The unemployment crisis
South Africa finds itself at a precipice. The economic malaise currently being experienced places the nation at a point of no return. The levels of poverty, unemployment in particular amongst our youth and women, inequalities, corruption, crime and etc. has reached such proportions that the country can be plunged into another civil war and strife if nothing is done. Our schools, hospitals, public transport in particular rail, justice system, correctional services centers have become dysfunctional.
As if this is not enough, our country is being buttered by a wave of ecological crisis that creates absolute havoc through heavy storms that have left the poor more vulnerable with greater parts of the country engulfed in long spells of drought that further threaten livelihoods, food security and sovereignty. We risk losing another generation of youth to drugs and vicious cycle of crime. Women, including the aged live in fear in their homes and streets. Government is collapsing, overrun by cronyism, corruption and neglect. Almost every state owned enterprises is facing a death spiral or financial collapse. Eskom, SAA, Autopax, PRASA are all in their knees with more workers’ jobs and services to the poor on the line. There is a strong intention by key officials to sell the family jewels to their friends at the expense of the poor for whom these state assets are vital. Every day that passes these crises get worse and the suffering of our people intensifies.
It is as if government officials live in Wonderland. Do they not see the immense suffering of our people caused by economic hardship? How many more mothers must come home to find their daughter brutally raped and murdered? How many more Uyinene Mrwetyanas? How many more children must be left to drown in pit latrines; how many Michael Komapes must there be? No sociology degree is needed to know that the terrible nightmare of women abuse, gender based violence and the war on women’s bodies is rooted in mass unemployment and its disruption of traditional forms of masculinity. While not everything is because of the economy, SA’s economic collapse is making everything worse.
The horrible truths of the so-called new SA, 30 years after we freed Nelson Madiba is that millions of young people in South African cities are “without adequate parenting, a usable education, a job or political agency.” As the criminologist Don Pinnock so poignantly described the lot of our children –“life is often brutal and short. That’s where hope goes to die, and to see it die in the eyes of a young person is the greatest sadness of all. It should not be like this.”
We are calling on our people to rise-up! We are calling on our people to resist and, in their resistance, to show there is another way, a fair, just and righteous path – a path deserving of the sacrifices of the Chris Hani’s, Ruth Firsts, Steve Biko, Robert Sobukwe, Solomon Mahlangu, Mambush Noki and the other mineworkers murdered at Marikana.
In the face of this immense suffering of our people – employed and unemployed – the coming together of SAFTU and AMCU with thousands of unemployed people organized under the Assembly of the Unemployed, Mining Affected Communities United in Action, SA Green Revolutionary Council and countless others, is a significant step in building a mass based campaign to confront this neo-Apartheid capitalism, which is reducing South Africa to a wasteland.
Despite our different histories, different organizational paths, differences over ideology we are rising above all that separates us to focus on what unites us. We are seeking unity in the face of the destruction of working class life and the onslaught ahead of us. We know this cannot be overcome by a single trade union or movement. Yet, we must do something in the hope we can catalyze and reawaken our long traditions of progressive organization and mobilization towards new victories. We have to embark on building unity amongst all the oppressed and downtrodden people of ‘modern’ South Africa: rural and urban, worker and unemployed, the landless and the homeless, women and youth straight and gay, from IsiZulu to Afrikaans speakers and everything in between.
When Tito Mboweni delivers the budget, it will, instead of overcoming our nation’s despair deepen the misery of the vast majority – the people’s whose views count for nothing, who are imprisoned in concentration camps of decay, euphemistically called townships, where sewage is allowed to run in the streets, where taps run dry, and where fear seeps from every crevice. The collapse of services in Makana and Enoch Mgijima is not the exception it is the rule. This budget will intensify the misery of everyone who depend on public services.
The national budget should be a major instrument for doing something the elites do not want to hear, namely to address the plight of the poor majority, redistribute wealth from the rich to the poor and shape an economic development path, whose central focus must be putting our people to work to fix our crumbling country. There is so much work to be done in building the houses, clinics, hospitals and providing decent education, healthcare, safety and security, something which 50 million out of 55 million desperately require. In turn such a development path would require the rebuilding of our electricity, public transport and food systems. It would require millions of tons of iron, steel, wood and cement and other resources which our country is blessed with. This would no doubt make worse the carbon intensity of our economy if not mitigated. But this is exactly where there is another wave of hours of work to be had, namely in making our economy low carbon. All this work should mean that in SA there should be zero unemployment.
When it comes to the budget and what is possible, we are told, so many lies and myths it would embarrass Donald Trump – champion of lies and falsehoods. For example, we are told SA has a low tax base and those who pay tax are over-burdened. First of all, every South African who is a consumer pays tax, not least in the form of VAT and in various levies such as on every liter of petrol sold. Secondly, we are told that the small number of people who pay tax, are overburdened. They pay too much. Yet we know that there are more than 30 000 ‘high net worth individuals” whose investible income is more than $1 million, who pay nothing to SARS. We also know that as much as R300 billion in a year leaves the country illegally, that is untaxed. To this we can conservatively add another R50 billion in profit shifting. Then, of those who pay tax they receive rebates of more than R15 billion for supposedly paying too much tax.
And it is worth asking if the rich are overtaxed how come SA is the world champion of inequality. Ten percent of South Africa’s population owns 90 percent of the country’s wealth, while the wealthiest 10 percent earns seven times more than the bottom 40 percent. And besides the narrow tax base is an outcome of this extreme inequality. Surely, the richest 10% are not overtaxed!
The coming 2020/1 budget, in the name of the important people – the investors, the captains of industry, the media moguls and rating agencies will be a disaster. It will cut budgets in vital areas of infrastructure, increase taxation on the poor and working classes in direct and indirect ways. Mboweni’s budget rather than doing something about climate change will all be about creating the climate so loved by the businesspeople where they pay less but profit more.
So, when the friend of big business, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni announces his budget, we expect the poor and working class people to pay dearly and to pay more. Austerity, in the form of budget cuts to key public services have already been announced. Remember it is the working class and poor people who depend on the public hospitals, schools and police. The rich have private hospitals, schools and security. Government is looking to retrench more than 30 000 public sector workers, which is the tip of the iceberg in public sector job cuts and attempts at holding down the ‘public sector wage bill.’ This is because these numbers don’t include the over 100 000 jobs that have been frozen and not filled when workers retired or left the public service. This is part of the reason why services continue to collapse in our townships and villages.
The forthcoming programme of austerity, liberalisation and privatisation will see new waves of job losses. The majority of school leavers, even those that have passed their matric will swell SA’ mass unemployment levels. Even Stats SA’s conservative figures for unemployment (they count every survivalist activity as gainful employment) registers unemployment at almost 40% when discouraged workers are counted – which is one of the highest in the world. And as unemployment rises, poverty worsens and inequality gets intolerably dire.
The situation is rapidly unfolding where a national uprising of the poor will explode. It cannot be long before the ticking time bomb of youth unemployment, almost 60%, ignites a Tunisian type outburst of anger. The danger for the labour and social movements is that, instead of this anger being directed at their class enemy: big business and the state, the unorganized layers, the unemployed and the lumpen proletariat, explode in an orgy of xenophobic violence and pogroms. This, we already saw in 2008 and have seen continue at low intensity levels.
This can be averted but only if the organized working class fills the vacuum and leads resistance to the deepening crises and neoliberal attacks.
Our Campaign against austerity, job losses; for decent work and services for all must start from a recognition of the challenges we face. We have to acknowledge the substantial erosion of working class consciousness that has taken place over the last two decades. We need to be mindful of the relative fragmented and divided state of the organized working class.
It is why we are calling all progressive working class formations to throw their weight behind a programme of mass action.
We call for an intense internal and public debate on what kind of actions we need to get the government and employers to meet the demands of the working class and marginalised majority. After this press conference we will be meeting to consolidate a longer term programme of action. However we are agreed that we will kick off our campaign by protesting tomorrow’s SONA and Mboweni’s budget day speech. Below is a programme which is already underway.
A Year of Action
We are kicking off a year of mass action mobilise for alternatives to the current employment crisis. Some highlights in the coming months include:
SONA Night Vigils (12 February): We will gather at the Union Building (Gauteng) and Cape Town picket at the Parade in Cape Town on the 13 February to present an alternative State of the Nation and demanding insourcing of the EPWP workers.
2. Cry of the Xcluded caravan (19-23 February): Hundreds of activists from as far as Limpopo, Emalahleni, Durban and Xolobeni will be traveling converge in Cape Town to protest the upcoming austerity budget. We will stop at various towns and villages across South Africa and engage with South Africa’s forgotten people collecting ideas and demands for our Real Jobs Summit. Media are invited to join the caravan and/or cover our rally in Bloemfontein’s Hoffman Square, Charlotte Maxeke Street at 10h00 on Saturday 22 February.
3. Soweto Meets on the 20 February: The residents of Soweto from all civil formations, working class formations including political parties will meet to discuss years of random and indiscriminate Eskom electricity shift offs, current wave of load shedding and the destruction of normal life, lack of service delivery, etc.
4. Real Jobs Summit (24-25 February): On 24 and 25 February we will convene the Real Jobs Summit at St George’s Cathedral, 5 Wale St, Cape Town. Our Real Jobs Summit will be an opportunity to discuss workable alternatives to the business friendly ‘growth’ path that has failed us for years.
5. Budget Day Rally (26 February): Thousands of people will March to Parliament from the Cape Town Civic Centre. on Budget Day at 10h00 to demand a budget that supports jobs, services and dignity.
6. End Outsourcing and Provide us with public transport Occupation (9-11 March): We will occupy Mjantjie House and Cape Town Station demanding train services and an end to outsourcing of security and cleaning workers.
7. Domestic Worker Solidarity (10 March): We will gather outside the Constitutional Court in solidarity with the UDWOSA Domestic Workers at Constitutional Court to confirm the declaration of the invalidity of section 1 of COIDA Act
8. Right to Say No Rally (21 March): We will mark Human Rights Day in Xolobeni where the Amadiba Crisis Committee will be joined by other mining affected communities to mobilise for the right to say no in defense of their land and livelihoods. This will also serve as an occasion to honour fallen heroes assassinated in the struggle.
9. Unfreedom Day Rally (27 April): Led by Abahlali baseMjondolo in Durban, activists will stand in solidarity for decent houses and services. The rally will serve as an opportunity to profile people’s solutions to SA’s social and economic crisis.
10. During the month of April: We will occupy mines and smelters that the bosses want to retrench and close down. We will occupy the power stations government is winding down and we will occupy all the sites of the IPPs to demand that and end to the privatisation of energy.
11. May Day (1 May): May Day actions are planned across the country with major marches in Port Elizabeth, Bloemfontein, Rustenburg, and Mpumalanga. The entire month will see marches against companies retrenching workers.
12. Health Care for All (12 May): We will occupy health centers around the country to demand free, high quality, public health care for all.
13. Marikana Day (16 and 17 August) We will join AMCU in commemorating the 34 mineworkers brutally killed at the Lonmin mine and on 17 August mobilizing a day of action against job losses in the mining sector
Finally, we call on our structures and all the working class formations to discuss the timing of the occupation of the cities by workers and the working class residents. In this general strike workers and the poor will be mobilised to descend on our cities and stay there for days with small traders, taxi operators and truck companies currently losing their contracts at Eskom closing down highways such that nothing moves until the government and the bosses do something to meet our demands!