Letters to the editor: January 18 to 24

Unions must fight the companies Bill

We can be proud of having some of the most progressive legislation in the world. Our shame is that we are among the worst for implementing our own laws. A new first is legislation that remains so neglected for such a long time that we forget its very existence.

Section 30 of the current Companies Amendment Bill, which ostensibly seeks to catch up with many other countries in addressing the ever-expanding gap between what chief executives pay themselves and their workers, is such a first. For it, there is no such thing as Section 27 (4) of the Employment Equity Act of 1998. Yes, 1998!

Section 27 (4) compels the Employment Conditions Commission to “research and investigate norms and benchmarks for proportionate income differentials and advise the minister on appropriate measures for reducing disproportionate differentials”.

Legislation curtailing executive pay was not the way to attract foreign investment deemed essential for achieving the government’s then socioeconomic objectives. This is probably why the government sought — successfully, as it turns out — to bury Section 27 (4).

Twenty years later, the new Ramaphosa government is still predicated on attracting foreign investment. This is probably why the Companies Amendment Bill is so “disappointingly weak”, as Tracey Davies charitably puts it (“Chief executives’ pay is no small issue”, December 14 2018).

But this 20-year and continuing failure to address South Africa’s world-beating inequality is possible only because of the silence of the trade unions. Section 27 (4) exists only because labour federation Cosatu threatened to withdraw its support for the whole Employment Equity Bill unless the legislation addressed the wage gap between management and workers. I was a parliamentary labour researcher at the time and can attest to the militancy of Cosatu’s position in the face of resistance from government and business.

Why the labour movement as a whole has aided and abetted the burying of Section 27 (4), without even the recognition of a tombstone, remains an unanswered question. We still await labour’s roar at the woeful inadequacy of Section 30 of the Companies Amendment Bill. — Jeff Rudin, Alternative Information & Development Centre

Thank you Seipati, for going way beyond the extra mile

Seipati Montsho, the receptionist and telephonist at the Weekly Mail (the precursor to the Mail & Guardian) from its early days in 1986 until 1990, has died.

Montsho was in the firing line. Her role was crucial, and far more significant than her job title would suggest. On Fridays the phone at the Weekly Mail rang nonstop, not with people wanting to speak to editors or journalists, or to place advertisements, but with subscribers seething with anger that their newspapers had, yet again, not reached their doorsteps.

We would hear her low, firm voice soothe, and somehow deflect, their anger with grace and clarity while she took down their details. We never heard her promise they would get the newspaper the next week, and yet most subscribers did not cancel their subscriptions.

And anyone of us with a car would take her list, hop into the car and do a late-afternoon newspaper run. For years, while we tried unsuccessfully to find a reliable delivery service happy to deliver a scurrilous rag, car owners on the staff would on occasion be given a computer print-out of subscriber addresses and would deliver papers door to door.

We loved Seipati, and we assumed she loved us too, until one day she resigned.

Not to get a higher paid job; this was in the early, dreamy, socialist days when the telephonist earned the same as the editors. She left because the grape-shot of rage from frustrated subscribers struck home too often.

And now she has died, much too young. Thank you Seipati for taking the heat for too long. — Marilyn (Kirkwood) Honikman

Hope and dignity are our victories

“It’s still a beautiful country” is a phrase I hear too often, specifically by white people. It sounds so positive, but echoes a deep negativity that is only expounded on in tight circles of trust in white communities. What does it mean and why do they say it?

It means that, in spite of their misgivings about where the country is going, it is a naturally beautiful place and therefore still worth living in.

It’s as if they have to qualify why they still remain in post-apartheid South Africa. This comment is then “opposed” by the white community that have already left, and are

currently living in white majority countries, who share negative posts about politics and crime in South Africa on social media to qualify why they left.

The ANC’s dream of 1994 was for a better life for all. No one can say that this was fully reached, and especially not for all. Yet, despite many issues currently in the political and economic landscape, the question needs answers. Is today better for the majority of South Africans than in the 1980s and 1990s? I believe: yes.

I was fortunate in many ways as a white person growing up in South Africa, but I was also fortunate in another way. As a result of my dad’s mission work, we would visit people of all cultures and socioeconomic status. I saw first-hand abject poverty.

But what was worse was no hope and no dignity. Without being naive about the fact that some citizens are still in this situation, I see more hope and dignity today than I ever saw during apartheid and to me that is the biggest change since 1994.

I have often tried to imagine if I was born black. How would I have acted? I was born in Zambia and, in my childhood, we often travelled to Swaziland. These two countries in the 1970s and 1980s were poorer than South Africa, and yet the average black person there exhibited more pride and dignity than their oppressed South African counterparts. I believe this was because of the lack of an oppressive race governing them in their recent history. The average South African now seems to exhibit more dignity in recent years.

The comment I’m debating, “It’s still a beautiful country”, implies that South Africa is worse now. I disagree. South Africa is a better, beautiful country. — Liam, Bethlehem

PW Botha wagged his finger and banned us in 1988 but we stood firm. We built a reputation for fearless journalism, then, and now. Through these last 35 years, the Mail & Guardian has always been on the right side of history.

These days, we are on the trail of the merry band of corporates and politicians robbing South Africa of its own potential.

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