Consumerism and waste threaten SA - Gordhan

Johannesburg - Former finance minister Pravin Gordhan warned South Africans on Thursday that a culture of waste and rampant consumerism will end in ruin for the country.

Gordhan spoke out against what he sees as rampant consumerism which drives a culture of waste in South Africa at WWF South Africa’s annual Living Planet Conference in Johannesburg on Thursday. 

"The current ethic we seem to be providing, wittingly or unwittingly, does result in wastefulness, which is particularly regrettable in a context where there is so little available," he said.

Gordhan spoke around the theme “What’s your junk status?", and emphasised that consumerism is at odds with the well-being of humanity.

Many developed world countries - such as the US - depend on consumerism to drive growth in their countries and keep the economy vibrant. But Gordhan warned that ultimately consumerism lead to more inequality and that it is simply not sustainable. 

The former minister connected the drive to acquire more with South Africa's "political economy of waste and neglect", a veiled reference to the alleged plunder at South Africa's state entities.

He said in talking about waste, citizens have to ask how national sources are allocated and how finances are spent in South Africa.

Gordhan said a vast criminal or shadow economy is piggy-backing on the real economy and its developments and achievements.

"Yes, there are trillions of rands floating around in government. But if we don't put a stop to the theft of public financces, we will have less money," Gordhan warned.

"There are billions of rands that finding their way into bank accounts all over the world. So what are you as South Africans going to do about it? It is not only the job of a minister or politician. This is your money."

He questioned whether the current economic model is ultimately sustainable.

Gordhan said while the waste in natural resources and junk is always cause for concern, it is the wastefulness that the current economic system worldwide seems to perpetuate that needs attention.  

"We need to ask: 'Does the current political and economic order give us what we require'?"

He said South Africa and the world require a greater level of urgency if they want to effect change in the economy.

But Gordhan said ordinary South Africans also have to understand that resources are not infinite.

He challenged people to understand what is a want and what is a need, and said it is regrettable that advertising is creating excessive demand in consumerism. 

"A throwaway society is essentially a consumerist society. It's the opposite of recycling or reusing," he said.

Gordhan said it simply cannot be business as usual, and that not only government, but businesses and ordinary people should also do their part. 

"We need new form of solidarity in all South Africans," he said. "Are we going to be activists or passengers on this train?"

Gordhan said there is definitely hope for South Africa going into the future, but the hope can live only if it is accompanied by meaningful change for disempowered South Africans. 

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