Tag Archives: cheap labour

Brief thoughts on race and class in contemporary South Africa

On Facebook, Emmanuel Nuesiri asked me what I thought about an article recently appeared on the BBC documenting white Afrikaans poverty in South Africa (click here to read the article). This is what I replied:

There is a real risk in South Africa today that racial issues might be used to cover up for what the real “war” is, that is a class war with the vast majority of the population still largely disenfranchised from the formal economy and far from acceptable standards of living, while inequalities are on the rise.

South Africa became liberated at the height of the global capitalist dream, after the fall of the Soviet Union. It is clear now to most that the “free market” on its own was not going to empower most people anywhere on earth. The hope is that the tide will turn in the global mainstream (especially after 2008 global financial crisis and current Euro and American crisis), so that perhaps talking again about serious redistributive policies and diminishing inequalities through state intervention and regulation of the economy won’t be anathema.

If we don’t start talking about class and income inequalities seriously again, the racialisation of everyday discourse will tend to focus the attention on scapegoating one racial group or the other. This diverts the attention from the real threat: the highly unequal economic system which runs on very cheap labour and the resulting appalling living conditions of the majority of the populace, ever more so a vast reserve of cheap labour, disposable and reusable at the whim of flexible capital.

This is the legacy of settler colonialism that we need to tackle and radically change throughout southern Africa. Mixing and surpassing of racial difference in South Africa can only happen on a large scale if the entrenched inequalities are tackled head on, primarily as economic inequalities.

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Rich people don’t create jobs

In an interesting 5 minute banned TED talk, entrepreneur Nick Hanauer debunks the mystique that rich people create jobs. I don’t agree with his praising of middle class consumption as the way forward, but find it great that finally a capitalist shows with a common sense argument why we shouldn’t buy into the myth.

Another question to ask would be: even if we put aside the mystique that capitalists create jobs, what kind of jobs are they actually “creating” nowadays? Is precarious cheap labour something capitalists should feel proud about? Does it justify a government of the economy that favours capital at no matter what?