We can feed ourselves

Khathu Mamaila, City Press, 19 April 2008

We are vulnerable. Extremely vulnerable. The current food crisis that is sweeping the globe underscores our collective vulnerability, especially the vulnerability of the working class and the poor.

The disappearance of the African peasant has had some negative effect. While the graduation from peasantry to capitalism was supposed to be accompanied by better living standards, it has produced a working class that is extremely vulnerable.

I witnessed the twilight years of semi-feudalism during my formative years at Mukula village in Limpopo.

My grandfather had several pieces of land which he and other family members tilled to produce food. Generally, there was plenty. He produced maize, pumpkins, sweet potatoes and other crops.

He had storage. One of these was referred to as dulu, which was used to store maize for a short time and the other was tshisiku, which was used to store food for up to five years. The stores, which were replenished after every harvest, would be used during years of drought.

At the time, people lived in houses that they owned. They built them for themselves.

They would eat meat and had cattle, goats and chickens.

Fast-forward to 2008. The black middle class, those who are supposed to have benefited the most from the dawn of democracy, has nothing.

Yes, we live in nice houses. Yes, we drive nice cars but all these are not ours. They are acquired through debt.

Many in this class are just a month away from bankruptcy. They literally cannot afford not to earn one month’s salary.

And if they do not get paid, they lose it all – the house, the cars and, somebody might even add, the spouse.

We are vulnerable. Extremely.

The marches organised by Cosatu against the high cost of food may not have drawn huge numbers but the problem affects virtually everybody.
Of course we cannot reverse the wheel and return to feudalism. It is not possible to return to subsistence farming. However, each of us can do better to reduce our vulnerability to the global conditions.

It had to take the government to pass the National Credit Act (NCA) to stop some among us from getting further into debt.

The NCA had one message – please live within your means. It protected both lenders and borrowers from reckless lending.

Of course the easy response to why people are in debt is that they do not earn enough and that is why they are forced to sink further into debt.

The irony is that it is the poorest, who are unable to access loans from the banks, who resort to loan sharks, paying interest of up to 30% a month.

There is borrowing that is justifiable. An example of this would be to borrow to buy a house. Obviously very few people can afford to build a house on their own without loans from the banks.

But there are debts that can be avoided. Do you need to buy money to replace a car which is still in good condition?

Do you need to borrow to buy luxury goods such as plasma screens?

When Tito Mboweni announced an interest rate hike last week he was trying to reduce demand. His primary objective is to bring inflation under control.

Granted, most of the factors pushing inflation are outside our control. Among these are the high prices of oil and food.

Left unchecked, inflation is the one factor that can erode earnings. And as much as the loudest complaints over inflation come from the middle class, those on the lower rungs of the economy feel the pangs of inflation more.

Food and transport costs have increased by more than 30%. The poor spend up to 80% of their earnings on food and transport.

Our country can learn to be independent from our ancestors. The agriculture department should help farmers produce food.

That can reduce our vulnerability.

From: http://www.news24.com/City_Press/Columnists/0,,186-1695_2308934,00.html

657 words