16 August 2012

“The Historical Manifestation of Unemployment and Economic Exclusion in South Africa”

Hon Speaker
Hon. Members of Parliament

The historical manifestation of unemployment in our country has been doggedly ignored by many in this debate and in this house. To touch that history, we are told, is to ignore our failures and to seek refuge in a litany of excuses in order to explain our re-election.

But yet, those who instruct us to do so, are themselves seeking to depose the government of the day at the ballot on account of the historical injustices committed against our people for some time.

In September 1948, HF Verwoerd, in this same house as a Member of the Senate, participated in a debate of a motion of no confidence against his government for the introduction of apartheid.

In the same debate, Verwoerd argued about how sustainable and reasonable the policy of Apartheid is and quoted his political mentor, J.G Strijdom, in an address he gave in 1942 when he was defining territorial segregation and said:

“That Native should not be allowed to own land among white people…and that they should be confined to the various Native reserves…”

Strijdom went further to declare that “natives and coloured people in our towns and villages should not leave in European residential areas, but that there should be separate areas for them.”

We all know about this atrocious separate development policies that Verwoerd was later to be known for and dominated much of the last half-century of our country. These policies were introduced in the backdrop of imperialism and colonialism which had dispossessed land and cattle to millions of African inhabitants.

But the Verwoedian mentor did not end there, but went on to say something that is particularly important for today’s debate. Strijdom, as was quoted extensively by his studious proverbial gene, went on to say that “in our factories, etc. Europeans and non-Europeans should not be allowed to work among one another, but separately, and that certain sorts of work should be reserved for the Europeans”

Unemployment is a historical phenomenon in South Africa and will remain persistent and structural as long as we do not deal with the underlying and systematic features of the old apartheid economy.

The system of apartheid affected all the attributes that leads to a person getting a job. These are, inter alia, their levels of education and skills (and I must add, the skills mismatch and skills exclusions); the poverty cycle; their location in relation to that of industry; their financial capacity to find jobs and the wider family phenomena in our townships, rural areas, informal settlements and flats (as is the case in Cape Town and other areas in our country).

The historical manifestation of unemployment also had an international factor. Due to long period of sanctions and the exclusion of South Africa from the global economy, it meant that many lost their jobs and never recovered when the international community disinvested.

The other critical and historical question is ‘why so many (black) people are dependent on jobs is because opportunities for sustainable livelihoods such as entrepreneurial endeavours and working the land are closed.

What Verwoerd and Strijdom, and some in this house and in the FW De Klerk Foundation concocted (of course, just like Judas, many will deny their involvement in the formative years and sustenance of the system) was a system that was to live an indelible mark in history and in the lives of many of our people.

The Commission on Employment Equity, as quoted by the Mail and Guardian of 4 August 2011, states that “whites occupy 73.1% of top management positions in South Africa” and, wait for it, “it will take 127 years before the black economically active population catches up.”

The report went further to declare that “black people made 12.7% of top management, Indians 6.8% and Coloured only 4.6%.” This is as per 5.2 million employees covered.

Is this because of the doing of the ANC government, which refused to be drawn into chaos when the De Klerk regime was unleashing mayhem in order to force the ANC negotiators to concede to the sunset clause?

These are the same people, the senior managers, who are in control of who gets employed in their firms and would therefore ignore legislative requirements to reverse this barbarism of the minority remaining on the bottom of the food-chain.

I must hasten to say that those who seek to defend the legacy of Verwoerd and Strijdom will hasten to oppose any measurers imposed that seeks to reverse this legacy through proposed amendments to the legislation of Employment Equity.

If we look at employment by race, and focusing on the most recent statistics of the first Quarter of 2011, black unemployment was at 29%, Coloured at 22.6%, Indian at 11.7% whilst amongst the white population it was at 5,9%.

Because of the position that women found themselves under the apartheid system, women, irrespective of their colour, are the most affected and by unemployment, underemployment or by the quality of work they found themselves in.

This is mainly because of the kind of skills and education (and other factors, of course) that they found themselves in under the barbaric system of apartheid.

In the Western Cape, were, even if we deny it, the ghost of apartheid is more on the rampage and alive than in any other part of the country, unemployment in the first quarter of 2011 was still at 22.2% and 3% lower than the national average.

Because of the lack of access to education and skills and being locked into rural areas, our people migrate to the city provinces of Gauteng and the Western Cape in order to find themselves hope and jobs.

These migration is not a new phenomena, but the only distinction between apartheid migration and modern day democracy migration was today people are forced not by the police system, but by the economic situation that they find themselves.

They are also building on the culture that began hundreds of years ago by their forefathers who build the fort in Cape Town and worked the mines in Johannesburg. Even if they are called refugees, the wealth you seek to redistribute amongst the few and wealthy was built by the sweat and blood of their forefather.

Other speaker spoke of the various interventions that needs to be made in order to alleviate the scourge of poverty, unemployment and inequality which is characteristic of modern day South Africa.

The ANC is itself the first to admit that we may have made mistakes in the formative years of governance and democracy. Learning to untie the knots and walking out of the maze created by an ugly system of apartheid is no child’s play.

But yesterday, and the day before, we said that it is our responsibility to build on the future and ensure that our children will harvest the efforts made today.

The new interventions will not become the silver bullets to resolve unemployment, poverty and inequality especially amongst young people.

But the only reason our youth will listen to is the reasons and solutions that comes from them and not imposed by demonstrations of the rented blues.

As a youth leader myself, I understand the anger, firmness and resolve of our youth on the long time taken after apartheid to resolve this crises. I will not, however, swallow any pill pushed down my throat such as the quick-fix and election-motivated solutions concocted by modern day Verwoerd and Strijdom. I am not prepared to eat from the crumbs of the princely tables laid for those who ruled the roost then, and continue to do so today.

The future lies not only in the National Development Plan presented yesterday or the intention to rubbish the National Growth Path. The future also lies in the National Youth Employment Accord; it lies genuine entrepreneurial support for young people, it lies in support for youth co-operatives, it lies in the implementation of the National Skills Strategy and Accord, and it also lies in ensuring that young people value the time and energy invested in work for their own economic sustainability.

And as Verwoerd in his maiden speech concluded

“South Africa has to deal with one of the greatest problems…the question of war and peace…[which] is no more serious to other countries…than the clash between white and black..”

Unlike in the Verwoerdian era, the clash in our country is foreseen, if we do not deal with the historical and attending crises of unemployment, will be between the rich and the poor.

But maybe he was right, because even in this day, the rich remains mainly white and the poor generally black, and that which he had tried to avoid will become a nightmare for you and I today.

Nelson Mandela, that icon and revolutionary of our times, taught us to forgive. But please, do not ever force us to forget why we are here or attempt to erase our memories of the painful past.

Thank you.