It is probably true, what Thami Mazwai (We should all be alarmed by poverty and inequality, July 11 ) writes, that few white South Africans have sufficient understanding of the poverty in which most black South Africans exist. Consider that in 2010 the median monthly earnings for black Africans was R2167 and the scale of the problem becomes apparent. The figure for whites was R9500. So on a relative scale it is true that whites are considerably better off than black Africans.
However, a point that is seldom made is that this relative inequality disguises the fact that white incomes are not actually that high. Consider that in 2009 half of white adults earned less than R100000 per annum. Consider also that black South Africans earning between R100000 and R300000 per annum may soon outnumber their white compatriots by two to one.
The idea therefore that whites live "mink and manure lives" and have "yachts" is not typically the case.
The fact is that contrary to populist opinion, whites do not possess the disposable income to drag the poor out of poverty via transfers beyond what is already transferred through the tax and welfare systems. Hence casting our poverty problem as a conflict between white wealth and/or indifference and black poverty offers no long-term solutions.
The only way to actually resolve the problem of black poverty is to ensure that two things begin to happen.
The first is that black South Africans achieve a high standard of education. This is not the case. Less than 10% of SA's children will pass maths in matric and only 50% will reach matric.
This poor performance must be read against an economy where primary and secondary industries' contributions to gross domestic product (GDP) have been declining in favour of the high-skills and high-tech tertiary sector. Getting whites to send their domestic workers' children to private schools is therefore not an answer at all. Only 15% of whites themselves end up in private schools.
Rather we must ensure that as long as the government insists in being the dominant provider of school education it does a better job of it.
Second, once out of school, black South Africans need to be absorbed into employment at a much greater rate than is currently the case. SA's labour market participation rate, which measures what proportion of working age population is employed or unemployed, sits a good 10 to 15 percentage points below comparable emerging markets.
The only time, after 1994, that SA has seen a sustained absolute decline in the number of unemployed people was when its economy exceeded a GDP growth rate of 5% in the period 2005 to 2007.
Growth of course requires investment and investment requires, among other things, a certain investment climate. This is again an area of policy that is under the firm control of the government. This is not to blame the government and then to sit back bemoaning our fate. In fact, running about blaming blacks or whites or apartheid or whatever for the inequalities we now confront will not get us anywhere. Rather it is to point out, that as things stand, two of the biggest problems holding us back are within the policy grip of the government. If we forget that and engage in squabbles about yacht owners and domestic workers we seal our own fate.
Deputy CEO, South African Institute of Race Relations