Poverty is a denial of human rights
On Human Rights Day 2016, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa honours the memory of the 69 people of Sharpeville, who were cruelly butchered by apartheid police on 21 March 1960 as they demonstrated against the detested dompas, and all those who were killed and maimed in the wake of this massacre.
This is a day for us to remember all the martyrs of our liberation struggle, who sacrificed their lives to end apartheid, and win the partial freedoms and human rights that we enjoy today. We must never forget their sacrifices and the debt we owe them.
Sharpeville became a turning point in the war to liberate South Africa from apartheid, exposing to the world the vicious brutality of the regime and it hastened the growth of a worldwide anti-apartheid movement.
The dompas the people were fighting, was a symbol of all the oppressive, racist laws, passed by the colonial authorities and refined by the National Party government after 1948, laws which legitimised the theft of land from the African people, dictated where they could and could not live, denied them all civil and political rights and forced them to become cheap labour in the white-owned mines, factories and farms or as domestic ‘servants’.
56 years later, we have, on paper at least, one of the world`s most liberal democratic constitutions, which guarantees fundamental human rights and many progressive laws to enforce these rights.
Scandalously, however, thousands of poor South Africans do not enjoy these rights, especially the socio-economic rights (the only true foundations upon which political rights can grow) which are in the Freedom Charter – the right to a job, freedom from poverty, a share in the country’s wealth, the right to receive healthcare, education, running water, electricity and public transport, and more fundamentally, to own land – all of which for millions of the black and African people, are still only a dream, as 22 years after winning the political breakthrough, we have abominable levels of unemployment and poverty and widening inequality.
We have an appalling level of 34% unemployment by the realistic definition that includes those who have stopped even looking for work. Thousands more jobs, and even whole industries, are at risk. The manufacturing sector in particular, which used to contribute 23% to our GDP, is now down to around 12%. The economy is almost at a standstill, and at risk of falling into recession.
Thousands of the jobs that remain are being outsourced, made temporary or part-time or being farmed out to labour brokers. Greedy employers are waging war against collective bargaining. Already, employers impose 54% of all wage increases received by workers without any negotiations.
The share of wages in the national income has plummeted from 57% in 1991 to below 50% today, and the median salary of workers is R3033 a month, which is worth less and less as food price inflation has risen to 11%, devastating for the low-paid, the unemployed and those dependent on social grants, all of whom spend most of their income on food and transport face a cut in real income. And we are still waiting for the Treasury to roll out comprehensive social security and national health insurance systems and the national minimum wage.
They cannot pretend that we cannot afford them while the capitalists are reported to be sitting on R1.5 trillion of investable cash but won’t invest it, mainly because of lack of confidence to our collective future. Billions of Rands are being transferred to overseas tax havens and bosses’ salaries are breaking all records. The Investec Executive Director takes home a staggering R86 million a year.
We have an increasingly unequal delivery of services, which should be human rights but which are more and more becoming commodities for those with cash. The rich mainly white minority send their children to top-class private schools, and are treated in clean private hospitals. They are more likely to be rich, have a well paying job and live in well-maintained suburbs.
If however you are black and African, poor, unemployed or a casual worker on poverty wages, you have the legal right to all these things, but you cannot enjoy any of them. Hundreds of thousands of South Africans live in shacks, have no running water or sanitation, send their children to over-crowded and underfunded schools, and wait in queues for hours to get medical treatment. Those still able to keep a job have to spend hours travelling to and from work in overcrowded trains and buses or dangerous taxis.
Only a small sprinkling of black and African people have since 1994, sneaked into white suburbs!
What all this means is that the racist and colonial foundations of South African white dominated capitalism are alive and well; black people and Africans in particular continue to be super exploited and live in squalor.
This economic apartheid and widening inequality largely reflected along racial lines 22 years after the so called “democratic breakthrough” has emboldened white supremacists to emerge, and are openly attacking black and African people.
This economic apartheid and widening inequality lived along racial lines 22 years after the so called “democratic breakthrough” has led to extremely angry black and African communities taking to the streets, often violently, in protests over the slow pace of transformation in their daily lives and against corruption by municipal councillors and their business friends. Meanwhile the wealthy minority white and their black parasites barricade themselves into walled fortresses protected by electric fences, security barriers and armed guards.
On top of all this the black majority of poor South Africans suffer the continuation of racism – racist abuse, physical attacks and even murder of workers, especially on the farms, where workers are exploited and abused, paid poverty wages, summarily evict tenants from their homes by employers who do not understand the meaning of human rights and think they live in the apartheid days.
All these problems are even worse for black women workers, who still occupy lower grade jobs and face marginalisation, discrimination, exploitation, harassment and abuse. Equal pay for work of equal value is a human right and legally enforceable but is frequently not a reality.
This year we also mark Human Rights Day under the shadow of the massive scandal of corruption, cronyism, squandering of public funds, and waste of resources. This is not just because of the actions of one family or a few corrupt politicians, but the inevitable result of creating a neoliberal capitalist state, in which rising profits and appeasing credit rating agencies is the sole measure of success.
It is the institutionalised corruption of the whole white monopoly capitalist system who are the people who have captured the state, government and ANC leadership, who are equally guilty of presiding over our economic catastrophe and endemic corruption.
Human rights are not just for South Africans but all the world’s workers, including migrant workers and small business people who move to escape poverty, hunger and oppression in other countries. Many suffer not only from the lack of rights, exploitation and abuse as workers but also suffer from xenophobic attacks from those who wrongly blame, stigmatise and attack them for supposedly causing poverty and unemployment.
As on all public holidays Numsa insists that employers give their workers time off to celebrate this historic day and enjoy their break from work. It must not be business as usual in our shopping malls but a time to remember Sharpeville and its significance today. No workers must be forced to work, except those providing genuinely emergency services, and these should be paid double time or give them a day off in lieu.
Numsa reminds all workers that the only way to defend and extend human rights and democracy is to get organised in strong, independent and militant trade unions like ours and the others who will be launching a new democratic union federation on 1 May 2016, and to build a new revolutionary, socialist, workers’ party to lead the struggle for the only society which can fully and permanently guarantee full, genuine and permanent human rights for all – socialism.
For further comment, please phone Irvin Jim, Numsa General Secretary, on 073 157 6384
NUMSA statement for Human Rights Day 2016
Poverty is a denial of human rights