The Economy On Your Doorstep
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The Economy On Your Doorstep

The political economy that explains why the South African economy 'misfires' and what we can do about it

Ayabonga Cawe

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  1. 248 pages
  2. English
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eBook - ePub

The Economy On Your Doorstep

The political economy that explains why the South African economy 'misfires' and what we can do about it

Ayabonga Cawe

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We must look beyond the now, the current economy on our doorstep, and 
 reach out to a humanity that lies dormant in all of us.

While the depth and sophistication of South Africa's financial and capital markets are lauded by indices the world over, South Africa is also considered to be the most unequal society in the world. The Economy On Your Doorstep probes the reasons for this tragic paradox of South African life and tries to go through and beyond the graphs, margin calls, trading updates, indices and earnings reports to explain how economic 'actions' frame the lives of South Africans in a transitional society faced with the challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality.

The economy is and always has been primarily about people. How they live, what they produce, under what conditions and what social, political and environmental factors influence decisions of consumption, investment and distribution, and how they act under conditions of uncertainty, scarcity, need and crisis. After all, economies are about people coming together to produce, exchange, distribute and consume goods and services that emerge from their communities and those of others. How and under what conditions can we ensure the expansion of our productive forces, while expanding access to the base of assets, services and support that allow for the social reproduction of our entire society and workforce?

Ayabonga Cawe outlines some key areas that can and should define a policy agenda towards a 'people's economy' in South Africa and the long-term objectives of such a policy programme, and engages with the political economy of 21st century South Africa through an analysis of a few selected areas of the economy and the implications of this for policy action.

This is what this book is about, an exposition of what we see around us and an explanation and discussion of possible ways beyond it.

In this well-researched book, Ayabonga Cawe, a development economist, columnist and broadcaster, makes sense of the post-apartheid political economy through the lives of the many people who live and survive in it every day.

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 The process therefore, that clears the way for the capitalist system can be none other than the process which takes away from the labourer the possession of his means of production; a process that transforms, on the other hand, the social means of subsistence and of production into capital, on the other, the immediate producers into wage-labourers. The so-called primitive accumulation, therefore, is nothing else than the historical process of divorcing the producer from the means of production 
 and the history of this, their expropriation, is written in the annals of mankind in letters of blood and fire ...

– Karl Marx, ‘The Secret of Primitive Accumulation’, Chapter 26, Capital Volume 1, 1867

 Every black man cannot have three acres and a cow, or four morgen and a commonage right. We have to face the question, and it must be brought home to them that in the future nine-tenths of them will have to spend their lives in daily labour, in physical work, in manual labour. This must be brought home to them sooner or later 
 I would do away with locations on private farms, the defect of which is that we do not know where the natives are 

– Cecil John Rhodes, Speech on the Second Rereading of the Glen Grey Act, Cape House of Parliament, 30 July 1894
When Maggie Tyobeka left her grandfather’s funeral, it seemed like a normal Sunday afternoon as she made her way home. As she walked past Nonzwakazi Methodist Church in one of the main arterials of Mlungisi township built like many others, she noticed a South African Defence Force Casspir parked outside the yard of the church. She didn’t pay much attention to it. It wasn’t uncommon to see an army vehicle in the Mlungisi township in Queenstown (now Komani). This was 1985. Under the jackboot of the nationwide state of emergency, the Casspirs were outside the church observing a report-back meeting held by the Local Residents Association at the height of the consumer boycott that was under way.
Maggie lived quite close to the church, and within a few minutes’ walk found her way home. ‘I then met my granddaughter,’ she recounted to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s hearings in 1996, ‘and I wasn’t aware that there had been a shooting at the Methodist Church.’ From the inside of her home she could hear the loud sound of the moving Hippo. As she lifted up the toddler, the unexpected happened.
‘I felt a loud sound on the window,’ she told Advocate Ntsiki Sandi at the hearing, ‘the baby fell, and I also fell on the other side.’ Maggie and her granddaughter were speedily driven to a nearby hospital in two separate vehicles, she recalled, where she discovered what had happened to her. ‘I had three holes on my thigh,’ she said, ‘(and the doctors) had a blade, they would cut the wound, press very hard and the bullet would come out.’2 She was later taken home.
On her arrival home, she started bleeding beneath the light nightdress she had worn on her arrival. She found herself back in hospital. She had another bullet in her stomach. Unfortunately, this one could not be removed. She was operated on; and went into a deep sleep. She woke up to the image of two policemen (one black and the other white) standing alongside her bed. ‘The white policeman said in English that I should be handcuffed as I was lying there,’ she said. While she lay on her back, her leg was handcuffed to the steel frame of the hospital bed. Advocate Ntsiki Sandi asked the question that many of us reading her testimony would later ask – what had Maggie been accused of?
It is the same question Maggie had asked the black nurse who was instructed to handcuff her. The nurse responded, ‘They said you were seen throwing stones at a Hippo.’
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Thirteen people were killed at the Nonzwakazi Church that afternoon; and much like what occurred in Marikana, many of the victims were charged with the shooting of their dead comrades. In instances where such deaths couldn’t be pinned on the unsuspecting, reality was ‘manufactured’ to give a rationale for the random and wanton shooting of unarmed and defenceless people. Maggie was handcuffed to her bed as a way to corroborate the story that she had been shot because, between holding her one-year-old granddaughter and settling in on her return from her grandfather’s funeral, she had ostensibly picked up a stone and thrown it at an armoured vehicle. That was why the young SADF soldiers had to shoot through the window and lodge bullets in the bodies of Maggie and her young granddaughter.
I grew up in Queenstown, and very few of us knew of the fate that had befallen Maggie Tyobeka and others. She just was not ‘important’ enough to live on the scrolls on the walls, to be saluted at a war commemoration or even to have a book published about her in the local library. Her proximity and locational distance to power meant that the decisions made around her and over her life could be made without her, even when they had the impact of lodging bullets in her body. I knew, rather, of figures like Cecil John Rhodes long before I knew of the injustice visited on Maggie Tyobeka and her granddaughter Cebisa.
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Industrialist, politician and arch-imperialist, Cecil John Rhodes’ concern in the late 1800s was a similar ‘economic’ concern to that which drove the murderous frenzy in November 1985. The consumer boycott that led to the shootings at Nonzwakazi Church, and across the township of Mlungisi, were in response to the withdrawal by the local African community of their ‘buying power’ over the preceding four months. Just over nine decades earlier, Cecil John Rhodes’ early plans of ‘primitive’ accumulation would respond to the difficulty of getting the same community to engage in waged labour in the neighbouring commercial farms and in the mines further afield.
These acts, in both instances and beyond, are never short of narratives to give credible justification for an extractive economic system that responds with violence when confronted with resistance. Much of this resistance is based on contests over the resources required for the social reproduction of life. The stuff we all need to survive.
Social reproduction occurs in three interrelated processes. The first is the regeneration of workers and their livelihood; the second is the maintenance of those outside the labour market or rendered ‘surplus’ to it, children, the elderly and the unemployed; and lastly through ‘childbirth’ as the natural reproduction of the next generation of the workforce. American philosopher, Nancy Fraser3 draws out the link between social reproductive ‘work’ and its links to waged labour in the formal labour market:

 non-waged social-reproductive activity is necessary to the existence of waged work, the accumulation of surplus value and the functioning of capitalism as such. None of those things could exist in the absence of housework, child-rearing, schooling, affective care and a host of other activities which serve to produce...

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