Opinion

It's class apartheid, stupid

Patrick Bond

Official data tell us that class apartheid, born in April 1994 with features that include durable racism and patriarchy, is now a malevolent juvenile delinquent.As with racial apartheid two decades ago, the chains of class apartheid have growing cracks and, with enough pressure from below, can also be broken.

Official data tell us that class apartheid, born in April 1994 with features that include durable racism and patriarchy, is now a malevolent juvenile delinquent:

  • Income inequality rose to a world-leading Gini coefficient level of 0,72 by 2006, in spite of a slight increase in social spending (worth only 3% of GDP more than in 1994);

  • The official unemployment rate doubled from 16% in 1994 to around 32% by the early 2000s, before falling to 26%—but by counting those who gave up looking for work, the realistic rate is closer to 40%;

  • In spite of several million people getting access to new housing, their “Unos”, “smarties” or “kennels” are smaller than apartheid-era matchboxes, are located further away from jobs and community amenities, are constructed with less durable building materials and have lower-quality municipal services;

  • Tiny token amounts of free water and electricity are provided to many, yet their overall price has risen dramatically, leading to millions suffering disconnections each year because they cannot afford the second consumption block;

  • AIDS and the degenerating healthcare system have caused a dramatic decline in life expectancy, from 65 at the time of liberation to around 50 today, while education remains crippled by low-quality schools and excessive cost recovery, leading a third of learners to drop out by Grade 5;

  • Ecological conditions have worsened, according to government’s own commissioned Environmental Outlook report, and South Africa’s CO2 emissions per unit of GDP per person are 20 times higher than even that Great Climate Satan, the US (even before the rush of new coal-fired plants); and

  • The high crime rate—so obvious as corruption penetrates the top of government, the police and army—was accompanied by a residential arms race that left working-class and poor households most vulnerable to dramatically increased robberies, house break-ins, car theft and other petty crime, as well as epidemic levels of rape and other violent crimes.

  • Meanwhile, thanks to the policies of Thabo Mbeki, Trevor Manuel and Alec Erwin, our economic future appears sabotaged:

  • Instead of “macroeconomic stability”, exchange control liberalisation fostered white capital flight and left South Africa so vulnerable that the Rand crashed by more than a quarter in 1996, 1998, 2001 and 2006, the worst record of any major currency;

  • The outflow of profits and dividends to big South African firms’ new overseas financial HQs is one of two crucial reasons (along with excessive trade liberalisation) that SA’s current account deficit has soared to among the highest in the world—8,1% of GDP this quarter—and is now a critical threat;

  • Disguised by superficial GDP growth, South Africa has a net negative per person rate of national wealth accumulation, because of nonrenewable resource depletion according to the World Bank;

  • Finance has boomed while, as a percent of national output, manufacturing declined; and

  • Instead of being reinvested in plant and equipment, corporate profits were spirited abroad or sought returns in the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (which rose 50% during the first half of the 2000s) and speculative real estate, as the property boom raised house prices by 200% from 1997-2004, in comparison to just 60% in the US just prior to its bursting housing bubble.

  • So, as with racial apartheid two decades ago, the chains of class apartheid have growing cracks and, with enough pressure from below, can also be broken.

    To be sure, not all the 10, 000 social protests that the police have recorded each year since 2005 reflect this critique. But enough do, that the ANC’s next ruling crew will so have to intensify repression seriously, if they want merely to polish the chains of class apartheid, as Jacob Zuma recently promised in Davos and to the men from Citibank.

    Regrettably class apartheid thrives.

    Patrick Bond directs the UKZN Centre for Civil Society

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