Viva F(r)eedom Day! - What Freedom?

As South Afrikans celebrate (d) a charade called Freedom Day on April 27 commentators were unanimous that the state of the nation suggested that this country is a leader in social inequality. Brazil has got nothing on us. The gap between the haves and have-nots is just so wide that it would take Moses’ miracle to pave a way through it.

Under apartheid there were wealthy whites who were the backbone of the economy. They were the beneficiaries of various intervention including Smuts’ project to address The Poor White Problem and job reservation for those who served their country in the armed forces.

Whites owned farms, industries, the Mint, the Reserve Bank and ran everything, from the politics, bureaucracy to the securocracy.

At the same time there were blacks who owned businesses in townships and villages. Some were beneficiaries of the racially named Bantu Investment Company which gave loans to black entrepreneurs. The difference was that the black entrepreneurs then lived amongst the poor – so they were a stone throw away from everyone who would be hungry and want to ask for leftovers. The tycoons, as they were called, would have postal private bags where everyone in their area of jurisdiction received their mail – for free.

The gap was not visible because black owned trading stores sold groceries on credit to the poor. The apartheid government paid old age pension once every two months to blacks but the tycoons had patience. Now it is paid monthly and black money sharks lack such patience with our gogos.

Those black entrepreneurs had tens of thousands but still believed in community.

Fast-forward to 2010. The majority of whites are still wealthy as it is reflected by the top 100 JSE companies and the Satrix 40. Apartheid’s ugly hidden secret – poor whites have finally surfaced and demand attention. Maybe those are the ones who never joined the Broerderbond, served in the military or were just plain imbeciles. Poverty has finally shed its racial cloak.

However the new wealthy blacks do not have thousands but tens of millions – at best billions. They are now on the covers of Forbes magazine. Most of them don’t own anything – the BEE shares were bought on credit and will start accruing once the partner brings government business and profits are declared. Their houses and their cars are owned by banks. They claim to own mines while what they own are the labourers only.

Then we have lifestyle entrepreneurs who detest poor people and live as far from them as possible. He only comes to the township or village when he’s bought a new German sedan. He does nothing for the community – let alone donate a computer for the school he went to. Another hallmark of this new breed is who they are doing business with; they are all doing business with government and leave the whites to run corporate South Africa and supply services to it - undisturbed.

COSATU’s Patrick Craven alluded to this gap in the media early this week. The gap between the haves and have-nots is wide because the new rich black now lives with rich whites – not as a community. Solidarity was silent this time around.

And Freedom Day to the one still stuck in the township and village, whose role models used to be black tycoons whose business has since been rendered null by the Indian/Pakistani entrepreneur and the proliferation of malls; means nothing. They never celebrated April 27 this week and they will not do it next year. Until they are free from poverty.

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