Poor citizen, you are on your own
The electoral manifestos of the ANC and the DA fall short of providing solutions to the crisis of inequality SA faces. They are not radical enough.
Both recognise that our chronic social inequalities - which manifest in the 27.5% official unemployment rate, an ailing public health system, landlessness and stubborn apartheid geographical patterns - are unsustainable.
But to solve them, we must set the country on a different political trajectory.
The World Bank declared us the globe's most unequal country in 2016 because of the failure of our political leadership to tackle the growing socio-economic disparities that have become the hallmark of our society.
Trapped between the rock of low growth rates and the hard place of a protracted domestic investment strike, the economy offers no hope to the jobless, who number around 40% of working-age people.
It doesn't help our situation that the status quo is likely to be with us for a while. Both the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, for example, project that our domestic economy will grow by between 1,3 and 1,5 percent this year, which is below the world average and the growth we need to fix our limping economy.
When you consider that the population growth rate is around 1.4% per year, you realise that we are standing still.
The National Development Plan 2030 frames the vision of the ANC, which still projects itself as a liberation movement at the helm of developmental state despite the pervasive graft that has crippled both the state and the party.
Its manifesto's policy proposals are a classic case of incremental policy changes - perhaps a reflection of the constraints being in power for so long imposes on an incumbent.
At 275,000 jobs a year, the ANC's jobs target is much lower than the outlandish six million jobs it promised under Jacob Zuma in 2014. The target is not new as it comes out of last year's jobs summit, and turns on the mooted R1,3m infrastructure investment that is primed to boost economic growth.
The party also plans to set up a sovereign wealth fund it will use to inject investment in the economy's key sectors.
The DA has no jobs target. But, true to form, its approach to employment creation is market-driven.
It plans to incentivise investment by liberalising foreign exchange controls, make it easier for firms to hire and fire labour, lower the currently modest 28% corporate tax rate to 15%. Its stubborn opposition to the R20 per hour minimum wage - which is a measure aimed at ameliorating inequality that was agreed upon at Nedlac - resonates in its proposal to give employers the option to pull out of their sectoral minimum wages.
Activists and researchers have been arguing for a while now that South Africa lacks an adequate social safety net. The result is that many unemployed, but able-bodied adults enjoy no social security. The exception is the 5% who are covered by the Unemployment Insurance Fund. Even the safety net runs out after a short while.
And while our means-tested child welfare grant system covers around 11 million beneficiaries, activists say the R410 monthly grant (due to increase to R420 in April) is still below the food poverty line of R547 per month set by Statistics SA.
While the DA wants the child social grant to be in sync with the poverty line, the ANC promises to come up with a basket of social security benefits and pledges to extend the child grant to the potential beneficiaries who are still excluded from it. So, both parties are not committing to expanding welfare in any meaningful sense.
- The writer is a post-graduate student at the Wits School of Governance and a social commentator. The views expressed are his own.