Labour Wrap: Moving against a poisonous legacy

IF EVEN part of the more than R1trn in government employee pension funds managed by the Public Investment Corporation was invested in rental stock and housing to buy, the most poisonous legacy of apartheid could start to be defeated, says Terry Bell in his latest Labour Wrap.

Bell maintains that the spatial reality - the geography - inherited from the apartheid system lies at the core of the desperation and divisiveness that all too often erupts into understandable violence.

He maintains that successive governments, at national, provincial and local level, have done little more than mouth “rainbow nation platitudes” while effectively continuing to promote the spatial divisions created by apartheid. This has also given rise to opportunistic political elements that promote simplistic and distorted messages geared to ignite hatred.

Bell notes that the soon-to-be-published report by Public Protector Busisiwe Mkhwebane on conditions in the Cape Town ghetto of Masiphumelele will highlight the squalid reality in similar settlements around the country.

The report also comes at a time when public sector unions are voicing concern about the manner in which the pension funds of their members are being handled and the PSA (formerly Public Servants Association) has committed itself to address the problem.

One of the problems that should feature in the Public Protector’s report is that of the “missing middle”. These are people who are gainfully employed, but living in overcrowded and insanitary conditions in shacks: they earn too much to qualify for government assistance - where it is available - and too little to live anywhere else.

This is a situation many trade union members find themselves in, a fact pointed out last week at a panel discussion hosted by the PSA as part of the union’s 97th birthday celebrations. At the same time the PSA’s membership demographic probably more accurately represents the national population than any other union. 

But Bell maintains that even “social housing” in townships and such government assistance as RDP houses merely perpetuates the problem. He argues that the promise made by Joe Slovo, the first housing minister of our new dispensation, should be honoured: integrated settlements of “decent, proper housing”.

Fortunately, he says, some unions may now be taking the lead on this critical matter that governments have for too long ignored.

* Add your voice or just drop Terry a labour question. Follow Terry on twitter @telbelsa.