I had an interesting thought the other day about the fact that just because a problem is racialised, it does not mean that the solution has to be. 

It is plainly obvious that income and wealth inequality and life outcomes in South Africa are race issues but it does not seem particularly clear to me that the solutions should be race-based, as the South African government thinks they should be, through the policy directions the government has taken.

I would argue that true redress in South Africa should run along socioeconomic and geospatial lines rather than mere racial ones. One way to do this would be to learn from the Dubai model, and incentivise businesses by creating tax-free zones in townships, rural areas and former homelands, where labour-intensive businesses which set up operations  would not have to pay any taxes to the government. 

This is a clear redress policy, rooted in the idea that apartheid’s geospatial planning led to severe underinvestment in these places compared with more privileged spaces. 

This policy does not have racial requirements, it has geospatial ones and therefore correctly redresses a past injustice. If a white-owned business wants to set up in these places, that business can and will most likely hire locals and be competitive because the requirement to pay taxes will fall away. 

Another policy would be adapted from the IRR’s Economic Empowerment for the Disadvantaged (EED) policy and would also be grounded in geospatial redress. In other words, taxpayer-funded education vouchers (which private companies can top up to earn EED points) should be made available in townships, rural areas and former homelands. This would take power out of the hands of corrupt and inept government actors and into the hands of parents and communities. Again, there is no racial component to this policy, it is merely a geospatial one grounded in the logic of real redress.

Another potential policy would be that of housing vouchers (as opposed to RDP housing), also geospatially grounded. These would ultimately take power out of the hands of tenderpreneurs and the politically connected, and put it right into the hands of those who need it. I suspect many of those who have become rich off government procurement in this area would find their finances drying up and companies of good repute taking centre stage. Again, any person of any racial background who lived in these areas would be a beneficiary. 

South Africa’s social grant system, while not without its issues, does operate on a socio-economic basis, and so simply extending this with a geospatial focus makes much more sense than a race-based regime.

It was actually pointed out to me by a white friend that all of this would be widely beneficial to our society, even to those who do not benefit directly. A more stable, more educated, more prosperous South Africa across many regions. This will mean a much larger domestic market for entrepreneurs to exploit, a more resilient economy, and a much safer South Africa, where young military-aged men are not sitting around jobless, unemployable, and contributing to the epidemic of violent crime. It will counter a general sense of despair (which is linked to rampant drug use like the opioid epidemic in America).

South Africa has actually never tried non-racialism. We have simply had a single-party state of affairs, first using race-based policies to create and enrich a small white middle-class elite, and then after 1994, a small black elite and middle class. The overwhelming majority of South Africans have had to face underinvestment and the absence of a free society based on both opportunity and merit.

I would argue that addressing or redressing this requires us to leave behind the paradigm of a race-based public policy regime and instead embrace one that directly attacks the geospatial and socioeconomic vectors of disadvantage. It requires public policy that incentivises behaviour from both business and the wider public that would enhance and build up a more capable, peaceful and prosperous society for everyone.

Indeed, just because our problems are race-based, it does not mean that our solutions should be too. In fact, I would argue they absolutely should not be.

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.