By Busi Mavuso
The article was first published on Sunday Times
It is now more than six years since famed Frenchman, Thomas Piketty, published his magnus opus, Capital in the Twenty First Century. In it, the economist penned a more than 700-page book about growing inequality and just how policymakers could help address a problem that’s seemingly spiraling out of control.
Ever since the book’s release, policymakers and businesses across the world have had to entertain the hard socio-economic implications of rising asset prices, while the nuts and bolts of the real economy continues to struggle to recover from the last global recession. Perhaps the turn towards bad politics across the globe and here over the past decade has been evidence of the consequences of this growing inequality and the perception that only a few are benefitting from the measly growth rates experienced.
As South African business, we’ve joined a chorus of the world’s leading financial capitals in decrying the divide and worrying about its long-term effect on our nascent democracy. Cocooned by this big picture and to some high-brow global theme of inequality, as government, business and civil society we may have to admit that we weren’t aware that under these conditions the worst traits of our patriarchal society would find fertile ground to blossom.
Now one could delve much deeper into our history of migrant labour and a past shaped by oppression and a colonial history that will take generations to overcome, but there’s no doubt that deteriorating socio-economic conditions in recent years have added fuel to an epidemic of gender-based violence and other forms of violent crime in the country.
With a society faced with an unemployment rate that has remained at elevated levels since the eighties, we’ve been at fault for paying little attention to the day by day poisoning of the living conditions of society. The majority of the beatings and killing of our women and children has been done by people that the victims knew, loved and shared a roof.
The lack of equality in our own private living rooms in a climate of low growth and confidence levels that are worryingly being compared to those most hopeless of years after the Rubicon Speech has played itself in a rising tide of femicide, which our statistical agency in the country calls the intentional killing of females because they are females.
The problems of patriarchy, some of whose norms and standards inherited from our colonial past and others from our different cultural influences need to be addressed and all of us government, business and civil society need to find common purpose on just how we start to deal with a system that goes against equality that is so proudly enshrined in our constitution.
Over the past week, protesters have called for a 2% tax of corporate revenues to create a fund to help deal with the scourge of gender based violence. If as business we choose to stand aside and ignore these pleas from women that live in a country where they are afraid of life on sidewalk pavements and in office corridors, we would once again be making a mistake. Business can no longer behave as if it lives and breathes different air to the majority.
We won’t sit and watch, not under my watch.
As Business Leadership South Africa it’s a call that we’ll look at it merits, but as an important stakeholder in the future of the country we will take the conversation to government. We will have to talk about just how we strengthen the National Prosecuting Authority’s capacity in bringing the men who commit these heinous crimes to justice. Perhaps, through such direct intervention, we can begin to bring a lost idea in the life of everyday South Africa, accountability.
While we are happy to see the Zondo Commission doing its work over the past two years, South Africans are getting used to the idea that the levels of corruption being exposed in Parktown come with no consequences. This can only encourage the levels of lawlessness that we see with the rise in gender based violence and attacks on immigrants.
What’s good for goose is good for the gander.
There has to be accountability in the country, for far too long we’ve watched as unscrupulous characters have stolen the lives of our women and children and others from our public purse and indeed from shareholders of some of our largest companies in recent history. This is a growing crisis in the social construct of South African society – there’s something intrinsically wrong.
Outside of helping victims of gender-based violence to seek better recourse through our courts, as business we will need to look at how in our pay disparities between men and women, we at best unwittingly contribute to the worst traits of patriarchy.
According to the Global Wage Report of 2018/2019, South African women – who are permanently employed – earn 22.7% less than men. This disparity in pay scales, ensures that our mothers, wives and daughters face a future where their work will earn less than their male counterparts.
As established business focusses on transformation along racial lines in accordance with our constitutional requirements, the story of gender pay disparities must not be lost in the search for quick wins on empowerment score-cards.
Business has but no option to get its hands dirty in trying to build a South Africa that is safe for all and at its core it begins with ensuring our women and children. In the report cards from many of our blue-chip corporates over the past few months, the impact of the slow growth economy has become rather evident.
While we call on government to stick to the difficult structural reforms that have been highlighted in many of its own plans, we will put our shoulders to the wheel in not only supporting that focus but in ensuring social cohesion wherever we can. It’s after all in our selfish interest.
Social cohesion improves economic growth by stopping physical and human capital destruction and creating social capital, cooperation and trust in society. Whilst the world continues to grapple to find the solutions to the problem of ever widening inequality that Piketty reminded us all those years ago, as South Africa, we should remain mindful of what this global affliction does in a society grappling with the ills of patriarchy and institutional racism amongst our many afflictions.
Uyinene Mrwetyana’s blood must mean more; our own personal Piketty moment.
Have your say.
Share your opinion