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Media Centre  |  Submissions

The Working Class and the Food Crisis in Post-Apartheid South Africa: COSATU Input at Tribunal on Hunger, Food Prices and Land 2015

1 July 2015

Socio-economic Context

- South Africa is the most unequal society in the world
- Gini coefficient increased from 0.64 in 1995 to 0.65 in 2010”
- The top 10% of the richest households in SA account for over half of the nation’s income ( Presidency 2014)
- our country’s inequality is accompanied by glaring class, gender and race divisions.
- In 2010 average income for African males was R 2400 a month; whilst their white counterparts earned R 19 000 ( COSATU 2010)
- The high levels of socio-economic disparities can be observed in all areas of social development.
- South Africans have unequal access to essential social services/ goods such as health, housing, water , electricity & Food
- This trend has been created by a number of contemporary and historical factors.
- The most obvious one is the implementation of neoliberal economic policies

Food Crisis

- Recent research reports indicate that 46% of the population is food insecure.
- 28.3% of the population is at risk of going hungry, and 26% experiences hunger on a daily basis.
- Half of South Africans do not have sufficient access to affordable, nutritious and safe food to meet their basic health requirements
- These food insecure citizens reside in working class communities such as townships and rural areas

Workers and the Food Crisis

- The share of wages in the national income has declined since 1994; even though SA experienced its longest period of sustained economic growth
- Median wage rate in SA is R3033; well below the ILO recommended minimum living level of R4500
- Post-Apartheid Neoliberal food system is characterized by precarious work and apartheid/colonial wages
- average male farm worker salary = R 667 per month, while the average female salary averages R 458 per month (DAFF 2010)
- The commercial farm workers = lowest paid in the formal economy
- Black agricultural workers, especially women, receive lower wages
- Sectoral Determination 2013: raised minimum wage rate from R69 to R 105 a day
- Insufficient : farm workers and their families cannot afford a ‘balanced daily food plate’( Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy 2013)
- The cost of a basic food basket rose from R 394 in October 2010 to R 486 in October 2012
- Farm workers and working class spend 40 percent or more of their total income on food and non-alcoholic beverages (Bureau for Food and Agricultural Policy 2013)
- This super exploitation of workers is prevalent throughout the entire neoliberal food value chain
- Especially the retail sector: labour broking; short-term contract work; violation of working rights...

Neoliberalism & Food Crisis

- The state has a constitutional obligation to ensure that all citizens have sufficient access to food( Section 27 RSA Constitution)
- Government has attempted to address this crisis through various integrated food and nutrition strategies
- These efforts have failed, because of an incorrect analysis on the primary causes of the food crisis
- Mainstream liberal economist/ government officials have adopted a narrow conception of food security= reduces food crisis to production shortages or social security

Neoliberalism and Structural Causes of the Food Crisis

- Government has implemented neoliberal macro economic policy = deregulation, privatization, minimal state intervention . Result:
1.Exorbitant food prices charged by the food industry. commodity prices of staple food increased by 50 % between February 2013 and 2014 ( Oxfam 2013).
2. Failure of land and agrarian reform strategy =inadequate access to basic resources : water & land.
2.1 . most subsistence farmers live in the former Bantustan tribal authority areas =13% of the country’s land area ; while fewer than 40,000 farming units cover 67% of the country

- Economic concentration in the entire food value-chain.
- 3% of South African farms produce over 90% of our food.
- Manufacturing and agro-processing is dominated by few large entities (Tiger Brands etc) = guilty of price fixing by the Competition Commission in 2010
- The retail sector is also controlled by five major retailers; with a joint market share of 60%
- over-reliance on industrial agriculture with high oil and chemicals inputs = high costs & exacerbate the ecological crisis ( climate change, soil erosion etc)

Solution= Food Sovereignty

- Total over-haul of the neo-liberal food regime, which benefits the few
- Citizen’s control over the production, distribution and consumption of food.
1. Give landless people /farm workers ownership and control over land they work
2. Promote localization = production and consumption
3 . Environmental justice = end dependence on chemical inputs / promote sustainable usage of seeds, water & land
4. Challenge neo-liberal trade and industrial policy= end economic dominance of MNC/ TNCs
5 Restructuring the political economy in oder to decommodify food= constitutional right over profit. Citizens right to food must be central in agricultural policy

Food Sovereignty

- Promote organic forms of knowledge sharing and capacity building
- Fight for a just transition towards an eco-socialist society