Posted on October 2, 2010


The government and the Eskom bosses screwed up. Therefore we, the consumers, have to pay and the country as a whole — besides those with private generators — will have to suffer.

Now, to add insult to injury, the army of the working poor have been told to turn themselves into micro farmers.

“Feed yourselves,” is the advice proffered by finance minister Trevor Manuel to those whose meagre wages can no longer feed, let alone clothe, adequately house and educate their families and themselves. Whatever spare time they have should apparently be spent trying to scratch sustenance from whatever soil they can find.

It’s part of the blame game. Like Eskom’s insistence that load shedding is our fault because we, the consumers, have not sufficiently reduced our electricity usage. In the same way, the victims of starvation wages can be said to be hungry because they have not grown their own food.

It’s not as if Manuel and other ministers have offered up the manicured lawns surrounding their official residences as vegetable gardens for the hungry. Any more than the government has devised a national strategy for co-operative food production.

Yet the government agrees with the labour movement that what we face now is a growing crisis with potentially horrendous consequences for millions of men women and, especially, children throughout the country. But, through various statements, those in government generally wash their hands of any responsibility.

Blanket blame for the causes of the problems is given to “external factors”, which obviously do have a bearing. Then there are the more subtle implications that it is consumers and others who are causing, or adding to, the problems because they are not pulling their collective weight.

But as Cosatu congress resolutions 12 years ago warned, government’s then unilaterally imposed macro-economic policies would result in precisely what has happened.

If predictivity is any test of truth, Cosatu has been proved totally correct. And Cosatu’s conclusions were supported by the other federations as well.

It is for this reason that unions affiliated to both the Federation of Unions of SA and the National Council of Trade Unions will support and possibly initiate campaigns aimed at trying to stem the tide of economic depression threatening to engulf so many families.

How dire the situation has become was illustrated this week by human resources specialist Daan Groenveldt. He pointed out that families could, and did, manage a reasonable standard of living with 25 per cent of disposable income budgeted for infrastructure such as bond redemption or rent, with pension contributions accounting for a further 8 per cent and medical aid, which generally provided full cover, accounting for 3 per cent.

Today, only the 8 per cent pension contribution remains at roughly the same level. Medical aid, once a condition of employment, has virtually disappeared to be replaced by vastly more expensive medical insurance, often offering only partial cover.

Interest rate increases over the past two years have meant soaring bond repayments. A skilled worker on above average wages would now find it difficult to buy a reasonable, three-bedroom house even in the low-cost township ghettos inherited from apartheid.

A bond of R300 00 now costs R3 842 a month. A simple hospital plan for self, wife and two children would add at least another R2 000 to monthly outgoings. On Groeneveldt’s calculations for a reasonable lifestyle therefore, such a worker would have to have at least R18 000 in disposable income.

Since few skilled workers, earn more than R8 000 a month unions, whether affiliated or independent, are right to demand that, rather than telling workers to become micro farmers, government should put in place policies that provide decent jobs at decent pay for all.

Posted in: Archive - 2008