Image: Maria Oswalth (Unsplash)
Poverty, disease and early death plagued the people of Witbank and Mokopane and has affected most Black South Africans due to economic and political coercion of capitalism. The overthrowal of such a system requires the change in the ethos of human social action to understand that scarcity is as a result of such inhumane ideology. As compared to capitalism, socialism can be understood as striving for the balance of power between the mining companies, the state and the mining communities affected. In Witbank and Mokopane, dispossession of land resulted in poverty while mining companies are making profits. For the eradication of poverty in South Africa, there needs to be an abolishment of capitalism. Capitalism is an economic system where private actors own and control property in accord with their interests, and the demand and supply of freely set prices in markets. It is rooted in private property, competition, freedom of choice and the limited role of government. Its advocates claim, it is beneficial to society; a fallacy perpetuated by the World Bank Group (WB).
State-led capitalist influenced land policies of post-1994 have worsened poverty not only in coal mine communities but in South Africa (SA) as a whole. Significantly, there has been little impact on poverty eradication in the current political order because capitalism benefits from poverty and unemployment. The Marxist theory insists that poverty is an inevitable result of a capitalist society, since poverty benefits the ruling elites by ensuring the continuous availability of a workforce that is willing to accept low wages. Nomsa Sibane an environmentalist sights the mining dilemma in areas like Xolobeni, Witbank and Mokopane as a policy coordination problem, but in the South African context poverty is a structural problem.
SA’s market-driven mining economy intertwined with state-led capitalism, produced 258.9 million tonnes and pocketed R139.3 billion in sales from coals largely extracted from the largest coalfields reserves in SA. This profit came after the dispossession of agricultural and habitation land by Glenco and Mogalakwena mining companies in Mpumalanga and Limpopo respectively. Forced to stay in small houses installed with pre-paid electricity, households had to succumb to uncommon practices like the paying of rent. The mining-induced dispossession protected and enriched a small fraction of the population whilst plundering the majority and engineering them into poverty because of the disrupted domestic food insecurity. In 2019, the negative news of 36 000 mining jobs being lost due to global market shifts exacerbated poverty and inequality in these areas.
The African National Congress (ANC) implementation of market-centred land and redistribution policies have meant disaster for the vast majority of SA’s black and poor people. Due to its anti-poor character, the ANC government’s policies have entrenched job insecurity in mining areas of Witbank and Mokopane, therefore, creating a continual ‘reserve army of labour’ able and keen to take low wage jobs. Through classist structural norms, poverty is maintained and the proletariat and peasants continue to suffer. Increasing unemployment and economic inequalities associated with neoliberal policies have pushed many of SA’s population into the poverty trap. That poverty will remain with us irrespective of the half-hearted R350.00 hand-outs presented by the state. My point is that the low wages and unstable employment are part of the state’s machinery that maintains gross inequality forcing people to live in destitution with no possibility of escaping it. This cycle finds expression within the paradigm of political and economic ideology of capitalism. Pope Francis claimed, “this system is intolerable: farmworkers, labourers, communities, people and the earth itself finds it intolerable”
This intolerable system requires a revolutionary action by the people of SA and the world. No system of power has a right to deprive people like villagers in Mokopane from their land which they ploughed, cultivated crops and sorghum in, to live on for decades. It has divided the society into strata. Socialism on the other hand provides for the destruction of social stratification that puts people into certain categories based upon a system of hierarchy, in this case, rich and poor or black and white. As in the recent case involving the Xolobeni community, they have been granted an equal opportunity to apply for a mining license over their land, a solution that does not address the government policy problem but only the structural problem.
For me, poverty is beneficial to the ruling elite and this has been made possible by the neo-liberal land policies in SA. Poverty requires structural adjustment,- it requires the abolishment of capitalism, period.
“Thand” Olwethu Dlanga is a student at the University of Pretoria. His academic work interrogates the historical development of “politics” in post-Apartheid South Africa. Dlanga is passionate about humanity, justice, socialism and the land”