Johannesburg, South Africa – During its long liberation struggle, South African organisations were known by initials like ANC, PAC, AZAPO, COSATU etc. It was a well-known alphabet of activism.
In today’s South Africa, nearly 20 years after the arrival of a multi-racial democracy, there are three letters that are not as well known but central to understanding the conflicts that continue to swirl here from the recent massacre of 34 striking miners by police to almost daily protests against poor service delivery and outrage against growing corruption: PUI.
PUI stands for Poverty, Unemployment and Inequality, all social phenomena that are growing and some say worse today than when Nelson Mandela was elected South Africa’s president.
To assess the feelings of South Africans, surveyors from the Gallup Poll organisation put this question to a carefully selected sample in February and March of this year: “Now I am going to read you a lot of issues the Government of South Africa could address in the next twelve months. Please tell me which is the most important.”
The questions dealt with corruption, education, healthcare and the economy.
Fifty one per cent of the respondents put “Create New Jobs” at the top of their list.
Notes Gallup: “Currently, 28 per cent of South Africans overall say it is a good time to find a job in their community, while 69 per cent say it is a bad time. Those job opportunities that do exist are disproportionately concentrated in the cities, so that South Africans living in urban areas are almost twice as likely as those living in small towns or rural areas to say it is a good time to find a job – 40 per cent vs. 22 per cent, respectively. Correspondingly, the richest 20 per cent of South Africans are about twice as likely as the remaining 80 per cent to perceive job opportunities as good in the city or area where they live.”
“Currently, 28 per cent of South Africans overall say it is a good time to find a job in their community, while 69 per cent say it is a bad time.”
– Gallup Poll
The issue of jobs is of course a global challenge with unemployed and underemployed workers clamouring for job creation in every country. But, in South Africa, where workers fought so hard against a racial system of apartheid, many now find themselves stuck in an economic one.
An Afrikaner intellectual, Solomon Johannes (Sampie) Terreblanche is emerging as the country’s leading and hardest-hitting analyst of growing and worsening inequality and poverty that impacts as many as 50 per cent of all black South Africans.
Unlike others who are just critical of the African National Congress government, he offers a structural and global analysis showing that the political transition that took place here in the early 90s was not accompanied by a social and economic transformation.
He explains how these inequalities have their roots in a long history of colonialism, segregation and apartheid.
His new book Lost in Transformation (KMM Review Publishing) goes in to how what he calls the Mining Energy Complex (MEC) subverted the demands for fundamental reform through secret deal making behind the scenes of the negotiations for a new order.
He then ties what happened locally to the growth of an international American-driven neo-liberal global economic agenda that limited local sovereignty and policy options.
Terreblanche is a serious researcher, not a conspiracy theorist, but followers of Noam Chomsky and many critics of the economic strategies of the World Bank and the IMF will find a great deal to learn from his incisive analysis.
“The PUI problem that was bequeathed to the ANC government by the apartheid regime in 1994 was already almost unsolvable,” he writes.
“The ANC has proclaimed repeatedly that addressing the PUI problem is its highest priority. But this is true only in the rhetorical sense of the word. The policy measures implemented by the government over the past years have given strong preference to black elite formation and to promoting the interests of local and foreign corporations while it has shamelessly neglected the impoverished black majority.”
This is the deeper background to the conflicts now surfacing in this country which are far more economic than political. When you hear about more uprisings and confrontation, think PUI – and what must be done about it.
News Dissector Danny Schechter blogs at NewsDissector.net. His latest books are Occupy: Dissecting Occupy Wall Street and Blogothon (Cosimo Books). He also hosts a programme on Progressive Radio Network.