WEALTH accumulation among South Africa’s political and economic elites is spiralling out of control and pushing the country to the brink of a violent mass revolt.
This is the view of Professor Adam Habib, vice-chancellor of Wits University.
Addressing a Dispatch Dialogue co-hosted by the University of Fort Hare at the Guild Theatre on Tuesday, he said the ANC-led government had ushered in definite improvements in post-apartheid housing and education, as well as an improved quality of life, compared with the terror under the apartheid police state.
But he said the failure to find practical and imaginative solutions to problems, the government’s inability to put a cap on wealth accumulation among the politically connected elites to allow those at the bottom to acquire savings, pensions, shares and property, was shoving the country towards a revolution whose outcome would be unpleasant and unpredictable.
Regimes in Libya and Egypt, which had fallen to youthful revolution, had been far more authoritarian than South Africa, but they still fell, he said.
By 2019, at the present trajectory, 60% (six million) South Africans under the age of 30 would be unemployed.
“They are going to be seriously pissed off,” Habib said.
“There is a new generation coming. Change is coming, like it or not.”
Habib, who was releasing his new book, South Africa’s Suspended Revolution – Hopes and Prospects, said the core of SA’s social crisis was a disconnect between the ANC’s promise of economic liberation and departments which “could not organise a piss-up in a brewery”.
Meanwhile, the masses bore the brunt of ever-rising inequality and poverty. The government was not being held accountable and had made concessions to global capitalism at the expense of massive social upliftment programmes.
Rampant, uncapped greed was epitomised by one South African CEO earning R650-million a year, and Marikana mine workers demanding a wage of R10000 while the CEO in London earned R25-million a month.
A volatile chasm had opened between elites and the masses.
This underlying unhappiness was spawning a plethora of nasty social “pathologies”, such as gangsterism, and violent, service delivery protests.
This had not been helped by “false debates” raised by corporate economists to justify macro-economic cuts on workers while executives kept on growing richer.
He called for a new social pact to force the ultra-rich, driven by utter greed, to put something tangible on the table, be courageous and make financial sacrifices, and start to allow those at the bottom of society to enter into semi- or skilled jobs, and get a decent education.
The only way to move the new elites was through leverage; when elites compete for their very existence, society benefited.
The clash between President Thabo Mbeki and his then-deputy Jacob Zuma after 2004 saw dramatic improvements in social programmes, such as the rollout of HIV-Aids anti-retrovirals. Zuma was in charge of the National Aids Council.
People had to learn to “divide the politicians and unite the citizens”. — firstname.lastname@example.org