As worthy and expedient as the discourse to fix our country is, it remains incomplete unless it includes income inequality and sponsored economic injustice.
Words from Tracy Chapman’s Talking about a Revolution came to mind as I sat grounded on 5th Street and Fredman Drive in Sandton: “Poor people are gonna rise up and take what is theirs.”
One of the evidently exhausted marchers asked for my unopened 750ml bottle of still water. Feeling generous and self-righteous, I obliged her and those around her.
Hardly sufficient for the crowd, but it was a big mistake.
Next, young man signalled for me to open the window, even as it was rolling back up: ‘Give me R5.” What did these youths think I was, a “blesser”?
In her 1988 hit, Chapman recommends that observers of economic exclusion should “choose sides or run for your life”. I could not run. All cars were boxed in noon traffic by hundreds marching under the aegis of the Greater Local Mining Communities Business Forum (GLMCBF) to the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) on Maude Street.
The marchers – not yet hostile – still had some way to walk, and had been on the road for a while already. Their demands included jobs and fair share of the mining economic activities under way in their Limpopo and North-West communities.
In my uppity busy-bee late-for-my-crucial-meeting absent-mindedness, I mumbled to myself: “Who demands jobs from the JSE?” Of course, I muttered all that in the safety of my shatterproof glass windows and centrally locked doors.
Besides, members of the police kept watch over all of us, middle-income hustlers wending our way in air-conditioned cars in the richest square kilometre in Africa.
That might just be our problem – and the reason all of us relatively well-off South Africans are oblivious to the entropy building up among the marginalised majority.
As if being delayed by the traffic was not enough, there was a radio interview about a report by Deloitte. This study found that chief executives and chief financial officers of the top 100 JSE companies were earning, on average, R17.9 million annually, as of September last year. Split that figure up, and you get R69 000 a day.
Leslie Yuill, the leader of Deloitte’s Actuarial, Reward and Analytics business, elsewhere said that there was little correlation between the size and complexity of the company and what the chief executives were earning.
Time out! The ratio of what these chief executives earn to what an average worker in their company is 500:1; up from 50:1 in 1987, according to economist Azar Jammine.
Could it be that in our rush to close the next deal or upgrade to the newest model of our favourite German sedan, we sincerely believe that millions of hardworking and underpaid South Africans are simply going to read about our excesses on social media and accept that they were created unequal and worthy of their destiny as lesser animals?
Karl Marx warned that any economic system that failed to provide the basics for the majority of its people risked imploding. By ignoring the increasing yawning gap between the highest and the lowest paid in our society, we are fulfilling Marx’s prophesy – except ours is going to explode, violently so.
Even after the disaster of Marikana – where fed-up mine workers were shot while asking for what was fair compensation for their contribution to the profits of the mining industry over the years – watch this story disappear from the headlines in a week, and never making it to those Save South Africa discussions.
As worthy and as expedient as the discourse to fix our country is, it remains incomplete unless it includes our perennial income inequality and sponsored economic injustice. These two monsters endanger the human race.
The GLMCBF here in South Africa or the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People in oil-rich Nigeria and others the world over, are not asking for hand-outs.
They want access to the multibillion-dollar enterprises exploiting the resources that are rightfully theirs.
We had better give them what is theirs, while they still demonstrate peacefully and ask for water or R5 politely. Otherwise, let us run for our dear lives.
Kgomoeswana is the author of Africa is Open for Business; a media commentator and a public speaker on African business affairs, and a weekly columnist for African Independent – Twitter Handle: @VictorAfrica