It’s a great honour for me to be able to deliver this year’s Barry Streek Lecture.
For most of our careers Barry and I were on different sides of the great South African
political divide. However, I would like to think that after 2 February 1990 there was
some convergence and that in later years we shared a common determination to
support the constitutional values on which our new society has been founded.
Today - 6 September - is an auspicious day in our history. It was on this day in 1939
that South Africa declared war on Germany. It was on this date that Dr Verwoerd
was assassinated - and this was also the date of South Africa’s last discriminatory
It is perhaps appropriate on such a day for us to step back from the rough and
tumble of our daily political debate to consider the progress that we have made - or
have failed to make - with the promotion of equality. It is one of the key values on
which our new society has been established and I am sure was also one of Barry’s
Barry Streek was a passionate supporter of the ideal of social justice - not only in his
writing but also in his actions. In 1984 he established the Social Change Assistance
Trust to improve the quality of life and living standards of poor rural communities. So
I am sure that he would have approved of the idea of examining where we are with
equality 18 years after the establishment of our new society.
I believe that it is also appropriate to consider this topic because questions relating
to equality are seldom far from the heart of our political debate. Indeed, few topics
elicit such impassioned - and often uninformed - comment.
For example, the horrifying killing of 34 miners two weeks ago at Marikana was
immediately interpreted as yet another manifestation of South Africa’s inequality
crisis by the media, and by local commentators and academics.
The message was carried throughout the world that the dispute had arisen because
miners were earning only R4 000 per month and were demanding that their wages
should be more than trebled to R12 500. In fact, the average cost to the company of
the miners’ package is R11 4001. This could easily have been established by the print
and TV journalists.
They could also have informed the public that in terms of the existing labour
agreement Lonmin workers will qualify for an increase of up to 10% in October2. This
would bring the total package of striking rock-drill operators well above R12 500.
However, such facts would not have fitted into the inequality paradigm and the 30-
second sound-bites that pass for informed analysis.
The total package of Lonmin rock drill operators on a purchasing power parity basis
is almost US $2 000 per month.3 According to the International Labour Organisation,
this is substantially higher than the average wage in countries like Israel, Poland and
the Czech Republic, and twice as high as the average wage in competitor countries
like Chile and Malaysia.4 It is also higher than the median wage of white South
Africans - that is, the wages of 50% of white workers - which in December 2009 was
R 9 500 per month.5
The relevant wage divide is not, as the media would have it, the gap between
Lonmin workers and their Chairman in London - however unacceptable this might
be: it is the fact that Lonmin workers have incomes that are 20 times higher than
their unemployed neighbours in Marikana.
This fact lies at the heart of the inequality problem that we face.
The achievement of equality together with human dignity are the core founding
values of our Constitution. However, there is little agreement on the notoriously
illusive meaning of equality. Former Constitutional Court judge, Laurie Ackermann,
links it to the “common and immeasurable human worth” or dignity of people. This
accords with the Constitutional Court’s view that equality of human dignity lies at
the heart of the concepts of equality and non-discrimination.
The Constitution provides some guidance in helping to define equality:
right to equal protection and benefit of the law”. This means, above all, that
nobody should be subjected to unfair discrimination of any kind.
It is often argued that there must also be equality in the distribution of wealth.
Indeed, when most observers refer to the degree of equality or inequality in a
society they almost invariably have in mind the degree to which material benefits
Such equality is measured by the Gini index which reflects the distribution of income
on a scale where 0 indicates perfect equality - where all citizens would have exactly
the same income - to 100 - where all the income in a country would be bestowed on
a single individual.
South Africa’s dismal failure to achieve greater income equality is reflected in the
fact that our Gini index has deteriorated from 66 in 1996, to 70 in 2008.6 This makes
us, according to the World Bank, the second most unequal country in the world after
Namibia7. Inequality has also increased within all our population groups - from 54 to
62 among black South Africans, and from 43 to 50 among whites.8 This means that
even whites have much higher levels of inequality than the levels in developed
There is, of course, little possibility that, given mankind’s varied talents, proclivities
and circumstances, there is any prospect that any society will ever be able to attain a
condition of absolute material equality. The last one that tried was Pol Pot’s regime
Even supposedly communist countries like China and Vietnam have only middling
Gini indexes (China - 42 and Vietnam - 38) which put them in the same range as the
archetypal capitalist United States with 41. The most equal countries in the world
are Japan, Sweden and Denmark - all of which have Gini indexes of 259. In these
countries the top 10% earn only six times as much as the bottom 10%.
By contrast, the top 10% in South Africa earn 110 times more than the bottom
It was with this degree of inequality in mind - much of it the result of discriminatory
policies of the past - that the framers of the Constitution drafted Section 9(2). It
provides that “to promote the achievement of equality, legislative and other
measures designed to protect or advance persons or categories of persons,
disadvantaged by unfair discrimination, may be taken.”
Section 9(2) has subsequently become the fountainhead of all the ANC’s affirmative
action and black economic empowerment programmes. In 2004 it was further
defined by the Constitutional Court in the landmark case of Minister of Finance vs
Van Heerden. The Court ruled that “If a measure properly falls within the ambit of
section 9(2) it does not constitute unfair discrimination”.11
In so doing it arbitrarily dispensed with sections 9(3) and 9(5) which state
peremptorily that “the state may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly
against anyone on one or a number of grounds, including race...” and that
“discrimination ... is unfair unless it is established that the discrimination is fair.”
The judgment seriously diluted the non-derogable right to non-discrimination and
undermined the foundational value of non-racialism. Ironically, it also diluted the
right to equality. Indeed, the whole constitutional settlement rested squarely on
sections 9(3) and 9(5) - the proposition that future majority governments would not
discriminate unfairly against minorities and thus negate or dilute their access to all
the other rights and protections in the Constitution.
However, in the face of increasing national inequality there is good reason to
conclude that the government’s affirmative action and BEE policies have failed to
address inequality - and might even have aggravated it. This is because most
affirmative action and BEE occur in the top 10 to 15% of the income pyramid and
have little or no impact on the bottom 85% of our society.
Indeed, unbalanced affirmative action, which has contributed to the collapse of
service delivery in municipalities and key government departments, has undoubtedly
limited the access of people to “full and equal enjoyment of all rights and freedoms”.
It may thus have diminished the level of equality in our society.
In addition, income and education levels no longer coincide with race.
Whites are still the most privileged community in terms of both income and
education levels. Nevertheless, the situation is changing. In 1995 whites accounted
for 69% of those in the top earnings decile. By 2007 their share had diminished to
43%.12 By 2009 there were more than 930 000 black, coloured and Indian South
Africans who earned more than 800 000 whites.13
Also, the Gini index of 50 within the white community means that there is about the
same level of inequality within the community as there is in most Latin American
countries. 25% of whites earn less than R5 00014 per month and 34% do not have
matric15. This means that there are some nine million black, coloured and Indian
South Africans who have higher incomes and education levels than more than a
It is accordingly difficult to see how the remedial measures envisaged in Section 9.2
can be implemented without taking into account the actual circumstances of the individuals involved - particularly when it comes to affirmative action appointments
Clearly, when black, coloured or Indian candidates from the privileged education and
income group are “advanced” over white candidates from a less privileged education
and income group, the result does not “promote the achievement of equality”. It is
simply unfair racial discrimination and points to the injustice and irrationality of
using race as the determinant of advantage and disadvantage.
Section 9(2) is now also seen as the constitutional basis for the ideology of
demographic representivity which underlies the ANC’s National Democratic
Revolution. Its ultimate goal would be demographic and gender representivity at all
levels of the private, public and non-governmental sectors.
The future prospects of South Africans would once again be arbitrarily determined
by their race and gender - and not by their individual merit. The ideology is firmly
based on racial discrimination and would accordingly undermine the rights, of those
affected, to equality.
On this basis the Department of Correctional Services is doggedly refusing to
promote coloureds in the Western Cape because they exceed their national
demographic quota of 8.8%. They are told that if they want to be promoted they will
have to move to other parts of the country where they are under-represented.
Affirmative action and black economic empowerment, when fairly applied, may play
a role in helping to promote greater equality within the top 15% - 20% of income
earners. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that they are not the most
appropriate ‘legislative and other measures’ ‘to promote the achievement of
equality’ in the broader population.
What then are the roots of the increasing inequality in our society?
A recent study by the World Bank”17 provides some answers. According to the study,
inequality of opportunity among children is affected by personal and family-related
factors such as:
number of children up to the age of 16;the education level, gender and age of the household head; and
Other factors that can impact on equality include access to quality basic services
such as education, health care, essential infrastructure including water, sanitation,
and electricity, and early childhood development.
In terms of these criteria, white children have enormous advantages: 83%18 come
from two-parent households with relatively small families. They live overwhelmingly
in urban areas and have access to good education and health services.
By contrast, only 30% of black children come from double-parent families. In poorer
communities and in rural areas most have several siblings. 859 000 are double
orphans and 98 000 live in child-headed households. The great majority of black
children live in rural areas, informal settlements or townships. Very few have access
to decent schools and health care. 19
No wonder they struggle with inequality in later years. They also find it much more
difficult to get jobs when they leave school.
Apart from these social factors, one of the principal causes of inequality is the
catastrophic failure of our education system. Our children fare very badly in Grade 3
and Grade 6 numeracy and literacy tests. 60% leave school without a matric and
those who pass matric do so with an average mark of less than 40%. Only the 13%
who obtain university entrance have reasonable qualifications - and many of these
come from private schools and former model-C schools.20
Unemployment - exacerbated by poor education - is the other principal reason for
our failure to promote equality. Unemployment levels are far more serious than
official statistics indicate. The official unemployment rate at the end of the second
quarter of 2012 was 24.9%. However, if the two million workers who have given up
their search for jobs are included, the expanded unemployment rate climbs to
The real problem is the very low labour absorption rate particularly among black
South Africans. Only 36.8% of black South Africans between the ages of 15 and 64
are in employment - compared with 63.2% among whites. Only 34.5% of the
potential workforce is involved in formal employment - and only 19% pay PAYE or
The main inequality divide in South Africa is no longer between blacks and whites
but between unionized and employed workers on the one hand - and the 40% of the
population that are unemployed on the other. It is a divide that lies at the heart of our inequality challenge. It is also the divide that Cosatu is determined to defend by
vigorously opposing any efforts to make the labour market more flexible.
The government should accordingly be concentrating its efforts to promote equality
on job creation and the provision of decent basic education, training, security,
housing and health services.
A recent study by the South African Institute of Race Relations23 shows that existing
state programmes are already having a marked effect on improving the basic living
conditions of the poorest segments of the population. The study is based on an
analysis of recent Living Standards Measures (LSMs). LSMs categorise people - not
according to income - but according to objective criteria such as whether they are
urbanised, own motor vehicles or major appliances, or have running water or a flush
toilet. LSM 1 is the lowest or poorest category and LSM 10 the highest.
The study revealed that between 2001 and 2011 there was an impressive
improvement in the living conditions of the poorest segments of our society. During
this period the percentage of people living in the lowest four LSMs diminished from
52.6% to just 24.4%. This improvement is ascribed almost entirely to the enormous
increase in social transfers in the past 10 years. This includes the provision of
children’s allowances, disability payments and pensions to 15.6 million people -
more than 30% of the population. State transfers now comprise the largest income
component for the bottom 30% of the population.
The improvement in living standards also reflects the provision of more than three
million state houses and greatly enhanced access to mobile phones, electricity,
water and sanitation services. Between 2001 and 2011 per capita social spending
increased from R4 993 to R10 207 in 200824. Increased social expenditure has
undoubtedly had a significant impact on living standards - but not on income levels.
The problem is that such transfers are unsustainable - and hold the danger of
creating a permanent dependency culture.
The long-term solution to the problem of inequality lies in vastly improving our
education and training system and in creating jobs. These are precisely the factors
that have been identified and addressed by the National Planning Commission in the
National Development Plan. However, the solution also lies in addressing the
underlying social factors identified by the World Bank.
My recommendations for the promotion of equality are accordingly as follows:
1. Fix the education system. Next year the budget will be R207 billion25. Together
with other education expenditure this amounts to almost R16 000 per pupil and student.
2. Create jobs by establishing a far more flexible labour dispensation - particularly
for first-time job-seekers and by offering incentives to small and medium size
businesses to employ people.
3. Ensure sustained and accelerated economic growth, inter alia by implementing
the National Development Plan.
4. Abandon race-based and divisive ideologies based on demographic
representivity. Shift the accent in affirmative action programmes from race to
5. Launch a nationwide campaign to encourage fathers to accept their
responsibilities to their children. We need an environment in which every child
that is born is wanted and will be nurtured and loved by two parents.
6. Challenge the Van Heerden Judgment in the Constitutional Court and restore the
foundational value of non-racialism and the non-derogable freedom against
7. Place greater accent in black empowerment deals on share schemes for
employees rather than enriching people with political connections.
8. Vastly improve service delivery by stopping cadre deployment and by appointing
people to key jobs solely on merit.
9. Take real steps to root out corruption - which is eviscerating our ability to
provide decent and affordable services to the people. Start by re-establishing the
Scorpions and by cleaning out the National Prosecuting Authority.
10. Make it a national priority to improve our Gini index to 45 in the next fifteen
This may sound impossible.
But if we cast our minds back to the 1994 we South Africans should remember that
we specialize in the impossible! And I am sure that Barry Streek would have agreed!
1 Statement by Lonmin, 24 August 2012, “Lonmin Seeks Sustainable Peace at Marikana”; Lonmin
2 Statement by Lonmin, 5 DEecember 2011, “Details of wage Agreements With Unions”; Lonmin
3 Using PPP inflator of 1.32 x official US$ exchange rate;
4 As quoted by BBC News, 29 March, 2012: “Where ar you on the global pay scale?”; BBC website
5 Statssa: “Monthly Earnings of South Africans, 2010”; 30 November, 2010: Statssa website
6 Dr Max Price; Presentation to the Cape Town Press Club, 27 August, 2012; “What has happened to
inequality and poverty in post-apartheid South Africa?”
7 “List of Countries by Income Inequality”; Wikepedia; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_ countries
8 Dr Max Price; loc.cit
9 “List of Countries by Income Inequality”;loc. cit.
10 Dr Max Price; loc . cit.
11 Minjnster of Finance and Other v Van Heerden (CCT 63/03) (29 July 2004);
12 Dr Max Price: loc. cit.
13 Statssa; “Monthly Earnings of South Africans. 2010; loc. cit.
14 Statssa; “Monthly Earnings of South Africans. 2010; loc. cit
15 Statssa; “Community Survey, 2007”; 24 October, 2007
16 Extrapolated from Statssa; “Monthly Earnings of South Africans, 2010” and Statsaa “Community
Survey, 2007”; 24 October, 2007 loc, cit.
17 World Bank; “South Africa - Economic Update: Focus on Inequality and Opportunity”; July, 2012;
18 South African Institute of Race Relations; Lucy Holborn and Gail Eddy; “First Steps in Healing the
South African Family”, p. 2, March 2011;http://www.sairr.org.za/services/publications
19 South African Institute of Race Relations; loc.cit
20 Department of Basic Education; February, 2012; “Education Statistics in South Africa, 2010”
21 Statssa; “Monthly Earnings of South Africans. 2010; loc. cit.
22 Statssa; “Monthly Earnings of South Africans. 2010; loc. cit
23 South African Institute of Race Relations; “Living Standards on the Up”; 31 January, 2012;
24 Dr Max Price; loc.cit.
25 National Treasury; Estimates of National Expenditure, 2010