In this country, business and wealth equal white

25 November 2019 - 08:46
By thabiso mahlape AND Thabiso Mahlape
Image: PIXABAY / Rawpixel

I saw shocking statistics last week in an article summarising figures from the world inequality database.

"Wealth inequality in South Africa is staggering. The wealthiest 1% own 67% of all the country's wealth. The top 10 own 93%. The remaining 90% of South Africans own 7% of the country's wealth."

I struggle with numbers in percentages, so I needed to breath and re-read that a couple of times before I could fully understand it.

A journalist tweeted a quote that made me want to read further and it left me chilled. But it wouldn't be until the Old Mutual corpse drama that those stats would hurt and break me.

In our country, wealth inequality is a racial inequality. We know the faces of poverty and wealth.

For all the things that black people have been called in this country, from lazy to entitled and everything else in between, we really try to carve out a life that affords us and our loved ones some dignity. As Niq Mhlongo, and many others, has explored in his anthology of essays on Black Tax, as a black person ours isn't the only dignity we are born to preserve, it's that of everyone else around us.

Most of us don't have thousands of rands lying around idly waiting for someone to die. That's how in every township and village there exists burial societies. We also go to places like Old Mutual to cushion us from financial blows. Funeral policies offer the most affordable and easiest way to do it, or so we think.

When my mother's aunt died, I had just earned my first salary as a permanently employed being. I arrived home to find out that I needn't have worried. My grandmother had paid for all her burial in advance. All I and a few others had to do was pay for the food that mourners had leading up to the day of the funeral.

South Africa
Inequality rampant in the country
2 years ago

Black people afford a corpse the outmost respect. Perhaps it is because it's the last time we see a person before we start making offerings to their spirits and plead for their intervention. Because of those cultural values, I can't imagine the turmoil that family must have faced to resort to carry the body of their loved one to those offices. I hope they have managed to find peace over this mess.

Business, and as a result whiteness, refuses to be seen as the face of wealth. But the bottom line swells because black people have been robbed and depend on those services to offer their families some sort of dignity where apartheid eroded it.

And maybe it is just how business works, but in this country business equals white, so we really can't separate the two.

Some people offer financial literacy to black people so that they may better manage their finances. What money must we manage? We have to stretch all our cents to ensure the Old Mutuals of this world are paid. And now it turns out it's not just money business is after, it wants our dignity too.

Give black people opportunities, says your government, then it quickly steals the resources and leaves just enough for our funeral policies. Then it does nothing to make sure that those companies don't drive us to despair. Our humiliation as a race is complete.