Guest Column

Consumers should be producers

2017-07-30 05:52
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Livhuwani Matsila

Since the advent of colonialism, which introduced the then foreign concept of the land tenure system and capitalism in rural communities, we have literally been reduced to consumption-oriented communities with interest in the production of food and basic commodities.

The disenfranchisement of black communities has resulted in their loss of means of production critical for their resilience, self-reliance and socioeconomic sustainability. Of course, this was a clear part of the strategy through which the apartheid masters sought to disempower black people. It effectively created a society wherein black communities are primary consumers while their white counterparts are primary producers with monopoly over the ownership of the means of production, including land. This has resulted in a vicious cycle of poverty in black communities, while those with the means of production accumulate capital, power and resources.

Contrary to the current populist slogans which suggest otherwise, the concept of radical economic transformation has always been the main agenda of the ANC, and especially since 1994, and this goal is yet to be fully realised.

Instead of recycling the transformation terminology, it is very important to make a proper diagnosis on why this noble objective is yet to be achieved. Through social grants and similar interventions, government has unwittingly entrenched a consumer mentality among indigent communities and society in general.

The paradox is that, through social grants and similar programmes, the government has also largely benefited those who own the means of production. This is happening through a conundrum in which the primary producers benefit through supplying goods and services to the primary consumers who are government beneficiaries in the main.

As the needs and demands for the primary consumers grow, so do the market share and profit margins of the primary producers – the owners of the means of production. The net result and effect of this is the growth and entrenchment of monopoly capital by those who own the means of production, the majority of whom are white.

Social grants and humanitarian assistance remain critical interventions by government, and have made a phenomenal impact in improving the lives of millions of people. However, they are not sustainable if not augmented by practical and very specific interventions to ensure that the black majority owns the means of production, including land.

A dedicated programme to broaden access to the means of production will enable poor communities to produce their food and basic commodities. Progressively, poor communities would also be able to sell their products into the formal market, thus creating diversity in shares of income and profit necessary to dismantle monopoly capital.

It is therefore advisable for government to get back to the basics and tone down rhetoric and theories on transformation. We urgently need practical programmes which are community-based, relevant and financially viable.

We should multiply programmes such as those offered by the department of small business development, which include the incubation of small businesses and the establishment of share infrastructure for community development.

Chief Matsila is the founder of the Matsila Community Development Trust

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