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Income inequality a major roadblock in South Africa

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Picture: Nhlanhla Phillips/African News Agency/ANA/Taken October 2, 2018 – Westbury community protests the social ills that beset the communities as drugs, rape and gangsterism remain rife almost thirty years into democracy. ‘The social ills in our communities are based on the fact that we are marginalised all the time and not given fair opportunities within businesses, for our youth,’ a resident of the former Black (coloured) township, tells the writer.

By Lameese Steyn

The apartheid government utilised racial capitalism to stimulate white supremacy, racial exploitation, and the accumulation of capital. Although racial capitalism developed industrial labour, this exploitative mechanism established a racial hierarchy within the working class and marginalised sections within it.

Black workers have been economically subjected to racial discrimination. Linked to this is a long history of racialised dispossession in urban planning and a labour market divided by race, gender and class inequalities.

Economic inequalities in Black and Coloured communities are stimulated through systemic racism. The homeless and jobless are expected to survive on a R350 Covid grant to sustain their essential needs throughout the month.

Racial capitalism in South Africa under apartheid emerged from the mutual dependence on racism and capitalism, which led to human rights violations. But racial capitalism persists even more in post-apartheid South Africa. The unemployment virus which is 32.9 percent rules the lives of young South Africans, limiting their ability to participate in economic activities and entrepreneurship.

In South Africa, racial capitalism was not based on a conflict between owners of industrial production and the working class, but it was based on White minorities ruling over Black livelihoods. This is drawn from Harold Wolpe’s work on racial capitalism in the South African context. One could argue that the accumulation of capital was produced through the economic expropriation of Black communities, utilised as subjects to extensively participate in cheap labour. For example, Black and White South African’s economic ownership of manufactured products varies – white capitalists demand unlimited labour power to increase profits and Black individuals are required to participate in precarious jobs to meet the demands of the white capitalist state.

Income inequality and unemployment in South Africa also influenced a recent protest in the Westbury community where residents pleaded for economic, political and social opportunities. A resident said: “It is based on the marginalisation of us, Coloured people. We are objecting all of that.

“The social ills in our communities are based on the fact that we are marginalised all the time and not given fair opportunities within businesses, for our youth. We are not included in this, so there is no equal equity in any of this for us. We are here to make a mark today for our voices to being heard. And given equal opportunity in these sectors and areas of business.”

Without a doubt, these inequalities play a significant role in chronic poverty and economic exclusion. The South African labour market is divided into two components – a capitalist economy controlled by white people and a working class occupied by Black and coloured South Africans. The minimum wage is not equivalent to the workers’ needs for daily sustenance such as healthcare and basic needs of the poor. Economic growth is stagnant, and the labour market has low-skilled jobs which often excludes high school graduates.

Racial capitalism in South Africa also negatively impacts black masculinity where racially marginalised men participate in destructive and vile behaviours that result from economic exclusion. In addition, unemployment also declines their breadwinner status as the head of the household and is often classified as subjugated masculinity. Employment and money are identified as power and prestige in society because of the glamorous lifestyles employed men can afford.

The majority of South Africans live below the poverty line. This explains the economic and social injustices in South Africa. The South African government should implement an innovative and creative business environment that will increase job creation with the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This can be achieved through good governance principles and entrepreneurship programmes to increase the expertise and productivity of self-employed individuals. There should be an equal distribution of land to eliminate racial inequalities in South Africa.

Racial capitalism in South Africa results from intergenerational exclusion. The working class is economically punished for being poor. This human rights violations deprive Black communities of economic and social value by degrading the underclass.

Lemeese Steyn is an MA candidate at the University of Johannesburg