Molefe’s assault on the poor is not the first I heard that week; on Monday SAfm hosted a debate chaired by Ashraf Garda about whether or not poverty was just a state of mind, with Former President of the Black Management Forum Buyani Zwane arguing that because he and close friends attained success by working hard and sacrificing time to read at a local Soweto library, there was nothing stopping unemployed youth from doing the same.
SADC Basic Income Grant Campaign Coordinator Vuyokazi Fastlane’s response quickly, and rightfully, shot down his feel good anecdote dressed as a solution to youth unemployment in South Africa: “How is a someone from a little rural village in the Eastern Cape, where there are no libraries, going to do that?”
In that statement lies that real cause of poverty in our country: structural inequality so deeply engrained in the fabric of society that poor South Africans have no real chance to escape it. School infrastructure in rural areas and townships were systematically under-funded during apartheid rule, and remain well below standard. Exorbitant fees deny children from these localities access to good public schools, perpetuating class divisions.
It is these class divisions that have corrupted the likes of Molefe and Zwane into thinking upward mobility rests solely on one’s mental disposition. Surrounded be first-world comfort in lush suburbs, it is easy for the middle class (which makes up just under 15% of the total population) to disengage from the lived realities of over half of South Africans, which survives on under R779 a month.
The fact of the matter is that many South Africans are but a pay cheque away from poverty; 20% of the population fell beneath the poverty line after the 2009 recession. When your main concern is ensuring that your family has something to eat at night or when all you can focus on is your hunger pains, it isn’t very easy to think about anything else. We are not talking about a bunch of MacBook wielding, Starbucks free Wi-Fi using “consultants” when we talk about the poor.
“Some entrepreneur from Diepsloot is going to open a business thats [sic] going to hire ppl [sic] from Sandton. Your mind is powerful weapon,” Molefe tweeted the day after his ignorance went viral.
So skewed is Molefe’s understanding of class in South Africa, he seems to believe the measure to success is to invert an apartheid hierarchy where a poor black person can be the boss of white people, and not the amount of jobs they can create for the community they are from – mind you, two in every five black South Africans are unemployed. His logic, only stands to further deepen class divisions in South Africa, which are practically determined by race.
I find it heinous to place the burden of ending poverty in the hands of the poor when class disparity is a deliberate project to create a flow of cheap labour to grow South African’s economy. This system is strong and damning for a majority of those living in the country. I don't see why I never crosses our mind to bring those responsible for this poverty to account?
Why aren’t we upping taxes on the extractives industry to fund better social protection projects in South Africa? Heck, the continent losses $60 billion in illicit cash flows per year. It’s about time we implemented a national minimum wage, despite scare tactics by big business; more money in the hands of the South African workforce simulates the economy, creates new jobs and stability in our country.
The solution to inequality lies solely in the hands of those with actual power to make necessary and impactful changes. Perhaps Molefe was right about people needing to think differently, after all; he was just not speaking to or about the right people.