Today's blog post will be aggressive and detailed, but I think it's very important in terms of understanding the world view from which I write. So for this once, I will stash away my snide comments and sarcasm, and address the issue of economic disparity with the seriousness it deserves.
I've always believed that the most important function of a state is to look after the best interests of its people. To ensure that human rights are always respected, that service delivery is fast and efficient and that society is generally safe and pleasant. Economic growth, foreign direct investments and the like are only the means to this end. It really saddens me when state becomes a business, prioritising wealth over the well-being of its people. Natural and obvious consequences of this the growing divide between the haves and the have-nots. The benefit of our great natural resources are benefiting South Africans in a very superficial way: some of people get to work in very dangerous conditions under the guise of "job creation", and some privileged elite get to see their names on the list of board of directors. Other than that, we do not benefit in any meaningful way, since the vast profits all go offshore.
I will quote liberally from an article on the subject of whether or not our social and economic rights under the United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (like your right to access to medical care, a decent standard of living, proper housing, etc.) will ever get the wings they need to be realised in our country.
Firstly, let us acknowledge the effect of corruption:
According to the
Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution, corruption costs
South Africans about 20% of the Gross Domestic Product of the country14.
South Africa’s nominal GDP estimate for the year 2010 was R2,7 trillion15.
This figure is truly frightening in the face of all the problems that require
urgent redress according to the NDP. In fact, since the formation of the first
democratically elected government, only a very small percentage of the
previously disadvantaged have prospered from the opportunities that were
unleashed. Unfortunately, these few have either been the exception to the rule;
or more commonly, they have been politically connected or the beneficiaries of
nepotism16. The domestic term coined for this group is the “Black
Further, it has
been found that 42% of executive public officials are in positions of potential
conflict of interest18. Tenders for public contracts are regularly
granted through unethical means19; the news of recent scandals
involving alleged corruption of officials being is now met with depressing
familiarity. For example, in relation to the right to an “adequate standard of
living” including “clothing and housing” as outlined in Article 11 of the
ICESCR, 1 910 public officials were arrested and R44 million was recovered
after an audit task team found these officials to be benefitting fraudulently
from housing subsidies20. There are many other such cases of
corruption contributing directly or indirectly to the contravention of the
socio-economic rights as outlined in the ICESCR21,22,23.
corruption is therefore a major obstacle to the realisation of full socio-economic
rights for all citizens. As Patricia Carrier notes: “Corruption impedes a
state’s ability to use its available resources to progressively achieve the
full realization of [socio-economic] rights because national resources are
instead diverted into the pockets of public officials, or because development
aid is mismanaged, misused or misappropriated”24, 25.
So that's a brief on corruption, but this is definitely not the only thing stopping us achieving what we deserve. Big multinational corporations also present an issue in terms of intellectual property protection, putting protection of their money before protection of human life:
companies may hold the right to financially benefit from their innovation in
developing life-saving medicines, but the price of these medicines set by the
companies may make them unavailable to people that require them and who also
hold the right to those life-saving medicines29. This inherent conflict within these articles,
and subsequently with international instruments derived from them30,(refering to international "copyright"rules)
make the proper implementation of these rights problematic. One could even go
so far as to argue that the conflict within the document itself makes it a
barrier to its own implementation, because there exists an element of mutual
exclusivity between the rights contained in it.
So big companies exploit the fact that they too have rights, even if those rights clash directly with my rights and your rights. Then there's the way the world treats poor or developing countries:
Perhaps the most
daunting barrier to the realisation of the socio-economic rights guaranteed in
the ICESCR is the global economy that is in place. Rajesh Makwana, in the
introduction to his article advocating the decommissioning of the International
Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB), remarks: “Within the competitive
global framework, developing countries are left with little choice other than
to comply with the neoliberal agenda. As a result of these countries are often
left with crippling debt and a fragile economy. Meanwhile foreign investors and
multinational corporations gain control of a significant portion of the world’s
resources, finance, services, technology and knowledge. Whilst these
multinationals report record profits, around 50 000 people die each day
This is the modus operandi of the IMF
and World Bank; institutions that have been specifically set up to preserve the
economic stability of the countries affected by World War II,
countries that are now overwhelmingly considered developed countries.
For an underdeveloped or developing state to acquire funding from the IMF, the
IMF insists on some economic reforms, typically to make these economies more
conducive to Keynesian free market dynamics.
These structural adjustments, known as Structural Adjustment Programs (SAP),
typically include measures like reducing social spending, government budgets,
programs and subsidies for basic goods, eliminating foreign ownership
restrictions, increasing interest rates, eliminating import tariffs, and
switching from subsistence farming to export economies.
These have devastating effects on the state’s ability to provide elementary
socio-economic rights, since the state’s power to protect the rights of its
constituency is diminished by the preconditions of the loan. South Africa has
long been indebted to the IMF, and this includes an estimated
Apartheid-incurred debt of US$18 billion.
No formal SAP was enforced on South Africa post-Apartheid, but this was largely
because of voluntary anticipatory policy adjustments,
possibly for appeasement of the money-lenders and investors. These appeasement
policies were mainly attributed to the then Minister of Finance, Trevor Manuel,
and his apparent friendliness to the policies and philosophies of the private
sector earned him a reputation for representing the interests of business over
that of the working class.
As long as the
fate of South Africa’s economy is effectively controlled by private domestic and
foreign corporate interests, it is naïve to believe that socio-economic rights
will gain any priority. This is the least domestically manageable of all the
barriers mentioned, and is thus the most daunting.
So there you go. A lot to process in one blog, but at least you get the idea of where I'm coming from. If you need my sources and references, ask. Otherwise, enjoy the rainy weather.