South Africa's white-black wealth gap is obscene.

Author:Choruma, Allen

Twenty-four years after independence, South Africa remains a country racially divided and pregnant with inequalities. It is said that only three white billionaires own the same wealth as the poorest half of the black population or 22 million people, a sign that the gap between the super-rich white people and the poor blacks has reached levels of obscenity that must be urgently addressed to avoid social unrest.

Although statistics are not easily available, media reports indicate that 77% of securities listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) are majority-owned by whites, foreign and local institutional investors, with blacks, directly and mainly through institutional investments (pension funds), controlling the remainder--about 23%. The conglomerates listed on the JSE are also managed overwhelmingly by white male executives: 91% of CEOs and 75% of directors are white.

Many of the mammoth JSE-listed businesses have advanced into the townships and rural areas, previously a stronghold of black businesses. This is demonstrated by the mushrooming of huge malls, pushing the once-thriving black business people--who are unable to compete--into the informal sector of tuck-shops and petty businesses, further widening the gap in wealth between blacks and whites.

Land ownership and the agriculture sector show similar trends of white domination. About 79% of prime agricultural land--and associated resources--is majority-owned by 35,000 white commercial farmers and big corporations and a tiny fraction of black elites.

The economic system in South Africa is therefore firmly in the hands of the minority whites. The benefits of the country's economic success have not trickled down to the poorest--the ordinary black South African--but are the exclusive province of a small group, mainly white.

Unless these inequalities and poverty levels are addressed, South Africa will remain a hotbed for social unrest and political tensions.

Independence in 1994, a product of a negotiated settlement, merely shifted political power from whites to blacks and kept the economic structure and institutions intact, thus perpetuating the colonial and apartheid system of economic discrimination and inequalities.

Post-independence, only a few black elites, the so-called 'political aristocracy'--including President Cyril Ramaphosa and a few others --have prospered, thanks to affirmative action policies such as Black Economic Empowerment (BEE).

Dr Allan Boesak, a renowned...

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