Tuesday, February 17, 2009



By Barry Ronge
Feb 14, 2009

Perhaps the government should think about shifting its focus from wealth creation to poverty reduction

This is going to be a somewhat meandering column, and I hope it ends up saying something coherent, but it’s about the footpaths of Joburg, and I don’t mean the purpose-built scenic paths of The Wilds or Delta Park. It’s about the vast numbers of people who must still walk to and from their workplace every day.

Just look around at almost any time of day, and you will see many people carrying a plastic bag or two, walking purposefully to or from their workplace. These are “the poorest of the poor” about the whom ANC majority drone on endlessly whenever they are looking for support, or trying introduce another tax hike under the guise of high-minded civic responsibility.

The irony is that the current turmoil in the party and, by extension, in the country, is not about poverty at all, it’s about wealth. It’s about that pernicious arms deal that was designed to put so many bags of cash into so few complicit hands. It’s about bad decisions at Eskom, which cost the country, the mines and the consumer plenty.

It’s about the even worse decisions by the former health minister, who — if she had put her money where her busy mouth was — would have created subsidies to farmers in all regions, especially the smaller subsistence farmers, to grow vast quantities of garlic, potatoes and whatever vegetable she believed would cure or prevent HIV/Aids, at low cost to high risk communities. Perhaps she didn’t because she knew it would not work.

It’s about corrupt politicians and officials who gain the cash for a luxury car, or a time share at a deluxe game lodge from property builders who want to bypass zoning laws either to build on wetlands or to build hundreds of “Noddy in Toytown” townhouses, most of them now standing empty and often only half-built, courtesy of the global recession.

The story of the ANC since it came to power has not been about adequate housing, schools, hospitals and the welfare of the poorest of the poor. It has been about wealth, about creating an exclusive, high-living BEE culture with its “black diamonds” maintaining the social structure that is not about democracy and equal access, but about being the top dog, and winning — by any means possible.

That’s why I am so touched by the walkers looking for short-cuts, using the parks like those around Emmarentia Dam, to the shrieking irritation of local residents who want to put a huge barrier fence across the park (as if South Africa needs another high fence) because of the dog-pooh and the so-called “vagrants” who are really just people who live in areas not served by a bus route, or who don’t have the money for either the bus or a taxi.

I occasionally do stop and offer a lift, but I do so with some trepidation, and they regard me with equal trepidation. Giving strangers a lift is a risky business in Jozi and so, like many other people, I usually drive past them, feeling as guilty as sin. And there isn’t really any kind of solution. Even a neighbourhood car-pool for driving local domestic workers would rapidly become more complex and pointless than a UN resolution on Zimbabwe.

But I am very aware of the walkers of the city, especially the older people and the young girls, in a country where rape figures stay high. I see them walking doggedly along the footpaths next to Braamfontein Spruit, from the early hours of the morning and then again at night, knowing that if they want to earn that salary, they have to do it all again the next day.

So every time I see a “blue-light” cavalcade arrogantly pushing everyone off the streets, I wonder if they even notice those walkers, although on the highway from Sandton to Alexandra, they are hard to miss. I also wonder what the workers beside the road think of the opulent display of power of those cavalcades.

Do they think, “There goes one of my noble leaders, who is making a better future for me and my children” or do they simply hope that they won’t be run over? I know what I think, but I won’t write it down here. I’ll write it on election day, but at the time of writing this, that date has not yet been announced. Like so many of the ANC dignitaries who think nothing of arriving hours late, the announcement of the election is running on African Time.