Article By Mzomuhle Msomi
People who live in Gauteng are amongst the poorest in the country. It sounds weird to say that the poorest people in a country live in its Economic Capital but it’s true. Before I unpack this, one has to define what being poor is. Being poor is being unable to afford basic needs and live a dignified life within your geographical area. The cost of living varies from one area to another, and the people’s ability to afford that cost determines their proximity to poverty.
The cost of living in Gauteng is high. Very high!! The main driver of that cost being “gentrification”. Gentrification is the process of improving an area in order to meet the needs of a specific class. Oxford might have a different definition but this one is mine… Essentially what you do to initiate the process of gentrification is you need land(Highlights the importance of land). Without land the process can’t work. So government gives a huge construction company huge plots of land and they begin the construction process, normally the first step is building a “special mall”(Think Mall of Africa or Gateway”). The aim of the mall is to create economic traffic i.e create a desire for people to go to that area. The promotional narrative is always “We are boosting local economy” and “create jobs” note that it NEVER EVER and WILL NEVER EVER say that we are sharing wealth and stimulating SMMEs. NEVER!! It won’t even say we are building an inclusive economy, the underlining posture is essentially “We shall build an economy for ourselves and we shall give you jobs”. Normally there is a positive narrative for the process so we all rejoice at the notion of job creation and sing kumbaye.
Once that happens there is normally a plan to develop the surrounding area, build business parks, residential accommodation and other surrounding business area to boost this economy. Enter government, the municipality has to upgrade infrastructure around the area cause more people will reside in the area but more importantly, more business is investing in the area. So municipality invests in road development, reinforce water reserves capacity, reinforce electricity capacity, deploy more police to “secure” the area, improve the turnaround time for repairs and complaints etc. But all this is costly and a municipality needs to recoup its “investment”. The development is complete and people are excited about the “economic improvement and job creation”. The municipality needs to generate revenue, in fact, because it went out of its way to revamp infrastructure in the area it had an expectation to recoup more rates, so it hikes the prices of levies. Home owners pay more levies so they charge more rent, so your renting goes up. The developers of the surrounding Mall and other businesses in the area also need to recoup their costs, so they charge more which translates to their product charge. The average things you buy a month go up by more than 10% but you have a job that probably increases your salary by 6% at best and that’s if they feel good so you start losing 4% per annum. The municipality builds Gautrain infrastructure for the busses but don’t build taxi ranks. They tell you there are complications and it’s difficult but the truth is that they’re building a haven for middle or even higher middle class people and those people don’t take taxis so why would they bother plus they are planning on marginalizing poor until they move.
The gentrification process is now full steam ahead. You can barely afford rent and food. Everything is expensive. Boujee stores start popping up, Tashas, Signature, Hard Rock Café etc sekuba rough. Suddenly your favourite shisanyama closes down, not because it’s not making profit but because they were denied a lease renewal. They will feed them a story but simply put their establishment doesn’t fit the New York or London lifestyle so they get dealt with. Now you can’t afford your home, food or party in your area cause for you to have fun you must drink a R40 dumpie. At this stage you have a credit card because ends don’t meet. You start partying more in Thembisa and Soweto. Mainly cause that’s the vibe you like but also it’s the only places you can afford.
Meanwhile the analysts are saying “economy is booming”, a booming economy merely means more debt is in circulation and more people are buying things that they shouldn’t buy. You get excited, meanwhile your life is in a crisis and you’re barely making ends meet and your raise won’t even exceed 6% so you’re bound to lose another 4% of your salary the following year, your purchase power keeps dwindling and being supplemented by credit.
It’s hard to move out of your place and area to a more affordable place cause of “Abantu Bazothini Syndrome(ABS)”. You probably start defaulting here and there fearing for the worst, you move in with your girl or go back home to your back room nyana. All this is happening to YOU while the economy grows and jobs are being created. Further, those people with the “new” jobs also can’t afford to live in the area that they work so they have to travel. Coming from numerous townships around the “economic hub”. They spend a whole lot on travel, probably more than half their salaries or wages. The gap between the haves and have-nots continues to grow and political instability is looming. But because your favourite analyst and your radio presenters keep telling you that the economy is doing well and unemployment is low, you feel good plus it neutralizes the brewing instability. You stop realizing that this growing economy excludes you and imposes a living cost you can’t afford that is driving you towards poverty. You don’t realize that this growing economy is making you a slave to debt and financing institutions. But there is a positive media narrative being sold by people who have been bought to mislead you so you’re oblivious to your problem and it’s true source, ECONOMIC EXLUSION. Your political friend tells you we need land, you label him a heretic and problem child not knowing that the root cause of your crisis is being landless. Besides if land was the solution media would tell you about it? Right? HAHAHAHAHAHA ***More laughing out loud emojis***
Economic development is a beast that either builds you or destroys you. If you are not an equity stakeholder in that economic development you will be a victim of that economic development. This my good friend, is the gentrification process. Don’t believe me but ask the people of Cape Town and in a few years ask the people who currently “lived” in Midrand about gentrification.