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Thabile Wonci
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The Cry of the Poor

31 May 2014, 15:03

The 20 years since South Africa pronounced the downfall of the gruesome apartheid era and the victory of ushering the inhabitants into the Promised Land came with many glorious promises. 

Both at wholesale and retail level, these promises have failed to materialise. I reject a life of poverty and inequality that we seem to have normalised in our country. The political demand for freedom led to a separation of the oppressed from the oppressor but economically the situation is very different.

This inevitable prompted a question in one’s mind whether, poverty is really a ‘consequence of illegal system by powerful people’ and the answer is ‘not really’! The living conditions of the people have worsened and are so unbearable. Many people are on the knife edge that any slight increase in the price of food and other basic goods pushes them to much-deeper levels of poverty. 

The people out there are just too poor to even afford food to feed their children and families. The grand speeches and election manifestos have done little to effectively address the devilish demon of poverty, inequality and unemployment in our country.

With the current existing structure of economic participation in our country, the poor will remain poorer – less fortunate will get poorer – uneducated will be hit hard too. It is said that as success breeds success and riches breed riches, poverty also breeds poverty. And if we dare continue ignoring these triple challenges that have been idling at our doorsteps, we are going to pay a huge price one day. 

Evidently, there is no hope of reducing our beggary state by anyhow. Reasons for that are many and varied but I believe the same mentality applied in dealing with these challenges is equivalent to the same mentality used when they were created. The triple challenges that our country is delaying to tackle head-on are actually breeding inefficiency, corruption and social unrest, all of which are inimical to economic development.

I really appreciate the idea or practice of social grants but is it addressing the noble idea of self-reliance? Perhaps we need to consider amongst other things the curricula provided in schools, the basic system of our education as a whole. We have to stop thinking about education as a nice thing to have but as a tool that should propel our country to move away from despair towards a new tomorrow that speaks of change in a forward direction. 

Our education system, be it formal or informal, must transmit from one generation to the next the accumulated wisdom and knowledge of the society and prepare young people in the process to be active citizens and actively participate in the mainstream economy. Our sights must be on the disadvantaged, young people, poor and unemployed for we have a duty of making them a real part of our society and economy.

The poor quality of our education system has induced attitudes of poverty, inequality and unemployment hence they are on the rise. This, unfortunately underpins the domination of the previously disadvantaged by the previously and still advantaged especially in the corporate world. 

Hence we are still crying wolf with regards to the poor employment equity numbers and lack of transformation in the workplace. The education provided mainly to the poor, previously disadvantaged citizens should reflect a commitment by the ruling government to the principle of equality and active citizenry.

The triple challenges will never be addressed fully as our education system does not encourage the development of a proud, independent and free citizenry that relies upon itself for its own development. I believe now is the time that we start dealing with the real problems that our country is facing. 

The growth and sustainable strength of the skilled-based society will ultimately limit poverty levels, unemployment and inequality over time across all sectors. This is the time when every thinking person in our country must adopt this policy of constructive engagement by making an unequivocal commitment to redress the imbalances of the past as a matter of greatest urgency.

Political and social stability is necessary to any national or personal freedom, so too is change to our personal circumstances. At present our national freedom often exists on paper only for there are just so many poor people, uneducated and unemployed! What freedom does a child who still studies under the tree have? What freedom does a young graduate who is sitting at home with no job or any prospect of employment have? What freedom does a community that drinks water from the dam with animals have? 

Certainly we do have freedom to vote and freedom of speech but this is all undermined by the inhuman conditions that we still find ourselves living under. The political freedom we attained in 1994 is so insignificant today as it has grossly failed to liberate the inhabitants of the republic.

The narrow-mindedness towards poverty, inequality and unemployment in our land seeks to perpetuate the artificial policy of working for the poor. To overthrow poverty, inequality and unemployment we need a society that will hunger for knowledge and self-empowerment.

This will be the development of the highest order in our country where we have witnessed instances where so many young people opt for sitting on street corners and gangsterism rather than being at school. I condemn, most strongly, the selfish deeds of those in our government that have been consumed by the devilish spirit of crass materialism under the pretext of serving the poor. In a developing country like South Africa, economical and social development should form a platform that would strive to promote economic growth and good services delivery.

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