By: Russel Morena, SAIGA Chief Executive Officer

Post-1994, the month of April became a season of speeches about liberty in South Africa. This year, the period finds citizens in pockets of the land stepping to the mark to exercise their right to express their feelings.

Signs hint at an awareness and part of the awakening was that the South African bill of rights offered its people certain guarantees. Counted among the assurances is social security. It seemed, at this point, social security got looked at from an expanded approach. 

At the heart of the problem was that multitudes of a beloved country felt economically hard-done-by. In a state of social insecurity, several battled with economic distress. It was a daily challenge that rose with millions of people in the morning but hardly offered rest at night. 

A World Bank Poverty and Equity Brief of Sub-Saharan Africa puts the figure at 55.5 per cent of the South African population that lives in poverty. The current unemployment rate of 35.3 per cent was the highest since 2008. The expanded definition of unemployment, including people who have stopped looking for work, was 46.2 per cent.

The degradation of the South African territory and infrastructure also presented no prospects of joy for present and future generations. So, multitudes perceived their human dignity and environment as unprotected. Communal peace of mind was disturbed, it was becoming harder to breathe, and citizens were ill at ease. 

Twenty-eight years into democracy, the economic detention of millions was becoming a sure security threat. As Ray Phiri and Stimela sang, what was going on was that there was Trouble In the land of plenty. The writing on the wall spoke of the Freedom Project that somehow got derailed.

So, at the tip of tongues is the sentiment that the struggle continues. Thus countless wrestling with the shackles of economic bondage and poverty were on a drive.

Increasingly, they felt it was their duty to step up to the mark and help drive the liberation assignment to the visioned destination. For them, a sight for a sore heart is the 2022 Index of Economic Freedom, a 28th edition.

The Index, compiled by the Heritage Foundation, points out that South Africa was among the most economically unfree countries. Out of one hundred and eighty-four nations, the country ranks number one hundred and twelve at 56,2, down by 3,5 points.

The figures confirm reports that draw a gory picture of a nation counted among most unequal countries in the world. Numerous studies suggest inequality in the land was high, persistent and has increased since 1994. 

The status quo cannot remain. The landscape cannot remain, in the main, a hideous view…, whether the eye inspection was aerial or from the ground. Such a sight threatened the peace, stability and prosperity of the country. Solutions ought to be found and presented to ease the pains and lessen the tensions.

Over the years, one of the proposed ways out got phrased in a chant. There have been calls for economic freedom in this lifetime. Matters of financial liberty and commercial opportunity can no longer be delayed or postponed. 

The Heritage Foundation says economic freedom is valuable as an end itself. It is a vital component of human dignity, autonomy, and personal empowerment. According to the Index of Economic Freedom, the benefits of economic freedom are inclusive and numerous. They are strongly associated with healthier societies, cleaner environments, greater per capita wealth, human development, democracy, and poverty elimination. 

It has to make sense that South Africa should strive to have a truly economically empowered majority as that would spur growth. Research shows inclusive growth as an essential element for opening up more opportunities that individuals may use to advance economically and build lasting prosperity.

Nations guided by a clear inclusive vision appreciate it was untenable to have a few high-income earners and a relatively small middle class amid a sea of poverty. Very high levels of chronic poverty were said to be the offspring of high levels of income polarisation.

Economic freedom and opportunity should get treated as issues of national importance. Matters calling for the suspension of any selfish sentiments. Especially those mainly driven by race, class, exclusivity and political affiliation.

South Africa must have learnt that a nation that sidesteps, for long, issues of the scarcity of economic freedom and opportunity soon enough finds itself having to deal with a nightmare. The torment presented itself as a security threat that became a catalyst for social disharmony.

Recent eruptions of confrontations and violence in several townships and towns across the land bear evidence of a nation in conflict. Resolution of the discord demanded the issues of lack of economic freedom and opportunity got addressed speedily.  

Enabling an economic free environment with plenty of opportunities could go a long way to bring about a season of heightened social security.