What happens in 2024 matters.

To tell the story of South Africa is to tell the story of psycho-social and socio-economic misery wrought on this country at every level by the misguided socialism and brazen rent-seeking by the ANC (and its offspring, the EFF) and the added debasement of the poor and vulnerable because of it.

According to a 2017 University of Cape Town study conducted at the city’s Hanover Park Midwife Obstetric Unit, being pregnant and food insecure more than doubled the chance of pregnant women developing depression or an anxiety disorder and is strongly associated with attempting suicide. This is troubling, as untreated mental illness in pregnant mothers has been shown to be linked to premature birth and low birth weight. 

After giving birth, mothers will likely have difficulty caring for themselves or their babies. If a new mother is not able to connect emotionally with her baby, in some cases neglect or even hostility towards the baby may follow. These all matter for the development of a child because if they are deprived of these inputs they can, in the longer term, develop social, emotional, and behavioural problems. 

Problems and costs downstream

Downstream these problems will ultimately show up as costs to public finances in the form of healthcare expenditure associated with alcohol abuse, domestic and community violence, and drug addiction. It will also affect costs in the criminal justice system, from policing resources, courts, and the prison system. There are downstream costs socially as well for the next generation of women, as the young men whose mothers experience food insecurity will also likely grow up in violent and suboptimal environments and visit their pain and trauma on the rest of society, but, in particular, on women.

Our rape crisis in this country is complex, but one of the factors is the problem of food insecurity and that was exacerbated by our stringent lockdown.

Perhaps the most heart-breaking illustration of how government socialist central planning leads to a lack of economic freedom and state collapse, is Venezuela. As of July 2020, an estimated 4.5 million Venezuelans have fled a country blighted by unemployment, collapsing utilities, a defunct healthcare system, and severe food shortages. 

As refugees, women have been particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation, violence, and trafficking. Many of them have fled to neighbouring Colombia where they are often propositioned by smugglers, traffickers, and armed groups, and if desperate enough, they sell their bodies for as little as US$2. Their children, as young as ten, are often forcibly abducted and trafficked by armed groups. 

Closer to home in Zimbabwe, where the disastrous policies of ZANU-PF have led to state collapse, women and girls are also being forced to sell their bodies to survive. Jessie Majome, a former Deputy Minister of Women’s Affairs, summed it up when she said in a 2015 Guardian interview: “There are children doing sex work. It is a terrible phenomenon. We talk of the economic collapse of Zimbabwe in GDP and dollars, but we do not talk about it in lives and hopes. This is the worst effect of Zimbabwe’s economic decline. We have whole armies of girls who are selling their bodies.”

As Majome rightly points out, we should not talk of economic decline in purely numerical terms. We must also link it to lives and hopes. 

Signs for South Africa

The signs are already there for South Africa, with a defunct healthcare system, severe economic contraction, business closures, and significant job losses. When we talk of the need for structural reform, we cannot simply talk in numerical terms – we must be diligent to talk about the lives and hopes of ordinary South Africans, especially women and children. 

This is where advocates for children’s and women’s rights and advocates for economic freedom are needed. Painful structural reforms must come together to prevent an even further slide down the road to absolute hell.

We have not begun to fully reckon with the costs of years of government mismanagement and poor economic performance. We are on the precipice, and unless tough decisions are made that will encourage investment and job creation, we cannot hope to tackle the fury, violence, and degradation that is coming. I’m confident that is not hyperbole.

I am hopeful though. Despite what the naysayers say there is no degradation we cannot come back from. It may be painful and difficult but we have many examples of countries which have gone from the absolute doldrums to paths of real prosperity. Between 1900 and 1990 (when the reign of dictator Augusto Pinochet ended) Chile’s economy grew at an average of 0.5% a year and their poverty rate lingered at around 48% of the population. Thanks to free market reforms initiated by the Chicago Boys – a group of Chilean economists educated at the University of Chicago under Milton Friedman – between 1990 and 2018, Chilean poverty dropped all the way down to just over 2%.

Chile, despite some of its problems went from being the poorest country in Latin America to the richest.  While not immune to the inequality that dogs Latin America in general, it still has lower inequality than Brazil, Argentina, and other major economies in the region.

South Africa has serious problems but these problems can be ameliorated with the right policy and political leadership and that a path of prosperity in a generation can be forged.

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR

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Sindile Vabaza is an avid writer and an aspiring economist.