In 1955, the People of South Africa congregated in Kliptown, in the former Transvaal, where they came up with The Freedom Charter. This document came up with so many idealistically great things that “the State” was going to give or provide to all for free.
A brief look at The Freedom Charter lists some of the following as part of a long list of what was to be given or provided free:
1. There shall be work and security.
2. Education shall be free, compulsory, and universal for all children.
3. Higher education and technical training should be opened to all by means of state
allowances and scholarships awarded on the basis of merit.
4. All people shall have equal rights to trade where they choose, to manufacture and to enter all the trades crafts and professions.
5. The land shall be shared among those who work it.
6. All shall have the right to occupy land wherever they choose.
7. There shall be houses, security and comfort.
8. Free medical care and hospitalisation for all.
9. Rent and prices to be lowered.
It is against this background many people joined the South African liberation struggle. It cannot be avoided to note that The Freedom Charter was a highly idealistic wish-list that was in line with the general socialistic political thinking of those days.
It is, therefore, not surprising that nowadays it is usually cited mostly by people who seek to position themselves as politically relevant by shouting The Freedom Charter slogans while not living the spirit of The Freedom Charter themselves.
I am deliberately simply sounding very conservative or even verkrampt as a point of departure that it will be very unhelpful to try and use The Freedom Charter as the yardstick against which we must measure South Africa’s current successes and/or failures in its economic planning. The Freedom Charter focused on what the government must give to the people without saying where the money will come from.
South Africa faces what it calls the triple challenge of unemployment, poverty, and inequality.
South Africa is facing extremely high unemployment rates, with the official unemployment rate currently standing at 32.5%. It is important that we note that the official unemployment rate is defined as those people who are still actively looking for employment.
However, many people agree that the real unemployment rate in South Africa, including the so-called discouraged workers, is well over 40%, and even closer or higher than 50% in some areas especially the far rural areas.
The major reason for South Africa’s very high unemployment rate is that we have a structural unemployment problem; our schooling and tertiary education system produces many people without the skills being required by the economic needs of the country.
There are people who simplistically think in The Freedom Charter mode usually shout that the government must create jobs in order to absorb the unemployed masses. That’s a very wrong way of looking at this problem. It is not the role of government to create jobs; the role of government is to create a conducive economic environment for businesses to thrive in.
Many of the international investors come here because of South Africa’s highly efficient banking system and regulatory environment, our highly advanced telecommunications networks, our highly advanced national and regional road networks, and some of the other natural endowments of the country, like our beaches, and less harsh weather conditions.
One of the major own-goals of the South African unemployment rate is the misplaced emphasis on labour rights (what the employees demand) and never about labour commitments to productivity. It is for this reason we hear about trade unions demanding two-digit salary increases and more benefits now under the current Covid-19 environment where there is less money to go by.
It is precisely these attitudes that led to the demise of SAA, many other State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs), and even at the technically bankrupt Eskom, where the trade unions are currently demanding hefty salary increases and more benefits. Most jobs are lost as the insiders want to get more for themselves at the expense of the creation of new jobs.
The government has many poverty-alleviation programmes, where indigent lists are created in order to provide appropriate support to families who are deemed to be in poverty. It is unfortunate that a lot of such goods which are purportedly meant for the poverty-stricken families end up in corruption; being used to buy political votes or even ending up being illegally sold by unscrupulous traders.
We all hoped that the post-apartheid era was going to reduce the levels of inequality in South Africa; alas, inequality levels have increased instead because of a very small percentage of the black middle-class and high-income earners who join the higher paid ranks and selfishly fight for more for themselves only, mostly deliberately at the expense of the poor and the unemployed.
The spirit of egalitarianism went out of the window in South Africa soon after our first democratic elections in 1994. It’s now every man for himself which feeds into corruption.
People hardly give themselves time to reflect on the real causes of unemployment, poverty, and inequality. Blaming the government for everything does not solve anything; let’s roll up our sleeves and be productive.
* Professor Bonke Dumisa is an independent economic analyst.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.
Read more contributions on Freedom Day here.