Book review – Tearing Us Apart: Inequalities in Southern Africa

2011-10-15 10:52

Karabo Kgoleng

Itweeted last week that freedom is a cruel joke when you have market-friendly, neo-liberalism in a poor, corruption-riddled developing country. The qualifier of that statement is the book Tearing Us Apart: Inequalities in Southern Africa.

It is a study of the inequalities in five countries in this region. The study was conducted and authored by 13 individuals with extensive academic and professional experience in development studies, human rights law, policy, sociology, theology, media, labour, training and gender studies. The result is rich in data, statistics, history and devastation.

The exercise begins in Angola, where we learn about its colonial past, the relationship between the Portuguese and the indigenous people, and the style of oppression of the Portuguese.

The social engineering of forced assimilation added an additional layer, the implications of which can be witnessed in the class dynamics affecting many Angolans.

The post-independence civil war also helped to deepen the inequality, with those who had access to the oil and diamond economy becoming well-off while everyone else was left behind.

While some policies did well, most failed because of inadequate planning, corruption and the neglect of certain discriminatory traditional practices that saw women bearing the brunt of child care, maternal mortality, disease and exclusion from the economy.

The picture looks the same, save for the kinds of governments in power and the unique histories in countries such as Malawi, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa.

The inequalities are numerous: access to social services, especially health and education, the formal economy, food security and the law. The threats that inequality poses include vulnerability to climate change and conflict. Simply put, an unequal society becomes a violent society.

The authors, who represent the countries that are written about, also provide recommendations for changes in policy and Venezuela is cited as a case study that could work – redistribution and participatory democracy, using the country’s natural resources to fund social housing, education and healthcare programmes.

Royalty fees to private natural resource companies were increased and this money went into the aforementioned projects.

Some may view this as radical, but Venezuelans now have access to free services that are essential to creating a better life. What is important, though, is that the state should not abuse this kind of money. The nationalisation debate in South Africa comes to mind.

Tearing Us Apart is an intensely academic read that should be on the desks of all state ministers and change agents in southern Africa.

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