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Change the world

13/05/2022

After two weeks of painful destruction in the Sundays River Valley, it is time for serious reflection.

Much of what will be stated here has been said in the recent past. Nothing is new, but we need to reinforce and act in accordance with the right thing to do.

The first and most important thing to understand about the valley is, like the rest of SA, the problem of unequal distribution of socioeconomic opportunities.

This problem was inherited from the past, but it was also sustained and reproduced through the local education and economic systems.

It places severe limits on the life chances of some people.

Let us look at it from the point of view of two children one born in a township in the valley and the other born on one of the citrus farms.

The children who are born and grow up in the townships have significantly fewer chances to achieve a good quality of life compared with the children of the farmers.

The disparity starts with the differences in terms of the inherited means of parents to provide for their children, but it is multiplied by the differences in terms of access and quality of medical/health, education and other vital services.

By the time a child is ready to enter the world as a young adult there is a very big disparity between the life chances of the child from the township and the child from the citrus farm.

Sadly, this situation has not changed over more than two decades since the end of apartheid.

This remains the biggest problem that must be solved; we are still trapped in a vicious cycle of unequal distribution of wealth and access to wealth and life chances.

All perceptions about the Sundays River Valley Collaborative (SRVC) must be seen against the background that this is why the Sundays River Valley Citrus Producers’ Forum (SRVCPF) created the SRVC.

Thus, it must be understood that the SRVC is a response to this situation and it must be appreciated that it is supported by the majority of farmers because they understand that they have to play a positive role in solving the problem of socioeconomic inequality.

The lack of appreciation by a small number of farmers is directly related to the current crisis in the valley. It is never going to be easy to reduce the inequality.

Part of the problem is that there are different views on how this will be done. Forcing the farmers to pay higher wages will not solve the problem. Wages are not the only problem.

There is also the state of local government, lack of effective service delivery, the state of schools, structure of the economy, lack of skills and low levels of productivity, among others.

The farmers may have to make a voluntary gesture with regard to the wages, but the more important point is that the reality of acute inequality makes redistribution inevitable.

The question is how this is to be done. Unsustainable increases in wages not linked to productivity and the business cycles farmers go through are not going to solve these problems in a sustainable and inclusive way.

Moreover, increasing wages through a strategy of coercion is not going to change the conditions in which people live.

The only way to do it is for all sectors of society to work together to develop the local communities.

A fair, just, reasonable and developmental redistribution process must be conceived and implemented.

The tax system is already a redistribution system in which the rich and high-income earners pay the most taxes, but the system is not effective as a developmental system.

The problem is largely that the state is not using taxes effectively and efficiently. So, to say that you pay tax and therefore do not have to do anything else is not only like the ostrich that puts its head in the sand, but it is also self-defeating.

Besides the taxes that they pay, the farmers have no choice but to keep on investing in the system; this is part of their commitment to redistribution, but it is also their way of looking after their own interests.

However, the farmers cannot do it on their own; they are not solely responsible for this situation.

Thus, the state and civil society should take co-responsibility and organised labour must come to the process as a responsible development minded partner.

Governmental instruments like the multi-department Economic Recovery Fund that was established after the riots of 2021 can be used to recover and rebuild.

There are also instruments to build and nurture a more inclusive, unified and equal future.

But the parties must get out of the blame game, stop the destruction and confrontational approach to problems, and get on with doing the right things. Opportunistic politics must end. All farmers must get on board.

There is a role for everyone. That is why a social compact is required — so that all parties can make the appropriate commitments and start engaging with one another according to an agreed set of rules of engagement.

This article appeared in The Herald (South Africa) on 11 May 2022 written by Prof Deon Pretorius, a development sociologist, SRVC facilitator, Development Partners founder and affiliated to the Nelson Mandela University Department of Development Studies. He writes in his personal capacity.

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