ECONOMIC TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION

The deliberations that took place on the first day of the WDB Dialogue have prompted me to write this piece. While the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was in itself a good idea for the country politically, its main drawback was that it was a political process. Thus, it could not address issues that were economic in nature, without such a process to produce those results. That is why, at the end of it, the same State that initiated it, and which was not responsible for all the atrocities, ended up carrying the can of redress to the victims of those atrocities.

What was missing and has been missing for all these 22 years has been an inquiry into the manner in which wealth accumulation by a few had taken place, at the expense of the majority. The levels of inequality have become so gross and grotesque that the explanation that those at the top of the economic ladder got there through sheer grit and hard work is just not sufficient.

In its latest report, in July 2016, the African Business has an end note right at the back highlighting rising inequality globally, as well as in places like Africa. It quotes Kofi Annan, as chairman of the Africa Progress Panel, as saying: “Disparities in basic life chances – for health, education and participation in society – are preventing millions of Africans from realising their potential, holding back social and economic progress in the process.”

1.If this is true of the general population, it is even more so when it comes to women in Africa, who suffer the triple oppression of race, class and gender.

Annan further warned of the long-term risks of rising inequality and the marginalisation of entire sectors of societies – pre-eminently women.

The report goes on to say: “It would be naïve to think that the dynamics of inequality will simply work themselves out. It will require determined leadership from political, business and society leaders   across the continent to ensure Annan’s bleak observation does not hold for long.”

The report observes: “While there is nothing inherently wrong with wealth, such disparity should unnerve ordinary citizens, policymakers and business alike. Inequality is increasing in virtually every country globally today and there is little indication this will change any time soon. History is replete with examples of what happens when the gap between the haves and have-nots becomes unsustainable, none of them appealing.”

This lies at the heart of a call for an Economic Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which would look into those situations where trickery, chicanery and fraud were used in the accumulation of wealth, with or without state collusion, and appropriate redress be fashioned for those closest to such victimisation.

2.Those at the top of the economic ladder must be called upon to account for how they got there and make amends, voluntarily so, otherwise our courts must adjudicate disputes, as it is their function to administer justice without fear or favour.

The aim of it all is not vindictiveness but to begin to chart a new way of doing business, unashamedly ethical, and to embed values such as “live and let live”, “lift as you rise”, “love people first”, and “steward the land and other economic resources”. These values form an integral part of Ubuntu. Who can better teach these values than women?

An Afrikaner farmer in the Western Cape, Kosie van Zyl, made a point I found profound – that white people made the mistake of not loving the people of the land first, and then steward the land. Instead, they fell in love with the land and despised the people on the land. He has turned people who are former farm workers and farm dwellers, who were destitute and without hope in life, into the owners of three farms, just outside Caledon, in Napier. Women are at the centre of the project, and are also running a guest house, Agri-Dwala.

It will be appreciated that historically, from the earliest contact between indigenous people and those coming from foreign lands, the world over, at the heart of land dispossessions and other economic resources and means of livelihood, was an economic motive, over and above the political motive. Until the economic dimension is explored and put right in time, there is a social time bomb that is ticking away.

3.Those sitting pretty at the top of the economic ladder will say there is no point in breaking up the cake and sharing it among many; it will have the effect of shrinkage, and so will be the effect on the economy. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is a law that says what is shared increases. Those who are excluded presently and have been for decades, with no means to participate, will now gain some means to participate in the economy and thus grow it.

Growth of the economy as it is presently structured benefits only the few at the top. As a matter of fact, growth and inclusivity are not mutually exclusive. The Africa Progress Panel observed: “Despite more than a decade of sustained growth, there is a growing concern over the lack of inclusiveness of this growth.”

When government itself is not being exemplary, and when bodies like the Government Employees’ Pension Fund consist solely of men, where is the inclusiveness in this? How will the women be in a position to influence how trillions of rand in pension funds are invested?

If women were also around the table where decisions are made, the agenda would change. For example, where government only invests R100-million towards a programme aimed at empowering women to access and own land, such as One Woman, One Hectare of Land, it would invest R1-billion in a revolving loan fund, like the One Acre Fund, and have a target of funding 1-million women farmers by 2030. One farmer, on average, can support five people in a household. By extrapolation, this means 5-million people would be lifted out of poverty.

It is this dreaming big that will radically change the high levels of inequality and move the country towards making poverty history.

4. Anything less is like fiddling while Rome is burning. The youth is very angry about the lack of radical change in their lives. They say clearly and unequivocally that they are no longer going to put up with having to buy milk from their own cow; now they want both the cow and the milk, because they both belong to them.

It is not as if we do not have the means. What we lack is the political will to make it happen. We also lack a sense of urgency about what has to happen. Before we are overrun by events, as a country, we need to move swiftly and introduce measures that will convince them that we mean business. The moment is now!

“There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and miseries. On such a full sea we are now afloat.” – W. Shakespeare.

As a country, we need to move swiftly and decisively.

WDB and SAWID possibly need to have an Advocacy and Lobbying Portfolio where these issues and others are to be kept on the nation’s radar screen, all the time, until they are attended to.

This is just one of them. WDB and SAWID have the moral authority, and have earned their stripes as a voice for women to raise this issue and others that will contribute to women’s total emancipation, economically, culturally and otherwise.

By: Dr Wallace Amos Mgoqi.

12 JULY, 2016., PRETORIA.

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