Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Online Letter
Dear friends and fellow South Africans,
As the electricity price hikes for municipal customers come into effect this month, a report by economist Mike Schussler for the trade union, United Association of South Africa (UASA), makes for disturbing reading.
According to the report, the average employee at Eskom now earns close to R40 000 a month.
Take a moment to digest that figure. One cannot help but automatically compare it to the salary your own family lives on. Then think of the workers at Aurora Mines who are performing tough physical labour, in dangerous conditions, for no pay - in the hope that they might receive some sort of compensation.
When UASA began investigating employment trends in 2005, it was found that mine workers earned on average around R6000 a month. The work they do to delve into South Africa's earth and extract her natural riches is vital to our country's economy, yet they live in often inhuman conditions with little hope of working their way to a better tomorrow.
This makes mine workers fertile ground for the socialist rantings of the ANC Youth League as it calls for the nationalization of mines. I have warned in previous newsletters of the historical consequences for countries that followed the nationalization path. The point here is that the plight of the downtrodden is being used to increase the influence, status and power of a few.
I am appalled to see the same pattern at Ithala Bank, which I founded as the Chief Minister and Minister for Economic Affairs of the erstwhile KwaZulu Government. Since commercial banks were reluctant to give loans to people who could give no security for the loan, the poorest of our people were barred from accessing the funds to start up small businesses and become entrepreneurs. Ithala was designed to help the poor to help themselves to create a better future.
But Ithala is now embroiled in scandal and allegations of corruption. Most recently, a R169-million contract was awarded without tender and there appears to be some link between the beneficiary and the Head of the Bank.
Ithala is being pillaged by an elite few in the KwaZulu Natal Government. In what amounts to daylight robbery, the rich and the privileged are benefitting while the poorest of the poor still suffer. Such is the greed of politicians.
Another point of concern in the UASA report is the burgeoning of the civil service, which now employs 20% of the workforce, with Government wages absorbing 12% of our Gross Domestic Product. Wage increases within government are also much higher than in the private sector and those small and medium sized businesses that employ more than half our workforce, are struggling to keep up.
How can a small business attract skilled workers when they cannot offer nearly what government can? Perhaps this is why more and more South Africans are opting out of the workforce and choosing not to contribute to our country's productivity.
As it stands, we have more South Africans receiving social grants than South Africans who are working, as per any definition of the term "work". The ratio of taxpayers to people needing to be supported by taxpayers' money is deeply concerning, and we are likely to have to borrow money internationally which will be repaid with the taxes of our children and our grandchildren.
This is not how one creates a better life for tomorrow's generation.
I recall when I was the Minister of Home Affairs, the Africa Institute of South Africa and the Southern African Migration Project jointly conducted a survey that considered the perceptions of skilled South Africans of the quality of life in South Africa as compared to popular overseas destinations. It interested me that blacks in particular believed they would be better able to find the house they wanted overseas.
Today, according to UASA, South Africa's house ownership is the highest in the world. We have constructed some 4 million houses as we poured money into social infrastructure. But if we look at the squalor so many of our people are still living in, we must ask whether a house is more than just four walls. Surely a family's sense of dignity is affected by the size and condition of its home.
When the IFP's representative in the Gauteng Legislature, Mr Bonginkosi Dhlamini, approached the Minister of Housing to seek assistance for hostel dwellers, the Minister admitted that there is a serious crisis.
Historically, hostels were established to house mine workers, who were separated from their families and plunged into desperate living conditions.
The closeness of the living space, the harsh conditions, poor pay and lack of family life created hotbeds of aggression, that became veritable tinderboxes as the sparks of a low intensity civil war began to fly in the late eighties. Many hostels in KwaZulu Natal bear the memory of pain and loss. It is high time to transform them.
The IFP believes hostels should be converted from dormitory style accommodation into self-contained units that can accommodate single people or families. These units must be affordable, have basic services and be integrated into the broader community.
Raising the living standards of our people will go some way to raising their self-esteem - which is one of the key ingredients to being a persistent job seeker, a good candidate for employment and a contributing member of society. The other keys, such as education, deserve more of our attention too. As Mr Schussler puts it, in the long term, the real remedy is education.
During apartheid, the ANC called for liberation now, education later. The ill-conceived Outcomes Based Education system seemed to call for tolerance and teamwork now, education later. If we are serious about creating a future that is better than what we have right now, we must have the courage to say education now. Education always.
Yours in the service of the nation,
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP
Contact: Ms Liezl van der Merwe, Press Secretary to Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP, 082 729 2510.