Rich people's indifference has a more poisonous side effect than striking workers

Rich people's indifference has a more poisonous side effect than striking workers
Children learn what they live, not what they hear - let alone from adults who speak with forked tongues.

Elite public sentiment last week turned against striking workers at SAA for messing up their travel plans. These people are threatening the economy while Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan has made it clear that there is no money, we said.

Among them were the chief executive of Business Leadership SA (BLSA) Busisiwe Mavuso, who asked the government to stay out of the stand-off because shareholders should not be involved in the day-to-day affairs of their investee companies. Does that include watching while a stalemate between management and striking workers threatens losses of about R60 million a day? That was the estimate given by SAA spokesperson Tlali Tlali.

Mavuso is among others whose words imply that the actions of the striking workers border on treason. She suggested that maybe the strike would help us by letting SAA fold because it was not a viable business. Besides, she said, there were other alternatives; unlike with Eskom.

Without singling out Mavuso and BLSA, that is the problem with rich South Africans. Workers should not strike for more pay, 8% more. Upstanding government leaders like Gordhan have told them straight: there is no money! If they were patriotic, they would understand.

Does that make striking workers a bigger threat to national security and the recovery of our country than the yawning gap between the rich and the poor?

Maybe one missed the comments by BLSA and other high-end income earners when Statistics SA released it Inequality Trends Report, for which an apology is in order.

Whatever they said, it was not as strident as their comments on striking workers. The same goes for government ministers and those for whom grounded flights are an inconvenience.

The report told us that our income distribution remained racialised, gender-biased and spatially unfair. Life went on in our airport lounges and cigar bars.

White people stand a higher chance of being employed than their black counterparts; and they earn more. The report showed that an average white person earned R24 646 a month compared with the R6 899 black people earned in the period 2011 to 2015.

Women were paid 30% less than their male counterparts during the same period; while rural workers made 50% less than their urban compatriots.

The real wages of the bottom 10% of our earners shrunk by 25%, while it shot up 15% and 48% among the top 2% and top 1% earners, respectively.

It is folly for us to believe that workers and unemployed South Africans will do what we tell them and ignore how we behave. They also could not care about helping their country to save money when those in power, including the managers and board members of their state-owned entities preside over losses that rise by tens of billions in a year.

They want 8%; not 48%, which some of the board members, who are telling them to be patriotic, earn.

Income inequality, economic injustice and rich people’s indifference have a more poisonous side effect than striking workers. Let us show compassion and decisiveness or leave them be.

* Kgomoeswana is the author of Africa is Open for Business, media commentator and public speaker on African business affairs.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.