The Living Conditions Survey : A Story that Leaves much to be desired
By Molaodi Wa Sekake
Over and above the programmes that the Young Communist League of South AFrica [YCLSA] has always been been undertaking, we have at pains in dispelling many of the deeply held myths about the economy, especially as far as the neoliberal capitalist economy`s capacity to ameliorate social and economic ills is concerned. In actual fact, many of our campaigns such as Jobs for Youth, the Right to Learn, the Read to Lead, or our Ten Youth Demands yearly contextualized, which mainstream media does not sufficiently cover, have sought to bring forth -theoretically and programmatically so - progressive and alternative paradigms through which we can best understand our situation and respond adequately. One of our proposition has been: decommodify social services because a neoliberal wage-determinant consumption capacity of society is unfavourable to the majority of the people - the working class.
Last year`s National Income Dynamic Survey  by the University of Capetown (on behalf of government) launched by the Minister in the Presidency, Jeff Radebe, and this week`s release of the Living Conditions Survey  by Statistics South Africa, confirm many of the things that the SACP and the YCLSA have been saying.
What has always been the subject of our critique is a semi-colonial growth path that constantly reproduces the structural and systemic features of an economy that in no way can overcome poverty, inequality and unemployment. And some of the things that we have put forth to deal with such a situation have been - a need for a comprehensive social security scheme linked with creating labour-absorptive industries; control of financial capital flows to encourage investment in the national economy; taking charge of the commanding heights of the economy - land, steel industry, Sasol, mines, banks [creation of a state bank] etc., and the introduction of the minimum wage that will cushion workers from penal poverty.
As things stand, South Africa does not have a national minimum wage. Instead wages are set on a sectoral basis through collective agreements negotiated at the level of the firm or bargaining council, or through sectoral determinations published by the government. What this simply means is that, there is no cross-cutting legislative stipulation on at least how much an average industrial or farm or domestic worker must earn. With the country that still reels from the legacies of apartheid and colonialism such a reality has, with no doubt in mind, increased class, racial and gender income inequalities instead of ameliorating them. This is taking place offcourse on the basis of an entrenched social and economic reality upon which there is a palpable gulf between the owning class and the slaving or working class. On average, men earn far more than women - and in terms of racial demographics, whites earned far more than blacks.
The Living Conditions Survey observes that many black households "work to eat" in the main. This therefore says, the average annual household food consumption expenditure of poor black households takes place at the expense of household consumption expenditure on things such education, hence the #FeesMustFall protests, as well as on things such as health, electricity, water etc.
While the ANC-led government has made it possible for many poor people to access water, electricity, houses etc., - achievements of the RDP social and economic policy and programme rationale - the logic of neo-liberal capitalist commodification of social and economic services however constantly and ruthlessly reverses these gains, as people are expected to pay to access these services . And in order for them to pay they must have money, and to have money they must be employed and paid sufficiently. But given the levels of unemployment in South Africa, and therefore lack of disposable income or adequate money in the hands of the poor, it goes without saying that many people cannot access these services which must be bought in the capitalist market of commodities, however important they are to people`s lives. This the failure of a GEAR  social and econommic policy and programme rationale. Under a socially and economically responsive RDP people were citizens, under neoliberal GEAR people became customers, and the NDP is unlikely to undermine this neoliberal logic, and so the anti-working class social and economic crusade goes on unabated.
While social grants might have dampened poverty by putting money in the hands of households to afford goods and services in the economy, that does not in any way challenge the logic of neoliberal capitalist commodification of social and economic services. The counter-cyclical fiscal policy measures adopted by government at different times which simply means "reducing spending and raising taxes during a boom period, and increasing spending/cutting taxes during a recession" have also not gone far to tilt the balance of forces in favour of the poor and workers.
If the Living Conditions Survey observes that many people - especially majority of black people - work to eat, it simply means, for the black poor there are no assets or funds available to their households (from income, past savings and borrowing) and in no way can they commit to a range of non-consumption items, including various forms of savings.
How and what are they going to save when what they earn cannot even afford them sufficient basic commodities or amenities to see the next day? If the powers-that-be - those who have been given power by the electorate - are not willing to change the situation, they must brace themselves for a mass-based or popular-driven programme that goes beyond their parochial political and intellectual inclinations in pursuit of a just society. We will always be on the side of the socially and economically marginalized people in general and young people in particular, against the interests of the self-serving political and economic elite, this is the bottom line because the YCLSA says so.
Molaodi Wa Sekake
YCLSA National Spokesperson
078 164 3668