DON’T IGNORE POVERTY

Jack Bloom MPL

Leader of the Gauteng Legislature

If you think we have problems, you should look at a country like India.

It has 1.2 billion people, more than 20 times larger than our population. Ten of India’s 28 states have populations larger than 50 million.

And there are 2000 ethnic groups who speak 28 different languages. Only the entire continent of Africa contains more human diversity.

India’s largest city, Mumbai, has 12 million inhabitants, half of whom are slum-dwellers.

Their living conditions are appalling, including more than one million people who live on the pavements.

Any visitor to India is struck by the visible wretchedness of so many of its people. Beggars with the most horrific deformities are everywhere.

A morally sensitive person in India has to mentally switch off certain sights to avoid being overwhelmed by human pain.

So one steps over sleeping families on the pavements and enters a restaurant where a meal is more than a month’s income for many.

Rich and poor live very close in India, so you can have a millionaire’s mansion next to a squatter camp (it helps that they have low crime).

It is more possible to insulate yourself from the misery of the poor in South Africa.

This is because the geographical separation of apartheid ensured that black townships were usually far away.

But rich and poor mix increasingly, including the pervasive car guards and traffic light beggars.

Kind-hearted people run out of small change to give away. Others just stare away, or even get aggressive when approached.

Blocking out is a coping strategy for many things in South Africa that would up your blood pressure if we chose to focus on them.

I drive through the Johannesburg CBD to get to the Provincial Legislature, and I try not to see the general grime and disorder.

If you get highly aggravated by broken traffic lights and potholes then you are likely to have a shorter life-span.

How often do you see street lights on in the day and off at night? And why are missing manhole covers not replaced speedily?

Johannesburg council aspires to be a “world class city” but cannot get the most basic things right.

It’s quite pathetic that many Gauteng people who visit Cape Town are pleasantly surprised that traffic lights work.

This should be an easily achieved given, rather than a cause for celebration.

The danger is that we accept low standards by default, because otherwise we would have to get angry and do something about it.

The same general incompetence is to blame for both “small” things like unfixed potholes and failure to provide basic services in many informal settlements.

I have often seen three water taps for a thousand people. How difficult is it to add extra taps?

Out of sight should never be out of mind, and politicians should always be reminded of this.

We have much more manageable problems than does India, yet their economic growth rate is three times ours.

Change will come when active citizens hold government to account so that our economy also booms.

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