Wealth gap must be closed. We need to all work together

The City Press Wealth Index, which we publish in this edition, is a sharp reminder of just how far we still have to travel to fully transform and deal with structural inequality.

The index, compiled in partnership with McGregor’s Who Owns Whom, reveals that, 24 years into democracy, wealth is still concentrated in the hands of white men. Only five black men and one white one woman make it on to the exclusive list of the 50 richest South Africans.

What is also worrying is the reversal of black wealth in the past 10 years. The report reveals that there are nine fewer black people on the top 50 list than there were in 2008. A decade ago, there was also only one woman on the list.

  • Visual produced by Code for Africa

But it is the gaping gap between the rich (regardless of race) and the poor (mainly black) that should keep us awake at night. And we are not even talking about the billionaire entrepreneurs here – we are talking about salaried executives.

For instance, the disgraced Steinhoff chief executive Markus Jooste pocketed salaries and bonuses of just more than R202 million in one financial year, a sum that would have been enough to pay 4 814 people the national minimum wage for 12 months. The company’s financial director, Andries la Grange, earned R105.18 million, enough for 2 504 people to earn a minimum wage for a year.

South Africa’s status as the world’s most unequal society is our badge of shame. Financial institutions such as the World Bank and charitable institutions such as Oxfam have warned that this situation is unsustainable. Others have warned that it is a recipe for social upheaval.

This is already evident in the ubiquitousness of service delivery protests, which are directly linked to people’s inability to survive on their incomes.

Closing the wealth gap must be the business of everyone in South Africa – from government to business to labour to civil society. There needs to be a serious conversation about why the structure of our economy directs wealth towards a few while millions are trapped in poverty, relying on the social security net to survive and doomed never to thrive.

It is time that “inclusive growth” ceased to be a fashionable catch phrase and became a moral imperative.

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