Preceding the hard lockdown, millions of South Africans were living below the food poverty level. The hard lockdown resulted in a surge in reported cases of hunger. It is currently estimated that more than 15 million South Africans go to bed hungry each week, and 2.5 million adults as well as 600 000 children experience hunger almost daily.
In terms of income inequality, South Africa’s Gini coefficient is 0.65. The level of wealth inequality (0.86) is even more skewed. At the very top, the wealthiest 3 500 people (0.01% of the adult population) own more wealth than the most impoverished 32 million people.
Inequality mirrors patterns of unemployment. Already a massive crisis before the pandemic, the level of joblessness has deepened. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, approximately 1.4 million jobs were lost and the number of people recorded as unemployed in terms of the expanded definition has grown to more than 12 million people, 46.6% of the labour force. This is the highest level on record since the introduction of the quarterly labour force survey in 2008, and a loss of more than 2 million jobs since 2017.
In reality, the number of unemployed may be closer to 13 million people, considering many home-makers and discouraged work seekers are classified as not economically active and therefore fall out of the labour force, even though a large share of these people would readily accept work if on offer.
The burden of unemployment falls disproportionately on black working-class youth (74%) and black working-class women (approximately 50%), compared to the national average (expanded definition) which is 46%. It is this virus of unemployment which undermines the social fabric and contributes to increased levels of crime, violence, xenophobia and other social tensions.
Two years ago, the Cry of the Xcluded came together at the Real Jobs Summit in order to make our voices heard. We showed that we will not be silent when this country and its rulers continue to exclude us, exploit us, and ignore us. We discussed the crises we faced, and came up with our own solutions.
Two years ago we said that our society was at the point of no return. Now, as the Xcluded come together again in the shadow of a pandemic, we can say that we were right. Unemployment grows closer and closer to 50%, our clinics are closed, our taps are dry, our pots are empty. The crises facing us are so severe that we can no longer speak of returning to anything; our only hope is to build towards something new.
We will have to do this ourselves. Over the past two years, our ruling elite have proved again and again that they are not interested in doing anything except making empty promises to the working class while bending over backwards for corporations and the vultures of international capital. But the Xcluded cannot be put to sleep with bedtime stories about ice cream sellers who saved up R350. We have discussed our reality, analysed our problems, and now we must make the real state of the nation clear.
Today, roughly 47% of South Africans are unemployed, making South Africa the country with the worst unemployment in the world. This is a ticking time bomb, a crisis that ought to be a national priority. But despite the government’s promises of millions of jobs, none have materialised. When the government does boast of jobs created, they speak only of internships or temporary jobs.
Instead, the past year’s national budgets have warned us of a jobs bloodbath coming in the public service – at least 70 000 jobs over the next two years. Action has to be taken in order to not only ensure that our right to work is respected, but also in the short term to allow the unemployed to survive and participate in the economy.
Today, the vast majority of people still lack access to their birthright – land which they can work and develop to improve their own lives. This includes land for housing, economic activities, leisure, and coastal as well as common land. For land that has been redistributed, there is poor support available to support the use of this land, and often commercial farmers are favoured at the expense of small producers. Traditional policies on land continue to promote patriarchy, and women are still denied access to land in many rural communities. Traditional leaders are involved with multinational corporations and empowered by laws like the TKLA, giving them power over land against the wishes of communities. As economic conditions worsen, the lack of access to land traps people in the cities, where there are no opportunities to make a decent living. This frustration and desperation boils over, leading to a number of other social problems. Despite all of this, land issues such as the constitutional amendment allowing for expropriation without compensation continue to be sidelined by the government.
3. Afrophobia and Violence
Jobs, land, services and other resources are becoming more and more scarce, creating a breeding ground for violence and xenophobia or more accurately, afrophobia. Budget cuts have led to afrophobia in their own way, both through making the poor and unemployed more desperate, and through creating backlogs in key areas such as home affairs, ensuring that many potential immigrants remain without documentation. Political opportunists have gladly jumped on this issue in order to get support, saying that other African people are the cause of the problems of unemployment and crime that South Africans are faced with. This is nothing but a form of divide and rule, in order to get the African working class to turn on itself.
4. The State of Municipalities
Most municipalities in this country are either collapsing, or have already collapsed. Potholes are in every road, sewage spills on every corner, and leaders are nowhere to be seen. Municipalities have been pushed to this point not only by corruption, but also by the continued cuts to local government budgets. The idea that municipalities should make their money from taxes and tariffs is a fantasy; the full cost recovery model only leads to impossible burdens placed on poor communities. Outsourcing, nepotism, and the tender system continue to waste the little money municipalities do have, while also opening up the door to public-private corruption. The system of tenders has made politicians into businessmen – a method of minority accumulation that stands in the way of true black economic empowerment.
5. The Health Crisis
The cruel combination of Covid-19 combined with budget cuts has dealt a huge blow to our public health system. There are huge shortages of staff across the country, and especially in the Eastern Cape. The staff that are there are stretched thin, or employed on a precarious basis by labour brokers as casual workers. Many areas do not have enough clinics, and in some areas clinics are being closed down. Throughout the pandemic, the past progress made in addressing HIV/AIDS and TB has been rolled back in many areas, and treatment is often not available. As if this is not enough, we see the continuation of health apartheid in this country: 5 star health for the elites and derelict health services for the majority.
6. Gender Based Violence and Patriarchy
Gender based violence and patriarchy is built into our society, but this problem is not taken seriously by the government. The government’s brutal Covid measures combined with a lack of meaningful social support has forced many women into dangerous positions and intensified the crisis of gender based violence today. Further, the overall collapse of public services is especially felt by women, who are expected to perform the unpaid work of social reproduction and therefore often rely on public services and support.
7. Continued Extractivism and Climate Change
Climate change is now no longer a future threat – it is already here. We have experienced unprecedented droughts, floods, and unusual weather. Many towns are already out of water, and we are at risk of more intense climate change in the years to come. At the same time, the government has continued to roll out the red carpet for companies who are looking to extract our minerals, oil, and gas, while leaving us with long lasting environmental damage. As compensation, we get to pick over the scraps of our natural mineral wealth.
We Demand Progressive Alternatives!
To bring on austerity measures and budget cuts in this context is unthinkable – but this is exactly what the government plans to do. The Treasury is dead set on cutting spending across government, claiming that they have no other option.
Another year of budget cuts could be the final nail in the coffin for the public services we rely on. We have come out of the pandemic with our health system hanging on by a thread. How many more clinics will have to close for the ruling elite to be satisfied? Our municipalities have already started collapsing – what will they look like after another year of budget cuts?
No, the past two years have proved beyond doubt that we cannot continue like this. We therefore reject any and all austerity measures put forward by this government. The Xcluded have come together to develop our own solutions, and it is now time that we are listened to.
- We call for urgent solutions to the unemployment crisis: A basic income grant, and the right to work. The unemployment crisis in this country has to be dealt with urgently. In the short term, a basic income grant of R1500 per month is a minimum demand for the survival of the unemployed and precarious workers. In the long term, the Right to Work must be respected through the creation of decent jobs, through building local industry, the insourcing of all public sector services, the creation of climate jobs as well as government-supported community-based initiatives like food gardens and renovations to public facilities such as schools and hospitals. As unemployment edges close to 50%, the state must step in as the employer of last resort.
- We call for the public sector to be rebuilt along democratic and feminist lines. We completely reject the privatisation and commodification of former public services. Instead, we call for a revival of a broad democratic public sector, one that is up to the task of dealing with the crises our people face. This starts at a local level: More resources have to be allocated to municipal budgets by the national government, and municipal services must be insourced as much as possible. The commodification of municipal services through the full cost recovery model must be abandoned, as these services ought to be a public good and accessible to all. Communities must be actively involved in the rebuilding of municipalities, and thoroughly consulted in any decisions. Vacant posts in municipalities, healthcare, education, and other key parts of the public sector have to be filled. Special attention needs to be given to those services vital for the wellbeing and support of women and youth in this country.
The healthcare sector must be rebuilt and the two-tier system ended. We need a unified health system, so that that all South Africans can have access to quality healthcare without discrimination based on gender, age, race, HIV status, or income. Beyond the filling of key vacant posts, we also call for the professionalisation of our community healthcare workers.
- We demand an inclusive feminist budget from government. A feminist approach to the use of our country’s resources is essential for putting an end to the scourge of gender based violence. Gender based violence must be declared a national emergency, so that emergency resources can be allocated to institutions that protect the victims of a violent and patriarchal society. Feminist budgeting should be applied to national departments, prioritising the provision of public goods such as housing, clean water, and safe public transport, and extending to civic education programmes beginning with the youth and especially with men.
- We call for economic restructuring and land reform. The exploitative and alienating economic structure of this country is a ticking time bomb. It has torn the social fabric apart and led to violence, crime, Afrophobia, and especially gender based violence. In order to undo this, we must end our reliance on destructive extractivism and foreign investment, and instead build towards a democratic low carbon reindustrialisation of the economy.
The land question must be dealt with through the redistribution and socialisation of land, in order to decommodify what should be a public good. Expropriation without compensation is long overdue. Finally, the traditional leadership legislation undermining the rights of communities to say no to mining activities on their land must be interrogated.
- We call for an end to austerity. We will not entertain the idea that our demands are unreasonable and that there is no alternative to austerity. South Africa is a rich country, and it has been proved over and over that the resources for our demands are there. This year alone, there will be R200bn more in tax revenues from the booming mining companies, even without any tax increases. Adequately resourcing and filling the thousands of vacancies at institutions like SARS and the Hawks will also help us reclaim the hundreds of billions of rand lost to both public and private sector corruption. This includes the R400bn estimated to be lost through cross-border corporate profit shifting and illicit financial flows.
If the most unequal country in the world would find the courage to tax the rich, then billions more could be freed up to build the nation. For example, a wealth tax on South Africa’s top 1% would almost pay for a basic income grant alone, while still leaving their fortunes intact. Reversing the tax cuts given to high earners in the 2000s would be another redistributive measure. There are countless other ways in which we can pay for our demands and avoid austerity; they simply require the courage needed to go against the interest of our ruling elite.
Finally, we call for mass mobilisation and political education. As the unemployed, precarious workers and the working class, all those who are Xcluded, we must unite ourselves if we are to make our demands heard and change the disastrous course this government has put us on. We need to develop a mass mobilisation and education programme that builds popular political consciousness while addressing the destructive tendencies of patriarchy and xenophobia. Trade unions must begin to organise foreign workers to end harmful wage competition, building solidarity with all exploited South Africans. Our people need to be educated about climate change and its causes. And if the government will continue to fail our communities, then we will need to organise amongst ourselves in order to take care of each other.
This declaration has been issued on behalf of the Cry of the Xcluded. The Cry of the Xcluded was launched by South African Federation of Trade Unions (SAFTU), the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) and the Assembly of the Unemployed (AoU) on 12 February 2020 to unite the working class – employed and unemployed – in the struggle for jobs, services, and dignity.