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By Mbangwa Xaba

It’s time for the poor to rise up and fight for justice. Our country’s obstinate racial inequality has left the realms of unacceptability. It has now found new glory as a cynosure for the bigoted and maladroit.
Last month, timid murmurs here and there greeted Helen Zille’s racist tirade that could make a sewer rat sick in the stomach. She bragged about how “better” the DA-run’s poor were in the Western Cape.
“To be poor in Langa in Cape Town is a hundred, probably a thousand times better than to be poor in many of the townships in the rest of the country,” the chauvinistic politician beamed.
Repulsing as her comment is, she is unfortunately expressing publicly what others do daily without a flinch. This includes those in the leadership of the democratic government; the people whose sole purpose in the corridors of power is to champion the course of the poor. Not only have they shoved this responsibility to the bottom pile of their to-do list, they show off to the poor in a very cruel manner. Crass conspicuous consumption in the face of untold poverty underscores the arrogance, aloofness and utter indifference by those in power towards the poor. Take the events of May 1 for example. To celebrate Workers’ Day, Cosatu hosted its May Day Rally in Rustenburg and invited President Cyril Ramaphosa to address the event.

These workers were on a strike similar to the one staged a decade ago. In August 2012, police mowed down 34 mineworkers at Marikana. Ramaphosa, a then shareholder in that mine was alleged to have had a hand in that mass killing. Never mind that he was cleared of any wrongdoing by a commission of inquiry, to invite him to address such furious workers, [with that background was beyond insensitive] it was just an open display of disdain. To add salt to injury, these workers are demanding a mere R1000 salary increase, but the intransigent employer, Sibanye-Stillwater, wouldn’t budge. Instead, the company found it much easier to dish out an astronomical R300 million pay check to CEO, Neal Froneman.
This company produces the bulk of about 80% of the world’s platinum that this country exports. A large percentage of it is used in catalytic converters for the superrich nations to reduce petrol-driven vehicles in their countries to mitigate carbon emissions. Contrast that with the fact that Rustenburg is home to some of the country’s poorest people. Close to 40% of them live below poverty line. Ramaphosa’s hindsight public relations statement notwithstanding, the president’s behaviour, together with that of Cosatu leadership and Sibanye-Stillwater, mirrors Zille’s repugnant utterances to the tilt.
It is even more worrying in the case of President Ramaphosa. Without taking anything away from the successful billionaire businessman, his penchant for flaunting wealth through purchases of exotic animals worth millions of rands and ultra-luxurious homes, in a country faced with a sea of poverty is morally abhorrent.

He is basically bragging to the poor much the same way as any other Skhothane would. Actually, the president’s behaviour tends to touch a raw nerve where the poor and the homeless are concerned. As Zille brags about Cape Town’s poor, that city has earned global notoriety as a place where to be poor and homeless is a criminal offence. Yet, it is here, where the president is reportedly a proud owner of a massive private home on two plots of prime land that he bought for R30 million. It dwarfs Zuma’s Nkandla by miles. All this while close to 13% of the 59 million people he leads are poor, homeless and live in slums. For palatability, the government they have voted into power calls it “informal settlements”.
In 1994 we were told that homelessness was an ugly past that this government will not tolerate and will eradicate. When he took over the reins of government, Nelson Mandela declared housing for all an “unbreakable promise.” It is this undertaking that gave birth to the rapid construction of tiny houses built in the first decade of democracy under the government’s broad policy of Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP). Hence the nickname “RDP houses,” for the low-income houses. Although the Department of Human Settlements reports that the government has built just over 3 million low-cost houses over the years, there is still a huge backlog thought to run into millions more. On average, it is estimated that some 12 million people are in dire need of houses. Some of these people currently live in sub-standard dwellings in the established townships, but many are in the country’s ever growing informal settlements. It is reckoned that South Africa has about 2 700 such slums for now. In Helen Zille’s ‘flourishing’ Cape Town, the homeless poor are marginalised and kicked out of the streets as nuisance. Cape Town has become a property Mecca for the rich and powerful. The likes of President Ramaphosa and other wealthy foreign nationals. To achieve this status, the Western Cape has steadily, but surely, cultivated an exclusive property oligarchs of mostly white men. The group has appropriated the entire construction industry including the low-cost housing with the advent of the Megacities concept. Worse still, the president is seen as cosying up to these oligarchs. A furore erupted in 2020 when the he launched the Mooikloof Megacity development by Baldwin Properties in what was described as a ‘condescending’ handshake by that company’s CEO Steven Volker to the president. This project alone is valued at a whopping R84 billion and is one of the 62 Strategic Integrated Projects (SIPs).

Through the financial institutions, these oligarchs have succeeded in taking over most of the country’s low- and middle-income housing market using the Finance Linked Individual Subsidy Programme (FLISP).
The white supremacy in charge of financial institutions has suffocated black emerging constructors out of business. Most of the black owned construction company’s projects are incomplete or abandoned due to denial of access to funding. Some have resorted to selling their appointment letters.
Perhaps the time has arrived for the poor to end this madness. It is time the people rose and demanded their dignity as equal citizens. Nelson Mandela was spot on when he said; “like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.” The people must unite, in their economic forums and other community-based organisations to demand justice. For starters, let the people build their own houses and benefit economically from these projects. They cannot be treated like thugs and referred to as ‘construction mafias’ by the real criminals in posh offices. It is time our society confronted the legacy of apartheid and replaced it with moral uprightness. We must confront this adversity with moral aptitude and fearlessness. It is clear that the current status quo has no interest in the developmental agenda or redress of our oppressive and painful past. Government must, as a matter of urgency, find ways to unlock the provision of housing in a manner that will produce property development entrepreneurs out of the black poor. It must be done on a much larger scale – not only to deliver houses but to unlock the economic spins offs that come with it.
The people must find much more rigorous ways to hold government accountable and demand justice. Because, like Mandela said, “overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice.”

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