The politics of opting out

2012-04-12 13:06

  The deal between government and the middle class in South Africa seems to be: You look after the poor and leave us to look after ourselves. I know it sounds like a Republican argument, but we want the state to have as little as possible involvement in our private lives. From the upper working class all the way to the top South Africans have privatised their lives to such an extent that a state seems almost superfluous. If you have a problem with crime, you rent your own security company. They can simply look after your house when you’re not there, or you can take the premium service where you get escorted home if you’re alone at night. Private schools are becoming a norm rather than a luxury. Even parents who opt for public schools send their kids to ones where the school governing body has a firm grip on the school, and school fees are high. It is exceptional for a person in permanent formal employment not to belong to a medical aid, however expensive and exploitative the schemes may be. The bottom line is to avoid the long queues and bad service at public hospitals newspapers always report about. But now government has decided to privatise our roads, especially the one between Johannesburg and Pretoria which, to many middle class people, is a commute or at least a weekly trip because it links the economic hub of South Africa with the governmental one. The N1 a corridor almost no-one can avoid. The message from government is read as: “Right, you want to pay for everything, go ahead now.” And then we get up in arms. I suppose we must look at why we opted up in the first place. To switch after 1994  from providing good services for 10% of the population to 100% of the population, was always going to be a tough ask. Like everyone who has ever been part of a family with a sick child, it is automatic that that is where the attention and resources will go. Although you’ll complain a little privately, like around a braai or at a restaurant, you can’t deny the 90% of the population who had no opportunities really need the state more than you do. Then you start to disengage. At first carefully, but as your income grows, you can afford to opt out more and only engage with the state through writing letters to newspapers and occasionally pay a traffic fine. But the e-tollsa seem to have pushed the middle class too far. Already we are crumbling under escalating food prices which means more than just switching Woolworths for Pick’n Pay. We feel we are forced to scale down and although we know it is mostly due to the global economic crisis, we still look at reports about R30 billion lost due to corruption and side-eyes government. The state has let us down, we feel, and now we need to pay for its mistakes. With e-tolling the relationship between government and the middle class hit rock bottom. And although the ANC will say its votes don’t come from the middle classes, it surely needs to understand the health and growth of this class is the measure of a government’s success. Or perhaps, as the middle-class, we must find new ways to re-engage.

The deal between government and the middle class in South Africa seems to be: You look after the poor and leave us to look after ourselves.

I know it sounds like a Republican argument, but we want the state to have as little as possible involvement in our private lives.

From the upper working class all the way to the top South Africans have privatised their lives to such an extent that a state seems almost superfluous.

If you have a problem with crime, you rent your own security company. They can simply look after your house when you’re not there, or you can take the premium service where you get escorted home if you’re alone at night.

Private schools are becoming a norm rather than a luxury. Even parents who opt for public schools send their kids to ones where the school governing body has a firm grip on the school, and school fees are high.

It is exceptional for a person in permanent formal employment not to belong to a medical aid, however expensive and exploitative the schemes may be. The bottom line is to avoid the long queues and bad service at public hospitals newspapers always report about.

But now government has decided to privatise our roads, especially the one between Johannesburg and Pretoria which, to many middle class people, is a commute or at least a weekly trip because it links the economic hub of South Africa with the governmental one. The N1 a corridor almost no-one can avoid.

The message from government is read as: “Right, you want to pay for everything, go ahead now.”

And then we get up in arms.

I suppose we must look at why we opted up in the first place.

To switch after 1994  from providing good services for 10% of the population to 100% of the population, was always going to be a tough ask.

Like everyone who has ever been part of a family with a sick child, it is automatic that that is where the attention and resources will go. Although you’ll complain a little privately, like around a braai or at a restaurant, you can’t deny the 90% of the population who had no opportunities really need the state more than you do.

Then you start to disengage. At first carefully, but as your income grows, you can afford to opt out more and only engage with the state through writing letters to newspapers and occasionally pay a traffic fine.

But the e-tollsa seem to have pushed the middle class too far. Already we are crumbling under escalating food prices which means more than just switching Woolworths for Pick’n Pay. We feel we are forced to scale down and although we know it is mostly due to the global economic crisis, we still look at reports about R30 billion lost due to corruption and side-eyes government. The state has let us down, we feel, and now we need to pay for its mistakes.

With e-tolling the relationship between government and the middle class hit rock bottom. And although the ANC will say its votes don’t come from the middle classes, it surely needs to understand the health and growth of this class is the measure of a government’s success.

Or perhaps, as the middle-class, we must find new ways to re-engage.

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