Many South Africans are seriously concerned about the future, with good reason.   We have failed  dismally to come to grips with the most pressing issues.   Inequality, unemployment and the rights of the poor can no longer be ignored and something has to be done urgently.

“The mainstream — that is the ANC, the unions and organised business — is unable to offer a halfway descent counterattack, partly because they talk little, if at all, about inequality.   Although the diagnostic reports are a rare and welcome departure, they are woefully inadequate.   And they will have been a waste of time unless they are fleshed out into tangible deliverables, and popular support is mobilised, all as a matter of urgency.   Otherwise we are headed down Malema’s path because he is the only one who is asking this question: ‘What is reckless about calling for changing property relations to favour the working class and the poor?’”

Caroline Southey, a former editor of Financial Mail, has written a most thought-provoking and important article first published today in Business Day – Planning: Malema may be the voice of reason rather than rhetoric.

Here are some extracts but the entire article should be viewed or downloaded or go to  Business Day.

Strange bedfellows

A group of erudite intellectuals and a rabble-rousing politician with coruscating political ambition may, on the face of it, make strange bedfellows, but there is a great deal in common between the diagnostic reports delivered by Trevor Manuel ’s National Planning Commission and Julius Malema’s closing speech at the recent African National Congress (ANC) Youth League conference.

Stripped bare — the reports of their academic elegance and the speech of its bombast — both home in on the fact that race-based inequality threatens to push the economy and, indeed, the entire society over the precipice.   Manuel and Malema are giving us the same message.

Ugly statistics

The statistics are ugly.   Only every other South African works (41%), compared with 66% in comparable economies such as Brazil and Malaysia.   Fewer than half of those are formally employed and can produce a payslip.   The rest work in the informal sector, mostly “self-employed”.   The only countries doing worse are in the Middle East, where women are largely excluded from the workforce.

Since the first democratic elections in 1994, the average monthly income for the poorest 10% of the population has increased from R783 to R1041 while for the richest 10% it has risen from R71055 a month to R97899.   That’s a ratio of 94:1.

It is young black people who bear the brunt of this.   About two-thirds of all unemployed people are below 35.   About 65% of black youth are unemployed.   The proportion of school-leavers able to get a job has fallen from 50% in 2001 to less than 30%.

Diagnostic reports

Although the reports contain nothing startlingly new, they are refreshingly free of rhetoric and political posturing.   They hold a depressingly accurate mirror up to a country that has yet to deal with its legacy .

The question is, who will win the battle for bandwidth in the circles that matter, the National Planning Commission or the ANC Youth League?

Voice of all people

As the man who presents himself as wearing the mantle of the poor, he has taken on their cause and is, rhetorically at least, representing their interests.   He believes the ANC Youth League “should be the voice of the petrol attendants, waiters and waitresses, and tellers in retail chain stores because they do not have a voice….   We should be the voice of all people in informal settlements and underdeveloped areas.”