By Zwelinzima Vavi

We are living in a nightmare of our dreams!

We had liberatory dreams during the apartheid nightmare. Today, to say things are falling apart, is an understatement. We are on a march toward a failed state, but thankfully, we have not yet arrived.

Our institutions, the masses of our people and their organisations, are resilient in the face of a drive by the predatory class – unethical politicians, many senior bureaucrats and most leading capitalists – to take us all the way to state failure.

The signs are everywhere. Law and order are missing. What used to be a crime yesterday is not taken seriously today. Large parts of society are succumbing to the ethos of a new society whose norm is the survival of the fittest.

In this society, no one reports petty crime anymore. Stealing of cellphones, house break-ins, robbery in the trains and taxis and assault are no longer news.

Most women are no longer reporting rape cases. They are wounded inside and suffer. After all, there is only a 11% chance of conviction for rape perpetrators.

Overall, only 48% of people committing crime are ever arrested. Of these, only 15% will be convicted.

Our criminal justice system not only sidelines the marginalised, but fails them on a daily basis. Only those with millions in their bank accounts can exercise the rights to justice promised by the Constitution.

This has driven not just apathy on the part of the victims of crime, it also drives impunity on the part of the lumpen elements who graduate from petty crime to hard-core criminals.

The gruesome nature of our crimes includes the chopping of women’s bodies and stuffing them in suitcases and refrigerators confirms that our society is under siege, at a mental level.

We are losing our youth to the rising tide of hopelessness. There is a drug pandemic, as more youngsters find nyaope as an escape route from boredom.

Teachers face a burden of broken families and a broken society. The levels of stress among teachers, police officials, correctional services officials and healthcare workers has itself become a ticking time bomb.

Our educational system faces both a quantity and quality crisis. According to the NIDS-CRAM study, about 750,000 pupils dropped out of basic education in the 12 months starting from June 2020. This number triples the number of dropouts under normal conditions, which is estimated at 230,000 per year.

It is estimated that 40% of all the pupils who enter the basic education system do not complete matric. Of the 60% that remain in the system, only 76% of them passed matric in 2020. Less than three out of 10 of black kids who pass matric attend tertiary education.

The rising number of those pupils who drop out and those prospective students who are financially excluded from tertiary education, is induced by so-called fiscal consolidation, which is nothing but an austerity programme.

The school drop-outs and exclusions in higher education have led to a dramatic increase of young people who have the status known as Not in any form of Employment, Education and Training (NEET), which increased to 8,8 million in the second quarter of 2021.

Our kids cannot compete with the rest of the world when it comes to mathematics and reading with understanding, regularly ranking at the bottom of global proficiency scores, notwithstanding the politicians’ attempt to attract the Industrial Revolution’ investment that further exacerbates inequality

Electricity is disconnected not only nationally but especially in townships and poor municipal and district councils as Eskom engages in a despicable punishment in the form of load-shedding and load-reduction.

The political class has lost the confidence of our people, as reflected in the elections where the clear winner was apathy and disgust. The most popular slogan has become, “we are on our own”.

The political and economic elites enjoy their chauffeur-driven limos, some blaring sirens and blue lights on the highways. The only time the political elite visit the masses is when they are canvassing for votes. The social gap between the elected and the voters is wider than any other time in living memory.

Our country now holds several infamous titles.

We have become the most unequal society on earth with 10% of the population owning 90% of the wealth. Oxfam International reported in 2020 that it would take less than 23 hours for an average CEO to earn what an average worker earns during the whole year. Based on the highest-paid CEO in mining in 2020, it would take an average mine worker earning R8,000 per month about 781 years to earn what the CEO earned in 2020.

We have the worst youth unemployment in the world. Unemployment among the youth aged between 15 and 24 is 74%, and 54% of those aged between 25 and 34.

We have the worst levels of unemployment among industrialised economies. The latest quarterly labour force survey, an official measure of (un)employment across the formal and informal sector of the economy, has recorded an expanded unemployment rate of over 44%.

This is nearly 12 million of the working age group that cannot find employment, including those who have given up looking for work.

Black people constitute 89% of all the unemployed people, including the discouraged job-seekers, at about 10,7 million.

In terms of gender, women make up the majority of the unemployed at 6,1 million. The current levels of poverty in society also make us one of the worst places in the world for the majority. Two thirds of our people live on less than the upper bound poverty level of R50 a day or a mere R1,500 a month.

The levels of corruption in society, particularly in the capitalist class, are so high that every two years the PwC’s Economic Crime report considers our corporates to be the most corrupt in the world, and in 2020 tied second with China, followed by India.

Our country has become so corrupt and violent to a point where whistle-blowers are scared, justifiably so, after the gruesome murder of the courageous Gauteng health official Babita Deokaran.

Our government refuses to change the structures of a neo-colonial economy that reproduces unemployment, poverty and inequality. We heavily rely on the predatory extractive industries and finance, sectors that are the major winners under neoliberalism.

We retain a corporate elite whose main activity is extraction of the mineral wealth, sent out to former colonial masters and their new middlemen in East Asia.

We are exporting job opportunities to these countries, while our manufacturing base that once contributed 22% to the GDP, is now down to 12%.

Government has cut social expenditure on public goods and services, while cutting corporate taxes and paying illegitimate debt to international banks who have financed fraud, whether of Medupi and Kusile (led by the World Bank and China Development Bank), or the corruption-riddled fiscal stimulus (led by the IMF and BRICS Bank).

It has become a norm to hear the rural folk declaring that the days under apartheid were better. They bemoan how “things were better under apartheid and its Bantustans – at least there were jobs.” Of course, such a statement is simply not true; things were not better under apartheid; our very dignity as full human beings was missing.

To alleviate the socio-economic crises and prevent a domino effect that leaves the system further in tatters, the government must intervene. Crime and violence arise out of the socio-political, cultural, educational and economic foundations of capitalism.

But the government’s insistence on amplifying the neoliberal macro-economic framework through new rounds of austerity and new increases in the interest rate, is an impediment to solving our crises.

The state is failing to make available the necessary social spending to equip schools to reverse the overwhelming level of learner drop-outs, and make free higher education available.

The state refuses to expand the economy through a genuine stimulus package – e.g., starting with a new Basic Income Grant – in order to create more employment through demand-led economic growth.

In the current trajectory of neoliberal austerity, SA is on its way to becoming a failed state. The July riots demonstrated this, not only because the poor utilised the opportunity to loot from stores, but also because the police were overwhelmed to the point where they could not contain the riots; they were outnumbered because austerity measures.

Treasury imposed more extreme austerity on 11 November. The Reserve Bank’s interest rate is under rising pressure, even though the share of our 26 million official borrowers who are suffering a ‘distressed’ credit rating – not repaying their loans the last three months – has risen again, to more than 10 million.

The neoliberals running these critical agencies must change course – or they and the Presidency will once again be blamed for causing such extreme suffering. We are sitting on a powder keg and society will again explode.

Zwelinzima Vavi is the General Secretary of the South Africa Federation of Trade Unions (Saftu)

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