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Do we live in socio-economic unreality?

What do we want of socio-economic progress? A very broad question but in my mind it is a reality of socio-economic freedom that allows each individual the ability to be sustainable in their choice of standard of living and to be comfortable that this will be a developing circumstance towards the future generations of their families.
But what of that is evident within the structures of modern day South Africa? My question is based on the premise that each class of society is able advance themselves from the circumstances that currently typify their lives, or more easily, provide a platform to advance the lives of the generations which follow from theirs. That should be the aim of government for each generation born from its structures.

Do we live in socio-economic unreality?
But how does government achieve such a bold mandate? How does it create this reality? After all, realities can be created or formed by a perception promoted through certain frameworks that develop such a perception. This stimulus is thethe basis upon which people grow, seek education, derive an entrepreneurial spirit and eventually, maybe even hopefully, create a development potential for their children - it is a position of the mind that however cognitive, must still be created by supportive frameworks for the working class to accept that such a perception is both possible and achievable.

Such a holistic goal of socio-economic freedom is tough to promote, especially when moderate poverty levels are at 45.5% according to the Poverty Trends in South Africa released by Statistics South Africa. Severe poverty is usually closely linked to inequality for which South Africa has one of the highest ratings globally. The Gini coefficient (a measure of inequality between 0 and 1, where 0 indicates equality and 1 indicates inequality) of South Africa is 0.69 in 2011. A comment by the same report states that levels have not changed much since 2006 which noted a Gini of 0.72 - "The share of national consumption between the richest and poorest remains stubbornly stagnant. The richest 20% of the total population account for over 61% of consumption in 2011 (down from a high 64% in 2006). Meanwhile, the bottom 20% see their share remaining fairly constant at below 4.5%."

Such a limited consumption is evident of communities whose choice within society is often too restricted to make the necessary long-term decisions required of families who are to create platforms of growth for future generations. The social requirements of every income class are the same: housing, education, medical care, savings and retirement - resources which aim to establish thegenerations to follow - but access to those requirements differs greatly between the income classes - will the bottom 20% be able to provide the same growth potential for their children as the upper 20%? Due this limited ability to consume, poverty affected individuals must eventually forego some resource to sustain others and ultimately, to provide some form of housing and medical care for their families, education for their children and retirement for themselves, this inevitably leaves them in an economic position where savings are more of a hope rather than a reality. In a developing world, parents need to save and without it, children have no platform to change their reality if their own enthusiasm cannot carry them from their poverty affected conditions.

Does the current framework create the desired perception? Do we live in socio-economic unreality where we hope that society can sustain a desired level of growth but the framework only allows the very fortunate to achieve that growth? I believe this is the reality South Africa has established - we are hoping society grows as our potential allows but the structures we are promoting show a contrast.

In my opinion, South Africa will only develop through new industries and new ideas that create entrepreneurs and develop these ventures into sustainable growth platforms for allfamilies and economies. This means entrepreneurs from all walks of life and all income classes need to be stimulated to achieving their ideas - especially in low-income communities as this represents an opportunity for their passion to exceed barriers to education and finance that would have restricted them otherwise.

But before we get all idealistic, let's illustrate what may affect your perception: one teenager from moderate poverty, Lunga, and another from an affluent position, Michael - both born in 1996 and both hope to be economically secure enough to provide growth platforms for their children through entrepreneurship.Lungalives in Khayelitsha and wishes to start an IT company because of his fascination with computers and his love of mathematics. Michael, who lives in Claremont, hopes to be an advertising consultant because of his love of English and an internship he completed at an advertising agency when he was in grade 11. Lunga must leave home at 4am to walk to school or if he is lucky his mother has the money for a taxi which allows him to leave an hour later. Often he does not have breakfast because this they cannot afford. If he is sick, he has to wait until the weekend to see a doctor at a day-hospital which may take about six hours because of queues. His only access to the internet is at the beginning of each month when his mother pays for him to use internet café facilities, other than that, his only method of finding job and scholar opportunities is via the newspaper. Michael on the other hand is dropped off at school each morning by his parents with a packed lunch after having eaten breakfast at home. He has full access to the internet on his own laptop. Should he get sick, his parents have full medical aid to cover the expense and a visit to the doctor is non-negotiable since his parents are extremely diligent with that sort of thing.

Often Lunga must make up for economic limitations with a passion to succeed - how far will this passion take him; far enough to exceed his social challenges? Poverty is humbling symptom of the South Africa's past and it will always represent that until government and civil society decide to treat the solution and not the result. Deepak Chopra says that the medical profession sees disease as the deciding moment for treatment however the industry should rather see prevention and cure as a cause for action. The same can be said of socio-economic policy. Because Lunga lives in poverty, his limitationsare treated only for the disease caused by social challengesand no thought is given to a cure. Michael's family however have the finances to prevent economic difficulty in terms of being able to save for a good education, provide him with some start-up capital for his business and purchase a few luxuries that may ease his success in life such as a car and a laptop. Michael is in a fortunate position, as he should be, but Lunga has restrictions placed on him; restrictions out of his control - these government treats as a disease and instead of finding a cure towards prevention, they find a short-term remedy. But Lunga's problems do not disappear in the long-term - a social grant only goes so far - later they manifest as limitations to the cure itself.

Unfortunately, in a capitalist environment, the poverty affected are seen as a disease on the country's growth that must be remedied in the short-term whereas a more pluralistic approach will see them as a reason to find a cure to the restrictedstructures from which poverty is born. We need to treat for a cure and not for a disease as a shift in these perceptions will change the way policy is created and implemented.

In South Africa, the poverty affected make up the majority of the population which is the reason why structures should allow them to develop and inevitably, the country will equally develop but because their consumption is only 4.5%, a cure for their circumstance is not seen as a priority and therefore treatment is more reactive rather than proactive.

Reality is what we perceive it to be and we need to alter these unproductive perceptions otherwise the advancement of society is merely a socio-economic unreality rather than an achievable goal.

17 Nov 2014 14:30


About David Oliphant