Social Inequalities: The Single Greatest Threat to South Africa’s Stability

2013-06-16 20:55

Social Inequalities: The Single Greatest Threat to South Africa’s Stability

By Vusi Kweyama

The serious social threat to the life of the nation and hard fought-for democracy is the disparities between the haves and the have-nots. Vavi was one of the first people who identified this threat when he set into motion the ticking time bomb national discourse.

Zwelinzima Vavi, the general secretary of the biggest trade union federation in South Africa, The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), argues that racial tensions, growing disparities between the rich and the poor, endless strikes, violent crimes, and victimization are threats to South Africa’s poverty emancipatory efforts. He also argues that uncertainty about the future in South Africa is indicative of social justice deficits that post-TRC South Africa is struggling to address. The point of departure in this regard is that these social seizures are a  “ticking bomb about to explode” as a result of South Africa’s inability to lift the least privileged out of despicable and harsh poverty conditions that deny people human dignity.

Others have even established the correlation in recent times between social upheavals in the Arab world dubbed “Arab Spring” and the South African situation. Moreover, Moeletsi Mbeki argues, “Current levels of youth unemployment have increased the likelihood of a significant social upheaval to come."

To bolster the "ticking time bomb" discourse, the 2011 diagnostic report of the National Planning Commission makes reference to the unemployment rate as the “greatest threat to social cohesion, and a single greatest threat to South Africa’s stability." This report also informed the crafting of South Africa's infamous National Development Plan designed to guide all national development efforts.  The report also argues that the possibilities exist for a positive transformation of this unemployment "dark discourse" into a non-threatening or hazardous social situation.

Similarly, the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA) cautions, “that without adequate education and skills development policy in place unemployment and instability may result, and health, education and social welfare systems may undergo unbearable strains.” Arguably, the singled out social threats to the Nation’s stability are largely embryonic to the past of underdevelopment, therefore, demands a social justice response.

Furthermore, given the popularity that Julius Malema enjoys, his rise could also pose a huge challenge and feed the fear of the post-Mandela era and the instability of the already unstable rand.  Consequently, such could increase unemployment, strikes, crime, and social intolerance and could deplete the value of the already fragile rand. His nationalism policy positions exacerbate the aforementioned social threats, as they are truly unpopular within circles of capitalist markets. His political rhetoric, which is not necessarily the function of his intellectual prowess or struggle credentials, finds strong resonance among everyday people who are struggling to make ends meet and those who are confronted by abject poverty. His popularity is situated within shared views of many voiceless South Africans, and such is highly dangerous in a context in which people lack the patience to wait for the logical conclusions of the government policies. As a nation, we are aware that logical conclusions of emancipatory prone policies from poverty take a long time to yield desired fruits, and patience is the virtue that many lack. People in general do not like processes; they want instant success. That is, let’s fight now and get what we want or die trying. For example, the crime rate speaks into this attitude of impulsiveness and impatience.

To counter the potential impact posed by these social dynamics, I propose a re-visiting of the potential internal-workings of Desmond Tutu’s proposed wealth tax. Tutu’s wealth tax proposal does not necessarily suggest that tax should be imposed on rich white South Africans, but suggests a voluntary contribution to a fund designed to mitigate the impact of the past wrongs. This voluntary distribution of economic fortunes or taxation does not necessarily suggest that the illegitimate acquiring of wealth does not qualify for taxation for the purpose of righting the wrongs of the past.

Arguably, this form of taxation is backed by multiple theories of justice, including Nozick’s libertarian stance and distributive theory of justice, which suggests that taxation of the wealthy should be determined by how they acquired their wealth. In other words, the state has no legitimate involvement in individual freedoms as people have the right to choose how and what to do with their wealth. In essence, the basis for this form of taxation is the notion of “justice in initial holdings and justice in transfer,” a concept which considers the way in which the riches were earned. In other words, there is no basis for the taxation of riches earned legitimately in a just, free market with no manipulation or exploitation without the consent of the wealthy individuals. However, when the wealth earned through illegal and unjust means (or established upon the illegitimate foundation of the wealthy individuals' forefathers), distributive justice and taxation function to empower the disempowered holds, according to Nozick.

Michael Sandel’s communitarian theory of justice also provides a justification for distributive justice efforts that function for the interest of the common good. He contends that all efforts should appreciate the fact that the empowerment of others functions to strengthen citizenry and cultivate   civic virtues that are important for social cohesion and the social and democratic institution. Basically, distributive justice efforts should be viewed in the light of their function for the benefit of the whole nation, as opposed to individuals. In other words, the empowerment of others and the incorporation of them into the main economic life of the nation does not only do away with social injustice, but also helps shoulder the economic burden currently shouldered by the few.

Therefore, the legitimacy of a wealth tax lies in its ability to elevate others to places where they are able to participate in the real-economic life of the nation and in the long run, strengthen social cohesion and the reconciliation project.

So let’s not silence Tutu, but engage him and deliberate on ways in which the wealth tax fund could be implemented in the interest of the collective enjoyment of the human rights imperatives and the betterment of our beautiful land.

If you fancy my line of thinking please follow me on Twitter: @vwkweyama

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