Sentletse Diakanyo: Has democracy led to economic prosperity?
It has been 20 years since South African achieved democracy. It is a significant political milestone. We have enjoyed a stable and peaceful democracy. But upon reflection, what is it in reality that we have achieved over the last 20 years? How has the nation progressed and developed from oppressive system that favoured social and economic advancement of minority whites? Have we even progressed and developed at all?
The ANC government has over time delivered a number of basic services to the people, however lousy at times. Many more children have access to education, in spite of its poor quality. The social security net has been expanded to include over 15 million poor people. There have been significant improvements in infrastructure, though contained to particular areas, while others are neglected and left to deteriorate without sustained maintenance. The ANC gloats during every election at how wonderfully it has done to improve the lives of poor South Africans in the last 20 years.
In truth, not much has changed in the last 20 years since the ANC took power. The majority of South Africans remain poor, without jobs or access to both quality education and primary healthcare. The percentage of South Africans living in poverty has decreased from 40% to 31% since 1994. To the ANC this is social progress, but to the poor this is meaningless.
We have, in fact, seen an increase in the actual total number of poor people in the last 20 years. In 1994, we had 15 million people living in poverty and that number now is about 16 million. The unemployment rate since 1994 has increased from 20% to 25% despite various economic interventions. The economic conditions of the significant majority of our people remain vile and have not changed for the better.
The economy had grown at impressive rates for the better part of the last two decades until the global economic recession caused major disruptions. However, given the nature of how our economy is structured, such sustained growth only served to benefit the white minority who remain in its command. The impressive JSE growth did not in any way translate into improved social and economic conditions of the African majority. The Goldman Sachs report reveals that a considerable number of whites are middle and upper class, while a negligible number are poor. The last two decades of democracy have primarily benefited this small section of society.
The ANC, in its National Development Plan, promises to reduce unemployment to 6% by 2030. Laughable. They aim to deliver on this empty promise within 16 years when they have failed to decrease the unemployment rate and significantly reduce poverty in the last 20 years of economic boom. The ANC manifesto for 2014 is a laundry list of unimaginative ideas to drive economic growth, reduce unemployment and eradicate poverty. The same ideas that have failed in the last 20 years cannot be expected to miraculously succeed in the next 16 years and change the lives of South Africans for the better. The ANC election manifesto promises radical economic transformation of the economy. There is nothing radical in the manifesto besides the repetition of the same tired measures.
The structure of the South African economy will only change through radical and unpopular measures that are intended to benefit the majority of people, not a handful of individuals who continue to generate obscene wealth on the backs of the poor. Radical economic reforms are necessitated by history and skewed allocation of resources and patterns of economic wealth. The control of our natural resources and strategic sectors of the economy by the state for equitable redistribution and creation of wealth is vital. Innovation, rapid industrialisation and skills growth should be the core focus to achieve transformation and modernisation of the economy and prosperity of all our people.
Key to this intended success of the economic emancipation of our people is immediate dismantling of historic barriers of entry to the mainstream economy. Radical economic reforms aimed at driving sustainable growth, harmonious development and exploitation of our natural resources for our own common prosperity should not be negotiable. South Africa must pursue a radical economic agenda now or face a future prospect of lagging behind the rest of the emerging economies which already speeding ahead.
We should not delude ourselves by meaningless political gains of the last 20 years of democracy. Economic prosperity should be the common pursuit of our nation, by any means necessary.
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