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“Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors; we borrow it from our Children. ” “We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children” is an ancient Indian proverb that is reverberating in my ears. It was articulated by Craig Wing recently at a Global Shapers Johannesburg hub meeting.
Its pure simplicity is quite piercing because it shows the effect of our ancestors’ actions on our current situation and it also serves as a warning on our current actions’ impact on our children.
The architects of Apartheid effectively created a problem for everyone by creating artificial boundaries that were inherently going to be brought down. Anything that is artificial does not have staying power. The social, political and economic separation that was created took the country towards the extreme right swing of the pendulum.
This ensured that the minority population enjoyed the majority of the social, political and economic benefits. When the pendulum swung back in the democratic era, it reversed the exclusivity of the social and political benefits from the minority while the economic ones are still lagging far behind. The constitution of the country has guiding principles that help the pendulum to swing to a neutral position at the centre and not to the extreme left because that is also dangerous.
Broad-based Black Economic Empowerment policies are meant to accelerate the swing to the middle point which makes them temporal policies that cannot be allowed to stay on forever because they will swing the country to the extreme left.
The greatest blind spot suffered by the architects of apartheid was that they disregarded the circular nature of life where things swing back. The result is their children became adversely affected when their policy of separation unravels.
This is also a warning to the architects of transformation policies in South Africa to make sure that they understand the circular nature of life and factor it into the design of the policies. There is currently a lot of resistance in moving the economic pendulum from the status quo where only the minority benefits because of fear of an uncertain future. The problem is that the greater the resistance to economic transformation a greater amount of energy is going to be invested and extreme measures taken to make sure that the economic pendulum swings back but to the other extreme which could have unintended consequences.
The reality is that the pendulum will swing back but at what cost to the country and its economic prospects? A variation of the proverb “Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children” can be applied to the issue of land so brazenly dealt with by Pieter Mulder. Infrastructure is another recent example. The youth today are effectively going to be paying for the infrastructure based on decisions by people who are likely not going to be there when the full impact of the cost will be felt.
So the issue of e-tolls provided a victory to the litigants who successfully argued for the interdict to stop the e-tolling system temporarily. It is an important political victory of making sure that people concerns are heard and for the separation of powers between the Executive, Judiciary and the Parliament. It also raised important questions about who benefited from the R20 billion tenders and also questioned the fairness of the tariff structure and who will benefit from these fees.
So transparency was the winner principle at the end of the day. However it is a Pyrrhic victory because the ultimate solution sought by the litigants is the shifting of the burden of paying for the roads from the road users to all taxpayers. So the bottom line is that the young people will be bearing the burden of the long term cost of this e-toll through increased taxes or less support from the government while the older people will be enjoying the retirement funds returns generated from this through the bonds they bought.
Furthermore this places the user-pays-principle which is much more equitable for future generations at risk which in turn scares away the investors especially in areas where we are suffering from an infrastructure deficit. So we might be solving the infrastructure development problem by borrowing from our children to fight power politics of old people who have no enduring interest in intergenerational equity. Young people are the ones who should be shaping the decisions that affect their future represented by their informed and decisive leaders while making sure that they don’t inherit the unhelpful habits of their ancestors.
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