South Africa: Social Inequality Is a Matter That Needs Urgent Attention – Edwin Mkhize

On the start of the second day of the High Level Panel in Durban, its Chairperson Mr Kgalema Motlanthe explained that the panel conducts its work through submissions, public hearings, roundtable discussions, commissioned research and desk research.

He explained that the public hearings are meant to solicit views on how legislation or its absence thereof has shaped the lived experiences of the people on the ground, especially the previously disadvantaged. And the motto of the panel is “To listen more, and talk less”. He encouraged the participants to express themselves without fear or favour.

The High Level Panel is made up of three working groups: the first working group’s focus is to assess the impact of legislation meant to alleviate poverty, unemployment and inequality. The second working group focuses on land reforms – and the third on nation-building and social cohesion.

The Chairperson of the First Working Group, Ms Olive Shisana, explained that her group’s intention is to ascertain from the public, “which laws should be amended to promote employment, which laws should be proposed or amended to reduce inequality and enable equitable distribution of wealth. Are there any laws that should be amended or developed to reduce spatial inequality – and which laws should be written to improve access to quality free healthcare and education at the point of service”?

The Chairperson of the Working Group on Land Reform, Dr Aninka Claassens, explained that her working group’s intention is to discover “in what ways has the implementation of different post-1994 land laws assisted, or inhibited, land redistribution and restitution of land rights. Have these laws been successful in addressing the legacy of racial discrimination? What improvements do you suggest, and have post-1994 land laws or policies and programmes been successful in decreasing poverty and inequality? If so, how? If not, why not and what changes are necessary, among other things?”

The Chairperson of the Working Group on Nation-Building and Social Cohesion, Dr Yvonne Muthien, said her working group wants to find out from the public, “which laws have assisted in uniting us as communities and as a nation; which laws, if any, have divided us as communities and as a nation; which policies of government or municipalities build us as communities and as a nation; and which policies of government or municipalities divide us as communities and a nation”?

The University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Mr Themba Mzimela spoke on the impact of land reform Acts on the lived experiences of rural communities in KwaZulu-Natal. He stated in his submission that he is elated that government has finally realised that the “willing buyer, willing seller” approach, as part of our country’s land reform policy, is not working. “This policy led to a slow pace of land reform. And through it, government could not expedite this process. Now that there is a realisation that the slow pace of land reform is not sustainable, we hope that government will prioritise the distribution of land and increase the pace of its delivery.”

A Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) representative, Mr Edwin Mkhize, said South Africa has progressive laws but the urgency they deserve for implementation is lacking and no resources were put aside to fast-track them for implementation. “We hope that the High Level Panel will be a critical intervention that will address this. We will be submitting a comprehensive submission on that in Parliament,” said Mr Mkhize

According to him, inequalities are underpinned by unemployment and that is a matter that needs urgent attention. “The escalating rate of unemployment is a contributory factor that makes our society the most unequal society in the world. That is a legacy not of our freedom, but of colonialism, apartheid and capitalism. But it needs to be averted.”

On the current fees upheaval in the tertiary education sector, Mr Mkhize said Cosatu calls for the introduction of company tax and graduate tax to address this.

Also making a presentation, Rev Mbhekiseni Mavuso claimed that this country has many laws that secure rural communities’ rights to land, but these rights are often violated at will. “The rural communities are victims of development. When a mall is about to be built, we are removed without any consultation. Now we don’t have land, the land we are staying on we are told that it’s Ingonyama Trust’s land and the King has the final say on how our land should be utilised.”

A businessman, Mr Edward Mpheko, also said that his reservation about Ingonyama Land Act of 1994. He is of the view that this Act can be both positive and negative. “The passingof this Act on the eve of our country’s democratic dispensation was to prevent the land to be in the hands of the incoming government. But now it has prevented indigenous land to fall into the hands of foreign capital. However, if this Act falls into the hands of those who are corrupt and have no good intentions, it can have a negative effect, hence it needs to be amended.”

The representative of the Association for Rural Advancement, Mr Glenn Farred, said the land distribution process has been a painful journey for many rural communities, especially those who are still waiting for the outcomes of their claims. “We have since taken the Department of Rural Development to the Land Claims Court. Currently the department has 11 000 land claims before it and at the current rate, it will take 50 years for it to process all these claims. Its problem, according to him, is that of conflating policy with legislation and he urged Parliament to regulate that and constantly review its targets.

“We have since asked the court to consider appointing a special master to take over the work of the department. We have a 102-year-old man who has waited for 15 years to get his claim processed. There is something fundamentally wrong in that and we need an urgent intervention. And we want the panel to consider the claims we lodged to the Land Claims Court. And we need Parliament to ensure that there is a constant application of the Constitution in this regard,” he said.

Bishop Joel Mkhabela said there is nothing that unites or divides people like religion. He proposed that Act 19 2002 that sanctioned the establishment of the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of South African Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities, needed to be amended to accommodate the establishment of a Ministry of Religious Affairs. “Our recommendation is that there is a need for a Ministry of Religious Affairs in this country – duties of which will be to administer religious affairs and the licensing of churches. This ministry will also be responsible for inter-faith matters and moral degeneration.”

In his concluding remarks, the Chairperson of the panel said they have noted all that was said. But he was of the view that “there are urgent problems that emerged that don’t need to wait until we finish our report, that we will pass on to the relevant authorities. As the panel we have taken a note that we have enacted laws to alleviate the plight of the South African people, especially the previously disadvantaged, but often they (the laws) have not had the positive impact on the lived experiences of our people. We have been granted a great honour, we need to turn it to good use”, he said.

Source: Parliament of South Africa.