Most of the world’s richest people are men, and women earn 23% less then men globally.
This is according to the 2019 global inequality report that was released by non-profit organisation Oxfam on Monday.
The report, Public Good or Private Wealth?, lays bare the vast gaps that exist between men and women and the rich and poor globally and it also highlights glaring societal inequalities, from India to the United States.
Jeff Bezos, the chief executive of Amazon and the worlds richest man, for example, has a fortune worth a whopping $112 billion (about R1.5 trillion). Oxfam compares 1% of his wealth to that of the health budget of Ethiopia, a country of 105 million people.
The report finds that extreme poverty is increasing in sub-Saharan Africa and the number of poor people living below the food and the poverty line of R441 a month has increased to 13.8 million in 2015.
The majority of women have the short end of the stick as they struggle to put food on the tables of their families. This sentiment was shared by a panel of experts who spoke to the media on Monday morning at the Oxfam offices in Johannesburg, where various issues were addressed, including education, healthcare and corruption – factors that have added to the inequality in South Africa.
Advocate Louisa Zondo, member of the board of directors of Oxfam SA, who chaired the morning briefing, said that inequality was out of control, and that poor women and girls were hit the hardest.
“The report notes that the super-rich have enjoyed rates of tax that are lower than what we have experienced in decades, while at the same time, billionaire fortunes grew at $2.5 billion a day during the last year. We can also glean from this report that inequality is both sexist and racist. We have that stark experience from our own experiences in our country. Governments are fuelling this crisis by massively undertaxing the wealthy in society,” Zondo said.
Last year City Press reported on the wealth index of South Africa, with the top 50 people amassing a collective wealth of R323 billion, of which only one was a woman, Sygnia chief executive Magda Wierzycka.
“Women and girls become compelled in a patriarchal society to spend countless hours caring for children, caring for the sick, the elderly, as a result of failed public services. And this stifles their potential tremendously,” Zondo added.
Basani Baloyi of Oxfam addressed the current political climate.
“We enter this year’s national election in South Africa with little to celebrate as achievements since the last elections five years ago. That old slogan from our ruling party, ‘a better life for all’, remains just that: a slogan with little meaning in its impact on the daily lives of the vast majority of South Africans,” said Baloyi.
“In our preparations to convey the findings of the Oxfam International 2019 report, we realise that we felt a collective sadness and disillusion with where South Africa is today and are wondering what it will take to co-create into action in this crucial year.”
She said that while the super rich are able to enjoy lower taxes, the rest of humanity’s income fell by 11% “and here in South Africa, the fall in the number of billionaires from eight in 2017 to five in 2018 did not result in the trickling down to the vast majority of the country’s materially poor or vulnerable, rather it trickled up to this already spoilt billionaire class of five who increased their fortunes by 15%.”
She said that there was an increase in acceleration of wealth to a fewer number of people.
Healthcare for all
One of the key recommendations that Oxfam has put into place is the call for free universal healthcare and education.
In South Africa, the National Health Insurance policy has been put forward by the national department of health. It seeks to provide universal healthcare to all South Africans through public funding.
The NHI has been piloted in various districts around the country, but Sibongile Tshabalala of the Treatment Action Campaign said that the current NHI policy was not a viable solution because the pilot was not producing positive results. In 2012, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi rolled out pilot projects for the NHI in 10 districts, including Dr K Kaunda district in the North West province.
Tshabalala said that last week her team had visited the district, only to find that the infrastructure at the various clinics was in shambles and that staff morale was down. Nurses had to fork out money from their own pockets in order to fund things like photocopies of patient files and other resources.
“As activists we are not ready to implement the NHI. As public healthcare users we want the NHI as badly as anybody, but we cannot allow the NHI to be implemented in the situation that we are in today,” she said.
“We visited about nine clinics and one hospital in that area. As much as there’s staff attitude, these people, mostly women, are working hard to ensure that our communities, our patients, our friends are accessing healthcare services in such a way that most of the time they are forking out from their pockets to make sure that patients are coming back to the facility. These people are working under conditions where they don’t even have telephones in their facilities. They don’t have internet, but they are expected to produce reports every day. They are coping out of their pockets to make sure that the reports are there, so how can you expect that person not to have attitude?” she explained.
She also said that infrastructure was so bad in some instances that ceilings were falling apart, and the clinic rooms were so small that nurses had to share consultation rooms.
“Blood is taken in the passageways and there’s no storage. The question is, when we implement NHI in that situation and that is a pilot district, what have we achieved? What have we learnt from the first five years of piloting the NHI? The honest truth is that we haven’t learnt anything because the health system is still in shambles,” she said.
Education activist Ayesha Meer believes that in order to bridge the inequality gap, education in the public schooling system needs to be looked at again.
“Education can be a site for liberation. It can be a space for radical transformation and conscientisation and really a space to create change in our country. For learners who can’t access good quality education, achieving success becomes a big obstacle to their advancement and as a result education is functioning today as a key sight for maintaining inequality and ensuring that inequality and class ratification stays as it is,” she said.
Meer, who has extensive experience working with learners from Grade 1 to matric within the public school system as a maths teacher, said that she has observed how learners who struggled to grasp basic concepts such as addition and subtraction at the foundation phase level of schooling had no chance of ever really catching up in the higher grades when maths problems became more complex.
“We need to encourage mother-tongue instruction in the early grades and develop books and materials in mother tongue languages, specifically in the early grades. We have overwhelming evidence that if a learner is able to understand the language of instruction, they perform better. And especially when you’re first arriving at school and you’re able to learn and succeed in your mother tongue, you’re going to be able to then, at a later stage, understand the material and progress and perform better,” Meer explained.
She said that despite the controversy surrounding mother-tongue instruction, the evidence proved that mother-tongue learning ensured that pupils retained information at a far higher rate.