When I grew up, I had to subject myself to be a farm labourer at the age of 12, so that one could make up for a paltry salary of my mother, which had to take care of six kids, school them, feed them, clothe them and make sure that when they are sick they should be able to go to the Doctor.
These are the years between 1983 and 1994. But of course we all knew that there was apartheid and you kind of understood. You understood why your parents were not educated, you understood why your parents had to subject themselves to the iron fist rule of a baas and still not be paid enough to feed, clothe and school you. You understood that you had to work at a young age to assist.
After 1994, there are still people who can’t feed, clothe and school their kids. This is not because they are lazy, careless or ignorant, but because of the aftermath of apartheid, made worse by the government of today’s poor planning, corruption, poor leadership and lack of political will.
If you look closely you begin to agree with Zwelinzima Vavi that, we are literally trapped inside the apartheid style economic system. The only changes seems to be the custodian of the system, which shifted from White to Black, with the primary beneficiary of the system still White and one or two blacks co-opted into the pool of the beneficiaries.
The political elite, as the custodian of this apartheid style economic system, have become comfortable and have forgotten about the poor. It is only when there is an election that the poor communities receive maximum attention. Opposition parties are no better, they envy the ruling party so much that, they spent their entire time wishing that they can become the Executive. They are so locked up in scrutinizing the executive that, they too have abandoned the poor and they too go to the poor during election, so they are no better than the ruling party.
Poverty in South Africa will not be dealt with if our body politics remain structured as they are now.
We must acknowledge that, something drastic measures must be taken to unlock the wealth of talent among the kids of the unemployed, the kids of street sweepers, the kids of maids, the kids of farm workers, the kids of pensioners trapped in poverty and unable to help themselves.
It is important that we find a medium term solution for this.
The wealthy and the political elite use our resources almost freely, comparatively. It’s an absolute disaster.
It’s a disaster, because the child of the wealthy going to relatively good school will get a bursary ahead of the child of an unemployed parent whose child goes to a school that lacks career guidance.
The poor have inferior education with heavily unionised teachers, the health service for the poor is shocking, and you get panado for all pains. The parks and swimming pools in the areas were the poor live are appalling. Their schools have no libraries, no laboratories and mostly they don’t have qualified maths and science teachers.
Our people are locked into poverty and are escaping in drips and drabs. Our people are forgotten.
A case could be made that, millions are given governments grants, which is all good and well, the ministry of human settlement would point to the number of RDP houses build since 1994, that is all good and well.
The question is, how much of what we need to do to empower our people to get out of poverty have we done?
The government must start to take drastic measures in ensuring that those who are trapped in poverty are freed.
Here are some of the suggestions I have for the government:
1. The government must determine a family income that cannot afford basic and higher education. Once that is done, all children from those families must be sponsored to go to school for free. The government must pass legislation that would determine how the private sector and government will carry the burden together. All those kids must go to school.
2. The government must work out a formula which would ensure that, the rich will subsidise the poor on electricity, water and transport. The government must determine an income threshold for free electricity and water for a family. The government must further workout the salary threshold for those who should subsidise the poor by paying a little more for electricity and water.
3. Teachers in areas that are considered poor areas must be paid much more. It must be illegal for teachers in those areas to strike; teaching must be an essential service. If possible the government must take a stance so tough that, is prepared to break ranks with the union.
4. All schools in these areas must have libraries and labs sponsored by government and the private sector.
5. Extra mural activities must be encouraged at schools and government must provide facilities.
6. Government must keep and publish a register of all kids who have passed matric, but could not either be admitted to a university or did not get funding to further their studies.
7. Government must keep and publish a register of all schools without Maths and Science teachers, libraries and laboratories.
8. Municipalities must monitor families that are too poor to feed themselves, school their kids and clothe themselves, so that proper action could be taken.
9. The government must establish a feeding scheme by raising funds from the private sector and from international bodies.
10. Government must make it easy to register businesses and abolish the payment of an annual fee by companies that have a turnover zero rand. The government must run free entrepreneurial training in poor areas and encourage communities to identify opportunities in their own areas and take advantage of them.
11. Government must abolish things like CIDB registration for a start-up company, registration must only be done on Grade 2 When the company is operational. The exempted BBBEE certificate for start-ups must be issued with the registration certificate of a company and the Exempt certificate for a company with a Zero turnover must be issues when lodging annual returns, which must be lodged without paying a fee with the companies with a turnover of Zero rand.
12. Government must reintroduce a down payment for SMME’s doing business with government and get SARS to police the defaulters. The down payment is a pre-payment that would assist the SMME’s to kick start the project.
13. Government must put NEF, Khula, and NYDA etc. in private hands so that they can be run efficiently.
Opposition parties, unions, the ruling party and the entire civil society must go back to the poor. Issues that affect the poor must be fought for more aggressively.
From 2012, let the battle ground for politics be improving the lives of the poor, more than lip service of service delivery, but changing lives of the poor.
It was time that, those who want votes do more than just pamphleteering, more than debates, but championing the issues that affect poor people, changing the world of those who are less privileged.
Let the mandate of the so called branches be to love, live and make a difference in the lives of those who are less privileged.
It is not the duty of the blacks, it is not the duty of the whites, it is the duty of all those who care, it is the duty of us all.
It was time that we spread love and warmth to those who feel deserted and abandoned.
This document is authored by Sefu Sekgala.