By Mohamed Motala · 8 May 2008
These days we are faced with seemingly perplexing questions about South Africa.
After a decade and a half of democracy, poverty and underdevelopment continue to deepen in some areas. Open and direct racist behaviour is directed at black people. Violence against women takes on a very public presentation, as taxi drivers assault women for wearing skirts. And our columnists and newspaper editors are debating whether it is appropriate to discuss the native question.
On top of all this, the national soccer coach, hired at an exorbitant rate, quits his job.
Why can’t the rainbow nation, now increasingly populated by the born free, rise up above all that defines - what we did not want to be? Why can’t the generation, who ushered in democracy, manage a sane and humane transition that reflects that today is better than yesterday and the day before?
Perhaps it is with the understanding of the problem and with those who are assisting us to understand the problem.
Public policy dialogue in South Africa is controlled by the cooperate media. Public advocacy is not participatory and inclusive of those who are living the abhorrence of the racist, neoliberal and patriarchal reality. Rather it is driven and presented by the paid for media.
No more are the issues deeply debated and discussed within organised, representative, constituent structures.
Instead, we have handed over this important responsibility to individuals writing in the popular media. This supposedly accessible format does nothing more than dumb down understanding, so that “What is wrong with our country?” now gets discussed at the dinner table.
Not that this is a bad thing. But what’s wrong with this state of affairs is that issues are not framed in a manner that is holistic and accepting of our history and context. This results in an unquestioned simplification of issues.
Inequality in South Africa today continues to present itself along class, race and gender divides. This is boring old analysis and no body wants to hear it. Never mind that it is still true and relevant. Because it did not deliver socialism, what’s the point of Marxist and neo Marxist analysis? Let's throw the baby out with the bath water, because the effort of lifting the baby out of the now murky waters is too difficult.
Intersecting class, race and gender is beyond the capacity of our simple analytical tools and processes. This forces us to try and understand the problem in single dimensions. But trying to understand the problems of poverty and inequality through singular lenses of class, race or gender removes history and context from the equation, thereby rendering any enquiry useless.
Why is it such a problem to understand that class, race and gender need to be viewed together to understand the entirety of the problem? It requires us to view and understand social and economic justice in a multidimensional manner that explains why black women in rural areas continue to suffer the most.
Is apartheid present and is it continuing?
There is a rising black middle class and their conspicuous consumption is openly evident. How can we argue that racial apartheid is alive when more affluent black people are all around us?
Black people occupy and have access to all commanding heights of the economy. No more are the corporations and big universities white. We even have informal settlements where urban poverty is white.
So apartheid is dead. All races are poor and rich at the same time.
Similarly, with the position of women in our society, women are now chairpersons of merchant banks and occupy the highest offices in both the union buildings and politics.
How can we say that patriarchy is worsening and deepening?
It is only through an understanding of the intersection of poverty, racism and patriarchy that the real picture will emerge. It is only after placing inequality at the centre of public policy making and analysis – and making the effort to understand this three-legged poitjie pot, that we will know what’s cooking, and how to prepare the sustenance for a better future.
Understanding inequality along racial, class and gender lines and how these perpetuate social injustices together, points to where and how to resolve these injustices. This is not simple analysis and requires scholarship and collective effort in both unravelling and developing strategies.
So the national soccer coach has left us, the captain of the big ship in Pretoria is under siege from his own party and all is quiet about public hospitals and schools where children are dying and unable to learn to read and write.
We can't seem to think about too many things at the same time and how they all fit together. The bright lights of 2010 continue to hypnotise us.
Perhaps we should try and understand the complexity. Those that are getting ahead personally definitely don’t seem to have a problem. They are able to interpret global markets and self-enrichment opportunities, where there are more variables, more easily than we are able to understand and eradicate poverty and inequality.
We must begin by having a game plan. A holistic and comprehensive full frontal, no holds barred, attack on poverty and inequality. Perhaps then, we will also be able to instil confidence in the coach and the team.