We urgently need a (new) social compact

One only has to look at countries like Syria, Yemen, Niger, Sudan, etc. to know that humans are innately resilient. No matter how much devastation there is around them, they carry on with life, almost as if it was always that way. They continue to have children and they still smile! Realistically, does anyone want to live in a dystopian nightmare? I certainly do not. Ultimately, it is our choice whether we survive or thrive.


Yep! The future of South Africa lies in our hands. We the people must grasp the opportunity to reboot society … and boot out the freeloaders and the parasites that drain public coffers. For it is the gangrenous rot of cronyism and entitlement that continue to devour society from within. Our economy and infrastructure are in a death spiral. It is time that a NEW social compact replaces the defunct one.

Eskom has already given us 15 years worth of wake-up calls to the fragility of our economy. When you add municipal service delivery failures to the list it becomes a never-ending fight for the basics of modern life. We prevail barely. Potholes abound. Jobs not. We have, unfortunately, remained relatively complacent and resigned to our collective fate until now. Now that the proverbial has already broken the fan!

Somehow, we hoped that South Africa would eventually climb out of the (pot)hole it has dug itself into. Too no avail I say! The pandemic has tipped the scales badly. Most South Africans witnessing the mayhem of the pro-Zuma looting in 2021 will agree that we urgently need to become more prepared for the continued collapse in law & order, basic services, and supply chain disruptions that are sure to come.  

In reality, there are many things, that in a moment, can turn an event into a catastrophe. Global research shows that poor outcomes are exacerbated by the machinations of a failed state. Basic services in many parts of South Africa have already collapsed. It is therefore understandable why South Africans from all walks of life are very anxious about their future. Rightly so.

Food security, high unemployment and extreme poverty are the sparks that have ignited humanities firestorms for millennia. The French Revolution 1787 — 1799 and the Arab spring riots that raged across the Middle East in 2010 — 2011 started out as food riots! With 10.2 million South Africans frequently experiencing hunger, are we doing enough to mitigate this extreme form of deprivation?

I do not think so! Extreme poverty is pervasive and very widespread. It is like a septic wound tarnishing our otherwise beautiful country. It is very visible, and it is ugly. In many places, raw sewage runs over litter strewn channels between shacks. It is the embodiment of living in the gutter! A band-aid solution will not make an iota of difference — the whole caboodle needs a total rethink.

And so does our economy. With unemployment ramping higher to all-time highs — one of the highest rates in the world — we surely have found ourselves in a pickle! When one includes discouraged workers, the estimated unemployment rate is an eye watering 45%. Furthermore, 64.4% of those aged 15 to 24 are unemployed and 42.9% of those aged 25 to 34 are unemployed.

These are horrific figures. Almost too bad to be true. An earth-shattering predicament for any government — and it is ours too! Thus, if my maths is correct, and depending on which measure one uses, around 15 to 20 million South Africans need jobs. That is one heck of a lot of jobs. To be honest, even with a good dose of hopium, it is almost impossible to uplift so many people out of the quagmire they find themselves in.

I do not believe that a Basic Income Grant (BIG) will change the lives of the poor by much. In fact, it may just tip our fragile economy into a state of collapse that we never recover from. Why? When a culture of non-payment merges with a culture of dependency it becomes runaway train, unstoppable, only this time the passengers will be singing merrily as it careers into a dysfunctional abyss. BIG will be a big mess!

At the time of writing, it has cost taxpayers R45bn to pay the minuscule R350 social relief of distress grant to about 10.5-million South Africans affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. That is a lot of money for a financially distressed country like South Africa. And YES; I agree that R350 is a small but significant stopgap for someone who is hungry more often than not. However, it does not come close to what a job will do.

An apocalyptic narrative will not solve our catch-22 conundrum. Nor will mudslinging. Nor will daydreaming. Hopium be gone and to the drawing board I say! For it is only constructive dialogue, and a good dose of pragmatism, that will be able to build a solid foundation on which we can proceed to shape a future worth living. We urgently need a (new) social compact. That should be abundantly clear.

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