Inequality needs to be defused

In the column, Smallhorne called on the allegedly still-privileged whites of South Africa to heed warning signs of simmering discontent manifested in recent uprisings.

Referring to the EFF march on the JSE and the #FeesMustFall protests, Smallhorne wrote: “Both sets of marchers were protesting the inequality that translates into desperate situations.”

Fin24 user Dorothy Rapson wrote that she agrees wholeheartedly with Smallhorne’s warning about not ignoring the red flags, but expressed concern over what she termed generalisation.

“If the wheels come off, no distinction will be made as to whether or not you tried to do your share alleviating the plight of those in dire straits, whatever their race…. Protesting mobs don’t stop to find out what’s been done by whom… everyone gets tarred with the same brush of white & privileged & therefore rich.”

Rapson conculded: “It’s the undiscriminating mobs that scare me.”

Brian Taylor has a different view. “Why should any white have to ‘feel guilty’?” he asks. He speaks about growing up without luxury: “I worked – went to a trade school – slept 5 children in one room, no electricity, little food, we were poor.”

Although Nelson Mandela showed South Africa the way, the current government “has missed countless opportunities because of their obsession with colour”.

He concludes: “Who actually cares about colour? Let’s just get on with living in harmony as far as is humanly possible or that we are allowed to by stupid ‘equality laws’.”

Riaan Venter says he disagrees with Smallhorne’s views. “Be practical. If you have a job, work 16 hrs a day, pay e-tolls, Sars, all sorts of levies and abide by the rule and respect the law, what more must you do?

“I don’t make the laws, control the budgets or manage the resources of the state. What is this additional thing that I must do?”

Below is Mandi Smallhorne’s latest response:

My hope, in calling for the privileged to strategise about how to reduce inequality in our country, was that there’d be some response from groups that represent that stratum of society – chambers of commerce, professional associations, the JSE, churches, industry groups, community fora and the like.

There’s an important place for individual action. And if you do get involved in things like supporting a student or assisting a micro-business or volunteering in a soup kitchen, it is very rewarding personally (I’ve been known to tell people with the blues to go and help someone – it’s the best cure!) – but as one reader points out, that level of engagement will not do much to prevent the explosion of anger we can expect if massive inequality persists.

And I still hope that my plea will be heard by such groups. The anger and desperation out there is growing – and that’s not just me talking. It’s the word from many people who live or work with the seriously disadvantaged.

And you know, it REALLY doesn’t matter that you believe you are no longer privileged as a white South African, that you feel disadvantaged by BBBEE, or that you are in fact are a poor white, the perception is that you sit on the wealthy side of the inequality equation. Terribly unfair, I know, but it is a fact that you simply have to accept at this moment in history – I’m afraid no matter how cleverly you argue the case, it’s not going to change that fact.

So it’s in your interests to take this problem seriously.

And I might add, it really doesn’t matter if you are one of the black middle or upper class, you should be concerned, too, because any huge societal upheaval is going to affect your life in very unpleasant ways that are unlikely to resolve quickly.

If we don’t tackle this issue meaningfully now, that upheaval is very, very likely.

PS and FYI: This middle-aged non-vegan (who has spent a lot of time following predators in game reserves and watches kills with fascination) identifies as neither left- nor right-wing (there are other positions, you know).

I’m a pragmatist; I believe that reducing inequality, caring about other people, reducing damage to the planet that is our home – yes, all those pinko-liberal things that get lambasted as leftovers from the flower-children era! – are the right and practical things to do to ensure that we are able to prosper in both the short and long term.