Poor thinking keeps SA township-community in self-inflicted poverty

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Clyde Ramalaine

 -Saving a community by making local religious sector directly accountable for economic change-

“I slept and dreamt life is beauty, I woke and found life is a duty.” These are the words of the wise philosopher Confucius. I thought of these words as I began to wrestle in penning musing on a subject of township economic transformation as held carceral by an accountable religious sector. Life is a duty…, meaning we have the duty, to be honest, and at times go where we are seldom wanting to go.

It is my submission, that ‘poverty is not a lack of resources, poverty is poor thinking.’ It goes without saying that Townships are cesspools of poverty, from its known chequered history it was designed by the apartheid system to be contained communities bereft of resource, opportunity and the right to advance itself in economic growth.

The logical conclusion for the original intention of townships would take us to the appreciate the extent of social ills we remain beset by. These social ills that to a large extent is anchored in the triplets of unemployment, inequality and poverty manifest in crime, gang violence fuelled by an illicit drug and more recently human trafficking fourth economic footprints that essentially has come to define most of our township communities.

Yet while we rightly may acknowledge and agree that apartheid as existentially to blame for township life as an undeniable fact, that may constitute a third of the story. The other third of the story is not any of apartheids blame but the residence of apartheids townships.

What do you mean I hear you retort? I am saying blaming apartheid is a third the story, blaming the democratic era political leadership is makes up another third of it, but there is another dimension to this problem that has come to define the totality of Kasi or Township life and the death trap of economic starvation which inadvertently affects our children more than anyone else. It remains my conviction that poverty is not an accident neither is poverty a matter of a lack of resources, poverty in its manifested forms is directly translated to poor thinking.

A couple of years ago, I participated in discussions on how to transform Township life. I argued misdirected thinking on economic power in our communities constitute a cardinal aspect of the problem. In that, I attempted to table a possible solution for Township economic transformation. When I raise the subject of township transformation it is in full cognizance that a community exists with designated sectors that define its meaningful life.

My conscious choice of Eldorado Park has little to do with its uniqueness but the fact that happen to know the community little better. It is furthermore my submission that what I hope to engage can be applied to any Township in SA. Eldorado Park, however, is the focus for these two musings which inculcates the two sectors of the community that constitute undeniable pillars. Back then I verbally shared this with those in attendance in an attempt to present solutions what I herewith in written form feels obligated to share as it relates to saving a community from poverty by using these two sectors. In this part 1, we will only engage the Religious Sector using Eldorado Park as the maximum symbol.

Part 2 will engage the Business Sector also confined to Eldorado Park in such I will postulate a solution for Youth Development.

Religious Sector

Every township has a thriving and vibrant religious sector defined in segments of Faith expressions held dearly by those who submit to such. Faith streams may be either dominant or manifesting in minority expressions yet they real and alive in the said Eldorado Park community.

What does Greater Eldorado Park reflect in statistics?

Eldorado Park is a suburb of JohannesburgSouth Africa. It is located in Region G of the City of Johannesburg Metropolitan Municipality. It lies on the southern boundary of Soweto and prior to 1994, was a Coloured township during Apartheid.

In 1965, the land was declared an area for the exclusive settlement of the Coloured South Africans under the Group Areas Act. It became part of Johannesburg in 1970. The geographic span of Greater Eldorado Park which includes Nancefield, Kliptown and Fun- Valley is best understood in core boundaries of a Golden-Highway that extends to Armadale and Klipspruit with Fuchsia road that reconnects with Boundary Road.

It is a community of a population constituting approximately 415-420000 residents. The Christian Church finds expression in 215 churches, of which 70 are contained in a recognised infrastructure of a church building. The rest making up 145 are contained in open space, classroom setups, garages and some shopping complexes. The seating capacity for the recognised church buildings in the community caters for 20500 people. The informal church capacity seating as contained in the churches that makes up those without a formal building of their own equally translates to 20500. Meaning those in attendance in church service on any key day of the week, comprise 41000 professing Christians who in turn make up 10% of the community population.

We also know that the area contains 15 Masjids which by itself has the Kliptown one as more well attended than all others, given the presence and influence of the foreigner’s diaspora community.

What we don’t know but can estimate?

Given this reality, it is safe to argue that there are comfortably 230 churches/masjids who each by themselves have an average kitty of R250k. This money it is claimed is savings as planned for a ‘rainy day’. I have spent my life in the church, I at some stage was a member of the pastoral team of AFM – SA in Eldorado Park in the 90’s. I also know of many church communities that have this worshipped ‘kitty’. It is not far-fetched to argue your denominational churches; non-denominational churches have the same if not more.

Those who do not have it in a liquid sense have a property that easily translates to my nominal accepted R750k. Meaning the community of faith while finding itself in an abyss of poverty at individual and collective sense is not poor. It then must be a logical argument to ask, why is the community trapped in poverty when its religious sector is in a plus with a kitty of R250k plus as individuals and combined in access of R60 million without counting property in ownership values of an additional R40 million.

Why then can a religious sector who will not leave the community, but be there forever fail to invest its kitty money in a combined pooled sense to change the economic landscape of the very community it lives and breathes in? Anybody knows R100 million on the table in cash will easily attract twice that if shared with prudent, seasoned and trustworthy investment. Meaning the community is R30million worth without any pressure.

What then to do with the pooling of this kitty money?

My disclaimer upfront, I am no economist and do not remotely purport to be one, I am a theologian and a social scientist by profession and this, therefore, affords me to look at economic things very simplistically. That simplistic mind dictates a that any investment in the known brands of grocery outfits of a SPAR, Checkers, Shoprite, Pick ‘n Pay for the groceries which the community, in any case, has is a forced buy, makes more than sense. The religious sector with its pooled resources and sound resourced advise would be able to make a very informed decision as to which of the franchises to attract with the best community benefit.

On another score, it makes only sense to extend that investment to include an interest in fuel franchise industry, where investment in filling stations forecourts are made. The average forecourt franchise costs between R5 to 10 million so investing in 5 of these appears a good investment because petrol is a grudge buy.

The third area of investment given the dynamics of the community comprises the fast-food industry, again common brands, Nando’s, Chicken Licken, Kentucky, Roco Mamas depending the market research may be comparable options that may be a good return on investment for the pooled resources.

The kitty money of the religious sector becomes a solid investment in three essential sectors namely retail, fuel and fast-food industries. All these are currently active in the community already without any true expanded benefit to the community of ownership, but with individual franchise holders. Let the kitty money owners become the franchise holders for these essential community needs.

What could make for elements of a beneficiary index?

Not only will pooled resources from the religious sector harvest better-negotiated ownership but it will directly translate to job creation, a job creation that derives from and with fulcrum impact on the said community. It will extend an opportunity of true shareholding which would tangibly alter the presence of what a religious sector would present in the said community. The creation of job opportunities always has a quadrupled effect on the community since one job caters for breadwinner care of 7-10 people that make up a family. The improvement of jobs in the said community leads by itself to a better quality of life.

What then are pressing questions religious sector must answer?

The religious community must, therefore, tell us if it is serious about the community it serves and is located in? It also must tell us why this simple solution may not yet have come to be accepted? It must accept that is an active role player in the economic deprivation of the community it practises its faith in and feed on a community that hitherto has been responsible for what they claim their rainy-day kitty money. The text says in all of your getting get understanding, it seems the religious sector either is oblivious to this text or it defies it by planning for a rainy day when the Christian Didache leads with a life of faith to be emulated daily.

Permit me in closure to again lean on Confucius as cited in the classic rhythm and blues song, YOU and ME,  “ … happy people make happy couples, happy couples make happy children, happy children, make happy families, happy families make happy communities, happy communities makes happy cities, happy cities makes happy states, Happy states? Happy nations…”

The township community’s economic happiness may just be possible when we can get the religious sector to stop this poor thinking.

Clyde N. S. Ramalaine
Political Commentator & Writer Chairperson of TMoSA Foundation