South Africa is not immune to food riots

The latest fad doing the rounds: hints on how cash-strapped South Africans ought to save, well, cash. In these harsh economic times (where $1 will buy you up to three loaves of bread in Harare, but just one loaf and a few Chappies bubblegum in Durban) even black economic empowerment candidates have asked their rock-star wives to take it easy on the SUV pedals.

There are hints of a calamity of biblical proportions. Buy bulk. Use candles. Save the whales. So has the meltdown finally begun? Not really. But let us put it into perspective.

South Africa’s consumer price Index (CPIX), used to measure inflation, moved up to 9,4% in February 2008. With higher interest rates, municipal rates, electricity, fuel and food costs, this year’s planned wage negotiations between evil employers and working-class heroes promises to be nothing more than a pie-throwing contest.

Already the South African Transport and Allied Workers Union (Satawu) has asked SAA for an unprecedented 18% increase, with SAA offering a laughable 6,5%.

What will follow is nauseatingly predictable. Deadlock will lead to further mayhem in our economy. At some point, a figure around 9% will be agreed on.

With prices so high and inequality so deeply embedded in South African society, wage negotiations are a mere facade to a system that shows no intention of altering the status quo. The solution lies elsewhere.

It is necessary that the South African government play a more interventionist role in the economy, ensuring that basic essentials are subsidised.

To address income inequality tangibly, is it not a consideration to legislate ceilings on the salary levels of CEOs and directors in the public and private sector, so that the top rung never earns a ghastly 50 times more than the lowest poor sod on the shop floor?

The government speaks about a developmental agenda, but it does little to address such gaps. High income inequality and the severe price hikes will continue to fuel unreasonable worker demands and sadistic employer offers.

If inequality is left to be solved by the market and its cronies, we are refusing to accept that our economy and society desperately needs guidance to remove the stains of historical inequality. South Africa is not immune to food riots. And when the patience of the workers and poor wears out …

Azad Essa is a researcher in industrial organisational and labour studies research at Howard College, University of KwaZulu-Natal

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Azad Essa
Azad Essa works from New York | Johannesburg. Journalist @MiddleEastEye; Associate at Department of African and African American Studies at Harvard Uni; @AJEnglish alum Azad Essa has over 26489 followers on Twitter.

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