descendants of those who murdered the class of 76 still own our land.

While we wear school uniforms, our universities are still institutions that cater for the white and the rich. We still have white people who have the liver to demand that universities like Stellenbosch and University of Pretoria must use Afrikaans as a medium of instruction in lectures.We celebrate the revolutionary actions of the class of 76, yet we still have white schools and black schools, and not South African schools with a decolonised South African curriculum. What are we celebrating when we still have schools like Curro, whose modus operandi is racial segregation? What is this, if not a spit on the graves of those who died during the June 16 1976 uprisings?


While we post inspirational messages and articles, white people are posting our land to their next generation. We are a landless generation celebrating a generation that fought against landlessness.

While we watch Sarafina from our shacks in Ndondo Square, the descendants of our colonisers and oppressors are watching profits and gains from our land work for them and their children.

Every year on June 16 we watch Sarafina, get angry, cry, get angry some more, go to sleep, and wake up in the morning still comfortable in our landlessness; still oblivious to the fact that we own nothing in this, the land of our forefathers, the land of us.

Whilst we are being sentimental, some are taking decisive actions to ensure that we remain with nothing but sentiment.

What we should be doing is harnessing the energy and power of black radical youth and student movements such as #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall to bring about change in South Africa. We are too immersed in party political competitions as if black people, as a nation, are liberated. What are we competing for? 

We must watch Sarafina. But we must also understand that Sarafina must awaken something inside of all the wretched of the Earth. The spirit of revolution must be awakened in each and everyone of us evertime we commemorate June 16 and watch Sarafina.

This means that an episode of Sarafina mist be followed by decisive revolutionary action that is aimed at completely overhauling this system of white supremacy that gives rise to white priviledge. People of European descent cannot be proviledged over and above Africans, in Africa.
If we fail to do that, if we fail to change the status qou, white people will be survivors of yet another Sarafina.

Linda Sidumo is a B Comm graduate, a public   servant, and chairperson of the Education Access Campaign. Views expressed are solely his and do not represent the views of any organisations or group of persons.

Much Ado About Land: Identity and Prosperity

“The land is the only thing in the world worth working for, worth fighting for, worth dying for, because it is the only thing that lasts.” – Margaret Mitchell in her 1939 book Gone With The Wind.

I will say nothing of Mitchell’s words, they speak for themselves. As I write this I am listening to three black women singing a song that is more of a statement than a song. But such is music. I came across this beautiful musical statement on social media, and it sings a statement that says, to singalong, “Basithatha phi isibind’esingaka? Sokuthath’iAfrika bayenze eyabo!”. From whence do they get such a liver? To take Africa and make it theirs! Many things bring tears to my eyes. Yes, I am a cry baby. And this song is one of those things. It not only reminds us that our Afrika is no longer ours, but also it is a call for us to muster the courage to take back what is ours, what was taken from us.

It has been 103 years since the notorious 1913 Native land Act, and 364 years since white settlers, led by Jan van Riebeeck, came to the shores of The Cape. These incidents of history are pre eminent and paramount to black poverty in South Africa, and also to the understanding of why things are as they are. The arrival of Dutch settlers in the cape was the genesis of a black genocide that was to last centuries. The first thing the Dutch settlers took from the indigenous people was their land, and then proceeded with their livestock; their identity, and then proceeded with their prosperity.

The 1913 Land Act further dispossessed Africans of their land by putting into law explicitly what had already been started by the violent and armed land invasions and frontier wars.

So, essentially, the bone of contention between the indigenous peoples and the colonial settlers was the land. That was what our revolution was all about: the land. The fights for rights to vote, franchise, and social inclusivity, etcetera, were ramifications of the fight for what was taken from us. Whites did not come here and take votes. they came, they saw the land, and it is the land that they took.

They took it because they knew that an oppressor oppresses more effectively when he separates the oppressed from their identity. The identity of the African is intrinsically linked to the land. It is in the land that the African buries their ancestor; it is in the land that the African builds iintlanti, the kraal, a place that is extremely sacred in African culture; it is from the land that we get sustenance; it is on top of the land’s surface that we build our shelter; it is land that provides sustenance for our livestock, which were also taken; and to contextualise the importance of land in modern economic terms, land is the only thing that appreciates in value, regardless and irrespective of whether it produces or not. In that light, one cannot deny the nexus between land and liberty.

They took the identity and the prosperity of the African.

Somewhere along the line, we have forgotten that our forefathers, our revolutionaries, died fighting for the return of our land. We have become overly preoccupied with the politics of franchise and voting that we have forgotten that our identity is not complete and our prosperity is perpetually halted.

There are those whites that attempt to absolve white theft of the land by suggesting that they won the land legitimately through warfare. That is a historical lie and it is ridiculous. Firstly, there was no warfare, there was genocide. Secondly, to suggest that is like saying a man who rapes a woman won the woman’s vagina legitimately through the physical violence that takes place when one person rapes another. I will not even mention the arrogance that comes with two groups of European nations, the British and the Dutch, fighting over what is not theirs in the first place.

There is another argument which suggests that the Nguni were not from what is now known as South Africa in the first place. Oh really? Then why did THEY call us the natives? Secondly, it is a matter of the internal geopolitics of Africa whether or not we originated from South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, or East Africa. It is not for any outsider to come and claim moral, political, and social authority and dispossess each and every African in sight. The only people with any authority to decide matters of African geopolitics are Africans themselves. After all, no African has ever even featured in the decisions about matters of European geopolitics.

It is both a travesty and an offensive injustice that the land in South Africa still belongs to the descendants of those who disposed our ancestors in post colonial South Africa. These descendants being a minority, we have a situation where the majority, who happen to be the indigenous people of this land, are congested in small pieces of land where they build shacks so close to one another that when one shack burns, all of them burn.

We must start to realise that the land is not only given by our fathers, but also borrowed from our children. By allowing the status quo to go on, we are stealing from our children.

Basithatha phi isibindi esingaka, sokuthatha iAfrika bayenze eyabo? Thina sisithatha phi isibindi esingaka, sokuba umhlaba wabantwana bethu?

Linda Sidumo is a BCom graduate, a public servant, and chairperson of the Education Access Campaign NPO. Views expressed are strictly his own and do not represent the views of any organisation or group of people.