Shoks Mnisi Mzolo – Cii News | 06Muharram 1435/31 October 2014

Any discussion on poverty eradication, if the idea is to alter the status quo, ought to start with an acknowledgement that this de-humanising social ill cannot self-correct. Too many barriers exist for the poorest, and starving, to be able to extricate themselves from the throes of poverty. For them, the daily struggle or preoccupation, is generally how to get food to survive just another day. A capitalist system, that by nature lacks humanity, views them in a transactional manner.

This, coupled with the fact that the richest or “top 1%”, as revered economist Joseph Stiglitz, have learnt “to suck money out of the rest” in ways that are inconceivable. While in the past, the system of dispossession was colonialism and slavery, the powerful elite of today – assisted by most governments, who accept “rent” – have turned to unapologetically greedy capitalism which masquerades as a “free” system. Ask the poor.

A recently-released study by Oxfam, a global movement for change and social justice, paints a sad picture of ever-rising poverty levels across the globe, including SA – the world’s capital of inequality. Far from self-correcting, an impossible task given the nature of the capitalist beast, Oxfam, employing elaborate research coupled with case studies and other tools, found that economic inequality has worsened in the past three decades. Stiglitz and other progressive types – economists and otherwise – have also made similar observations and called for urgent change.

“The skewed distribution of income and wealth has reached extreme levels and continues to rise,” noted Oxfam in its recently-released 142-page-long report entitled Even It Out: Time to End Extreme Poverty. World Bank and United Nations, alongside public representatives as well as businessmen around the globe, better read it and engage from a productive angle. It is, after all, through the partnership of all and radical switch that poverty can be defeated.

“Seven out of 10 people on the planet now live in a country where economic inequality is worse today than it was 30 years ago,” Oxfam researchers discovered. In South Africa, where the end of decades-long apartheid made way for political freedom in 1994 when then-Nelson Mandela-led ANC took over, things have worsened for the poor majority. For some context, political emancipation on its own barely evens the economic playing field.

It is for this reason that many countries, even after unshackling the chains of institutionalised economic colonialism, still endure another form of oppression way after attaining political independence or self-determination. In its report, the pro-social justice and anti-hunger lobby notes, lamentably, that local platinum miners “would need to work for 93 years just to earn their average CEO’s annual bonus”. In the UK, Top 100 executives earn 131 times as much as their average employee. Not many companies are committed to pay their employees a living wage, asserted Oxfam.

“South Africa, for example, is now significantly more unequal than it was at the end of apartheid 20 years ago. This inequality undermines global efforts to reduce poverty and hurts us all,” noted Oxfam researchers. “South Africa is significantly more unequal than it was at the end of apartheid.” Indeed, South Africa – boasting a mix of a sizeable skills base, infrastructure, rich history, great climate, land and mineral resources aplenty – is not without the means to eradicate poverty. This vision was advocated by the likes of Mandela and countless grandees before him. That a tiny 360 South African highest earners pay their share of taxes while that most illegally spirit a combined R350bn abroad, amidst grinding poverty, exposes the elites’ lip service attitude that has no regard for the Madiba dream.

Addressing the extent of chasm here, Oxfam notes that “the two richest people in South Africa have the same wealth as the bottom half”.  The pair it is referring to are mining magnate Nicky Oppenheimer and Johann Rupert, a baron whose empire spans the globe. Generations ago, the men’s families amassed a fortune during the colonial and apartheid era, when the majority was barred from taking part in the economic sector. Oxfam dismissed as a myth that “rich people are wealthier because they deserve it and work harder than others”. Proof abounds.

“Between 1995 and 2006, the proportion of the population living in extreme poverty fell slightly to 17%. However, increases in population over the same period meant that the total number of South Africans living in extreme poverty fell by just 102,000. Although real growth in GDP per capita was just under 2%, further progress on reducing poverty was hampered by South Africa’s extremely high, and growing, level of inequality,” Oxfam found.

A look at Brazil suggests that, where politicians are genuinely concerned, this is not a lost cause. “Some countries are bucking the trend on wages, decent work and labour rights. Brazil’s minimum wage rose by nearly 50% in real terms between 1995 and 2011, contributing to a parallel decline in poverty and inequality,” the group asserted. “Countries such as Ecuador and China have also deliberately increased wages.”