SOUTH AFRICA is an astonishing country. Not only are we home to more millionaires than any other African country, (40% of all African millionaires live in South Africa) but this wealth coincides with extremes of poverty and unemployment. Some 25.5 percent of the population is unemployed and this figure is worse when the youth and first-time job-seekers are concerned, rising to 63%.
The reason why this picture is so, is not all that difficult to understand.
Let’s talk about the welfare disconnect. Although the country is one of the few nations on the continent to have implemented a social security programme, this programme is geared towards the elderly, disabled and child care grants. Thus the youth of today, are born into social security — their parents are recipients of state welfare not because they are citizens, but because they have children.
Once a child is over the age of 18, this grant falls away. The double-whammy of unemployment and poverty kicks in.
Today’s student unrest is a direct result of the situation where a pupil, having generated income for his or her family, simply by being a child, turns into a liability on becoming a young adult and tertiary student. In most cases, such a person is forced to fend for him or herself.
This is an enormous shock to both the youth and the family.
So far as social security in South Africa is concerned, we are a nation which has the cart before the horse.
The Focus on Labour at the expense of the Market
Command economies have failed wherever they have been attempted. Creating industries, whatever the cost, in order to create jobs, instead of producing efficiency, achieves the exact opposite. Labour for the sake of labour, is tremendously wasteful. Wherever it has been a state policy, communism has resulted in economic distortions and failure to deliver goods. Shifting the goal of humankind towards labour is therefore an exercise in futility.
Instead of paying families to have children, we should be paying people to stop working.
A social wage, comprising an unconditional basic income grant, health care and free education, would be the means by which the worst ravages of poverty and last vestiges of coercive labour was removed from our society.
The coervice labour market is a legacy of the apartheid system, which was dependent upon a labour pool, where workers were treated as nothing more than a resource to exploit. This situation has not improved under the ruling party, in fact it has gotten far, far worse. BRICS under Gwede Mantashe, has birthed South African sweatshops producing goods for Russia, low-wages and a shrinking Rand have become a factor of life.
Instead of forcing people into employment (or joblessness as the case may be). A social wage would redistribute income to each and every citizen, not by virtue of being a child, but by virtue of ones ability to vote.
Leisure should be our goal, not labour.
Labour should only be a means of achieving other goals.
Making goods should go hand in hand with Buying Goods. While Henry Ford may have had his faults, he produced cars for the workers who worked in his factories, not for the wealthy elite.
Citizens should thus be more than simply workers, they should be treated as adults and consumers.
While labour has certainly contributed to better work conditions — the invention of the long weekend, and other public holidays — it would be even better if labour were to permanently depose itself, by creating a 360-day-Vacation. Allowing robots to self-assemble and produce the goods, which we buy with our wages, which are in turn given to us, via a more efficient means of production and redistribution of wealth, This is an alluring proposition. Holland for instance had moved to end labour in mining. Machines are replacing humans wherever they are found, and the full automation of society is only a matter of time.
South Africa’s dirty secret is finally out. Capitalism is evil and all who engage with the capitalist system and its offshoot of evil, the capitalist state, are equally disagreeable individuals – corrupted prisoners of a licentious corporatised economic system which refuses to die.
Okay, okay, I’m getting a bit hot under the collar, what with President Zuma sounding like the pope delivering a sermon on the pleasures and pains of hell before the South African Communist Party Youth League — all to dispel the rumours that his administration and party is in reality, a party of market fascists intent on killing workers, who would have him and his henchmen at the throat if it were not for yearly promises of a wage increase.
Really Mr President, Capitalism, quo vadis, where are you going? The range of choices being rolled out by South Africa’s political parties are truly astonishing. From those who would have us all subsumed under the World Bank in an entirely business and capital friendly environment, at the expense of workers rights and a living wage, to those who would have a radical worker-lead government in which the tyranny of the banks and markets are tamed by an all-seeing, all-knowing, all-embracing state in a dictatorship in which the economy is somehow commanded to perform in the same way male porn stars are expected to deliver their manhood in the interests of an audience of sex-starved adults.
It really all comes down to how one defines capital accumulation and the rather prickly idea of human rights and consent of the individual. Clearly, participation in the capitalist economy has never been voluntary, workers are forced to seek employment or starve, what little social security that exists in our country is geared towards the elderly, children and the disabled, the result is invariably the same as rape, as both men and women are forced into the economy, either seeking employment when it is available, if at all, or ending up in the ranks of the discouraged who have given up looking for work and the opportunities work provides.
It helps matters not that like sex, capitalism is neither inherently good nor bad, rather it, (and by that I don’t mean capitalist sex), signifies something in us all collectively and together as a species. We have yet to evolve from dog-eat-dog, to a voluntary society based upon cooperation and mutual aid. As the anarchist Kropotkin reminds us, competition and entrepreneurship are not the only games around. Nor is survival of the fittest the only evolutionary logic behind nature.
Yes, there is such a thing as capitalism between consenting adults, (and one should also add, planet-friendly capitalism, flea-market capitalism, and capitalism based upon the principle of first do no harm) it is a hallmark of those anarchists who prefer black markets and counter-economics as well as leftist libertarians who tend to focus on the rights of the sovereign individual viz. vi. the state, but rarely, if ever, are we given freedom of choice, freedom from the burden of having to seek employment and a living wage. Institutional rape is not the corrective to rape by and on behalf of capital.
While those who advocate that all women’s work should be tax deductible paid labour and those who wish to legalise sex-work for whatever reason, the problem of the Zuma administration and its ideological failures are so numerous that one cannot help but wonder if the party has always been on the rape side of life? Instead of seeking out a choice in authoritarianisms, a crap shoot between capitalists (and their capitalist state) and the flipside, the dictatorship of the proletariat, we would all be a lot better off considering ways to eliminate the structural violence and aggression inherent to our society by providing alternatives to capital markets.
Instead of demanding a dictatorship of the proletariat by a revolutionary vanguard, a one-size-fits all ‘banging together’ of society, the group sex of the party rank and file, we should rather be demanding access to friction-free economic services like the digital commons — participation in the emerging global collective that is embracing our planet in an ‘ubuntu without borders” — a post-scarcity economics of abundance which may be achieved by open sourcing, not simply the economy which is bound to whither away, but also our currency ( in the form of bitcoins) in the same way that crowdfunding has freed entrepreneurs from having to beg for finance.
CORPORATE South Africa has not yet transformed to the degree where we can safely say apartheid no longer exists, or racist behaviour and other forms of racism in the workplace are no longer significant issues. While empowerment deals have broadened from their original elitist and chauvinist aspirations, they have tended to be cosmetic and misrepresent the interests of those “empowered” but with no effective control over management decisions.
Corporate policies continue to reinforce segregation and racial divisions in our society instead of cutting across the colour lines separating us into various racial and ethnic groups. Equal opportunity for example, is still being subsumed under the mantra of “separate but equal” in the strange, twisted logic of the system bequeathed to us by the apartheid regime. What is more, South Africa’s conglomerates have deployed a global strategy which seeks to escape significant empowerment while ignoring the all-important debate concerning equal opportunity and local affirmative action criteria. Diversity remains an ideal spoken about only in the most progressive of boardrooms.
IN THE beginning, the so-called dot-com economy was based upon the notion of a frictionless environment i.e. the internet. The idea was the massive savings created by reducing distances and communicating easily across the planet would be passed onto the consumer and everybody would win.
Then along came the robber barons of the service industry, basking in the glory of “managed complexity” and new acronyms like ICT. They were all good capitalists and saw a good opportunity at cleaning up the competition, siphoning off all those fads and novel savings and patent banking the difference, instead of passing on the friction-freeness to the consumer.
Lets give you an idea of why Telkom is stuck in a virtual freeze, attacked by Hellkom and MyADSL — unable to provide half-a-service while charging exhorbitant rates for its “pipes”, its own network that is already paid for by our tax rands, but which invariably turns into a shopping mall for ICT engineers who think they can outsmart us, blog-rats.
The fact is once a line is installed and paid for, there is no real cost to ADSL except for the small service fee which goes towards upkeep. How much should one be paying for service? What would you charge to keep the network up and running? What would your rates be for watching the 0s and 1s go around and around?
However, since the service-side of the sector was privatized, TELKOM does not provide a service as such. What it provides is an excuse to simply fleece the consumer and siphon off profits to its shareholders who want locked in dividends and locked in clients.
This means that we are paying double for a line that must first be hooked up to a private service providing company in order to fully function. Result? ADSL is enormously expensive. Forget about those glossy ads spinning lies about R240 a pop. What you get is double-dibbing down the line as busker after busker rips off the “locked in consumer”.
For R240 one should get ADSL plus service and whatever benefit one deserves. But in order to keep service privides in business, companies like MWEB running, the South African consumer is ripped off by the only provider of ADSL lines in the country — TELKOM, the monopoly provider.
THEY SAID THEY WOULD BRING THE WORLD CLOSER, AND ALL I GOT WAS A HUGE PHONE-BILL
THE idea that SA can convert its “masses” into an incipient “middle-class” whose affiliations are with Levi’s not Lenin, Mercedes Benz instead of Marx, and consumerism instead of Fidel Castro, needs to be dispensed with along with Trevor Manual’s trickle-down economics and Thabo Mbeki’s market fascism.
Firstly while South Africans may be marginally better off than they were before 1994, inequalities in society have deepened. Instead of narrowing the gap between rich and poor, the government’s liberal trickle-down economic policies has failed to address the problem of successive “middle classes”, each following upon the creation of South Africa’s first middle class arguably under Verwoerd.
The new, mainly black, politically empowered, commercially viable and attractive second “middle class” touted by the media, is in reality nowhere near as rich as the old middle class under apartheid, comprised of mainly whites, coloured and indians. Trickle down economics coupled with market fascism can never address such vast inequalities and neither can race-based affirmative action.
In order to buy into the myth of an emerging black middle class, conforming to the Bell Curve in which the majority of SA families occupy the centre bulge, creating a new market for business, one would have to search out and discover the actuality on the ground — the stark reality, instead of pipe dreams invented by advertisors and propogandists.
The second middle class is however, just as poor relative to the old middle class as they were under apartheid, and while the first middle class still occupies the upper strata of society, the distinctions based upon race and class remain. In other words, the rich are still rich, and the poor are still poor. The only direct changes we have experienced in our economy are shifts in the form and structure of wealth — producing the so-called hour-glass effect, in which there is no “middle class” to speak of occupying the centre, but rather the insane perception of “middle class values” shared with a state brand which is in reality a vacuum of unfulfilled desires seldom realised.
The mythology of an emerging second middle class, dreamt up by market fascists, is really an attempt to prevent agrarian and peri-urban revolt caused by narrow empowerment deals and market radicalism. The new mantra of “the middle class will save us” is just another way of depriving the working class of their power as workers. Wealth as we have witnessed from BEE does not trickle down, instead it continues to accumulate at the top, as industrialists continue to extract labour.
Even with a growth rate of over 6 percent, the majority of South Africans will still be poor in comparison to the upper echelons of society. One or two black billionaires do not make an equal opportunity society and cannot persuade us that change is occuring for the better. In fact as old “middle class values” whither and the second middle class fails, the minor gains to be had from such narrow attempts at propoganda and state tinkering with enterprises will diminish.
In short, we will lose the opportunity to create a great society built upon human rights and equality instead of the marketplace. South Africa may never escape its developmental phase, without a coherent debate about citizenship, the role of diversity and the global commons, and we could be doomed to an institutional failure to address fundemental inequalities within our society as South Africa splits into two states, comprised of the haves and have-nots.
[copyleft, some rights reserved, reprint with permission]
WE’RE not asking for bread, although this used to be a rallying cry for the poor, the world over. We’re not asking for government subsidies on milk, or delivery of food parcels to those in need. No, all we are asking for is for our VAT BACK!
Giving VAT BACK to the poor, will alleviate pressure on other social services while enabling us to take control of our lives. VAT is an example of the most direct form of taxation, yet for those who spend all their income on food, clothing and shelter, VAT is just another example of big government and its hidden hand in our pockets, what economists euphemistically call “indirect taxation”.
How much tax actually reaches the poor when we are most in need? The answer is nothing or very little. More often than not, our pennys are handed over to the state to be spent on big budget items, such as military frigates, luxury airliners for presidents, and state banquets for foreign politicians.
By demanding VAT BACK — welfare in the form of a tax rebate, a leg-up rather than a hand-down — citizens are merely asking for what is rightfully theirs: How can you be 100% sure that you will never be left without a job? Homeless or without food on the table? Desperate or in need of assistance? Often dire straits coincide with other unexpected problems in life: A death in the family, a new-born child, a situation out of ones control, even marriage, separation or divorce.
Currently the only citizens to receive any welfare grants are those who qualify for assistance as a result of old-age, mental or physical disability, and children up until age 14. Which means that unless you are aged, infirm, or the legal guardian of a child, you could be left walking the street at night, seeking shelter, begging for aid, coerced into red-light employment or worse.
THE SIMPLE SOLUTION: DEMAND YOUR VAT BACK!
DEMAND your VAT back. Believe it or not, the average South African will hand over the government *R33 600 spent entirely on food and given to the exchequer in the form of VAT. This is money out of your own pocket! What do we get in return for that expense? Very little. A parliament that does nothing but pass laws. A judiciary that does nothing except complicate the law-making process, and a president who spends most of the time outside of the country, fixing other country’s problems.
Where is the government when you suffer from unemployment? Who is their to look after you when you are ill? State Hospitals in spite of their elegant sounding names, do very little and still expect you to pay for services at the end of the day. Receiving your VAT BACK could be the start to a new life. Just imagine what the money could do. Suppose for argument sake that you considered VAT not as a tax paid over to the state but as an interest-free loan given to the fiscus on the understanding that it would eventually be given back, a loan instead of the forced hand-out to big government, red-tape and bureacracy that it really is.
Over the years your stake in the South African fiscus and the economy would be enormous, pure capital given away at zero percent and used to loan out to banks and other institutions at 8%. So why not ask for your VAT BACK now? Supposing a 30 year old male went on welfare payments today, “the dole” would take thirty years of paying back R500 a month directly into his account to pay off the initial “loan” granted to the fiscus, a loan given without much thought, just via the extraction of value-added capital through the course of ones lifetime.
HOW MUCH IS YOUR PERSONAL CONTRIBUTION TO SOCIAL WELFARE REALLY WORTH?
A FIFTY year old female citizen put on the dole today would never hope to receive all her money back, private money given to the fiscus through the course of ones lifetime, considered as a loan, and would probably die before reaching the ripe old age of 100.
Whichever way one looks at the figures, even if one reduces the amount spent, say on consumption for the first ten years of life, *see figures below, the Welfare State is affordible not only in principle but in reality. Of course R500 is only an estimate — some people spend less others more. There’s also clothing and shelter to consider. The repayment of VAT spent on food alone over the course of ones lifetime does not half compensate you for the initial loans made to big government.
Ask yourself the question: how much is my personal contribution to the state’s coffers worth, ie. what would social welfare cost not just through direct income tax but via indirect taxation of goods and services ie VAT?
An impossible problem since one is always taxed, even if you receive a welfare cheque, that cheque gets taxed the minute you spend it.
South Africans are one of the most taxed nations on this planet yet receive very little in the form of social support. Think about the needy, isn’t it time we eliminated some of the worst forms of poverty such as begging? Or restored peoples dignity with the knowledge that each and every citizen is looked after, without race and class distinction, all taken care of without exception?
By demanding a direct payment of welfare in your hour of need, you will not only destroy the lie that you don’t deserve such a payment, but the illusion that this kind of money does not exist. Call your MEC, phone your political party, campaign for a welfare state that meets the needs of all its people.
(* a simple guess-timate based upon an average life expectancy of 40 years, x est R6000 pa spent on food, ie R500 per month = R240 000 spent in total, that includes a startling R33 600 or 14 % VAT handed over to government in the form of indirect taxation.)
WHY DIDN’T I THINK OF THAT?
For more proposals for a better future, send a R100 cheque or money order and a self-addressed envelope to:
D R LEWIS
(Engineer of the Imagination)
PO Box 4398,
Cape Town 8000
Or for a short pamphlet on overcoming the master-slave-worker state, R50 cheque or money order to the same address.