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David Oliphant
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Do we really live in a free and fair society?

27 May 2014, 09:34

So much of South Africa's future rallies around the idea of what is fair. Fair in the sense that opportunity is equal and the access to opportunity is available to each and every individual. This is the common goal I would imagine of any nation state but specifically to South Africa, it is a priority. Sure the ideals of fairness are a subjective bunch of principles based on your position in society, but they are necessary objectives if the wrongs of the past are ever to be corrected. But what of this priority is illustrated by the events witnessed in modern-day South Africa?

Understandably, it is difficulty to create a platform upon which society feels life is fair when considering the past from which we came, but surely steps should be taken towards that platform? To me, I feel we are taking more steps back than those taking us forward. A free and fair society is something that South Africa has long classified itself as but how free and fair are we really when service delivery strikes frequent the streets of Cape Town or when violence seems a necessary answer to a mining wage dispute? Much of current events within civil society suggest that the understanding of being free and fair has been distorted by personal agendas, corrupt motivation or simply the incorrect application of policy.

Below are a few interesting news articles that have come from South Africa in the past few weeks, I find many things interesting but I am sure these have interested you too:

•             The Economic Freedom Front has won 6% of the national vote, equaling a total of 25 seats in parliament – interesting indeed because a consequence of their election is their influence on the future socio-economic policy of our fragile country.

•             The leader of the Economic Freedom Front, Julius Malema, owes SARS a sum of R16mil – an amount which may cause him to be sequestrated; a process which was postponed because if he was sequestrated, he would have been barred from participating in the national elections.

•             The newly sworn in President of our country, Jacob Zuma, claims to have had no knowledge of the upgrades to his compound and therefore not liable for any building cost (R246 million) relating to Nkandla – we could accept this as the truth if… okay no we cannot.

•             Afribusiness however believes Jacob Zuma (if his plea of ignorance is accepted as a version of the truth) should, if nothing else, pay for the his tax liability on the property – according to SARS regulations (PAYE-GEN-01-G02), employees are required to be taxed for fringe benefits  gained through their employment – although the President might not have explicitly expressed the want for a 8.9ha plot with the conveniences experienced by few South Africans, SARS is clear on what the regulations are regarding tax on employment benefits; a fact Cornelius Jansen van Rensburg, Chief Executive of AfriBusiness, believes Mr. Zuma should pay for to set an example for South Africa that no on individual is above the law of the country.

•             Plans are currently underway to commence with the development of new town in KZN, a R2bn town close to Nkandla. Although the Nkandla municipal manager, Sthembiso Mthembu has stated he had no knowledge of the project saying, “I don’t understand why, if a town is going to be built in our area, we’re not part of it as the Nkandla Municipality”, he said. “Zumaville” as it is affectionately being termed is the brainchild of Masibambisane, a rural development organisation which Zuma and his cousin “Deebo” Mzobe co-chair.

•             Wage disputes between AMCU and the Lonmin management have resulted in the longest and most costly period of strike action experienced by the South African mining industry  – cost translated to a reduction in foreign confidence and a further reduction in the strength of the rand in foreign markets

•             A promised 22% wage increase in 2012 has not been received by the Lonmin workers motivating the strike on the platinum belt to continue past the 16week period. A non-payment claim was made by the faith-based Bench Marks Foundation that has monitored socio-economic conditions in the mining areas for several years. Bench Marks researcher, David van Wyk said: “We wrote to Lonmin in December, 2012, and then again in January and February last year to ask why the agreed increase had not been paid.” No reply was received by Lonmin to the inquiries.

   -           Comments made the Chief Executive of Bench Mark and former     unionist, John Chapel, highlights a major source of the anger showed by the miners during the strike, “But the fact that the agreed increase was not paid should be enough to understand why there is so much anger. What we are dealing with here is not a normal strike. The workers died not just for pay, but for human dignity.”

•             The strike has brought to the fore allegations and concerns of corrupt and collusive behaviour. Concerns about the way in which the mining industry, government and the police have been co-operating has been referred to by one lawyer at the Farlam Commission as a “toxic collusion”.

•             Reports by Finnish economist, Dick Forslund, working for the Cape Town-based Alternative Information and Development centre indicate that mining companies have under-invoiced possible subsidiaries abroad – this would cause an under reporting of revenue and therefore suggest that the companies cannot afford wage increases. A fact which is a blatant choice of profit over human life when considering a death toll of 44 people (the majority of whom are striking workers) with 78 people on the injured list. This does not include the recent murders of striking miners by the hands of fellow miners as a means of intimidation to those who wanted to end the strike and return to work.

•             On the 16th of May 2014, an official apology was issued by Anglo American Platinum CEO, Chris Griffith for comments he made to Business Day to justify his salary.  He was quoted as saying: “Am I getting paid on a fair basis for what I’m having to deal with in this company? Must I run this company and deal with all this nonsense for nothing? I’m at work. I’m not on strike. I’m not demanding to be paid what I’m not worth”. Comments made after Business Day reported that his 11 executives and top management had been awarded R25.3mil in a bonus-share scheme (although bonuses of this magnitude are usually paid when a company is doing well, you would think?) as part of a skills retention scheme payable over three years (skills retention? Would you want to retain the skills that have necessitated the most socially and economically expensive strike in SA mining history?).

   -           A further R51.8mil would be paid to the same team over the three years if certain performance indicators were satisfied – although I feel Lonmin should be one collective performance indicator requiring the resignation of the Amplats management team.

   -           Griffith is was paid a total of R17.6mil, of which R6.7mil was a basic salary – should Amplats concede to the miners wage demands of R12 500, Griffith would still be earning 117 times more than the lowest paid worker, fair?

I have listed the above examples as evidence of modern day South Africa. Does this represent a free and fair society? Does this represent a society that has produced one of the most progressive constitutions in the world? I do not think it does. What do you think?

I do not feel much of South Africa represents the ideals many of those standing in election queues thought would be the result of their much anticipated exercise of freedom. I do hope things change, for the better. But it requires a change in perception, a change in understanding and a change of that which we as South Africans accept as freedom and what we believe to be fair. When we respect and honour a human life over and above profit, only then will we satisfy the objectives we have set of an equal and progressive society.

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