Positive ways of lessening inequality

A recent newspaper report indicated that 1% of the world’s population would soon be wealthier than the rest of us combined.

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My first reaction was to ask why I should care about the distribution of global wealth? After all, what difference does it make to my life (although I have to admit to a fleeting moment of envy)? But since I cannot even conceive of that amount of money, I quickly moved on to the next story on the page – a farm attack. A family’s possessions was coveted to such an extent that someone was willing to risk life and limb. It is a sad truth that envy has ruined many friendships and has even led to wars around the world.

Successful black farmers report that they are often the target of envy. Instead of their families and neighbours celebrating the fruits of their hard work, they show up wanting to share in the rewards. But when there was work to be done and risks to be taken, these people were nowhere to be seen.

The world’s richest 1% will tell you that it’s easy to make money, if you have money. Similarly, the poorest of the poor can tell you how difficult it is to make something of yourself if you can’t afford a decent education, medical care and nutritious food. Envy of, and even underlying resentment towards, well-off people is therefore understandable.

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Never having gone to bed hungry, I may longingly dream about having a few million rand in the bank, but someone living on only a few rands a day and not able to see a way out of the situation is bound to have stronger feelings about inequality. If he perceives the wealthy elite as corrupt or enriching themselves at the expense of their employees, these feelings are bound to boil over into something much worse than mere jealousy.

Put together enough like-minded souls, and governments can be toppled. No wonder the ANC is rumoured to be trying to convince Julius Malema to abandon his revolutionary aspirations and return to the fold. What I don’t understand, however, is government’s inability to address the inefficiencies in the land reform process.

But, while politicians and organised agriculture are negotiating about a workable land reform model, some farmers, such as a group in the Western Cape’s Witzenberg region, are taking matters into their own hands. Risking their own money and time, they are launching 50 projects covering 4 000ha. Across the country, other farmers and organisations are following suit, with varying degrees of involvement.

Receiving a letter from an aspiring black farmer who showed up unannounced at a commercial farmer’s gate asking for production advice and was promptly assisted, fills me with hope. As long as ordinary people are willing to look beyond past disappointments, resentment and preconceived notions, there is a way forward.