WE ARE becoming richer but so many among us are falling deeper into poverty and despair. Our security walls are getting higher, but we lie awake at night, scared by the sounds outside.

We claim progress in enriching thousands in our 20 years of freedom but face the contradiction of the millions more who are being left behind.

We are deeply immersed in a globalised world in which South African companies routinely list on the London Stock Exchange but our immigration laws increasingly try to keep our fellow Africans out of our country.

We are becoming more comfortable in our big homes and big cars, but our hearts flutter with fear every time a beggar stands at our car window, every time the alarm goes off and the private security guard comes to check (the police always arrive last).

In the squatter camps around our big cities, Johannesburg, in Khayelitsha and elsewhere, to paraphrase the famous Tracy Chapman song, the police routinely don’t come at all.

We can perform the most intricate heart surgery for the chosen few who have medical insurance but  a child dies from being attacked by rats in Diepsloot township, twenty 20 minutes from Sandton, Johannesburg, said to be  the richest square mile in Africa.

We celebrate the achievements and progress of great women like Wendy Luhabe and Bridgette Motsepe, yet we want to pass laws such as the Traditional Courts Bill, which would put rural women at the mercy of unreconstructed chauvinists like AbaThembu king Buyelekhaya Dalindyebo.

We are richer, but so much poorer.  Our country is held up as a success, but to our millions of disaffected young people who don’t have a job or a prospect of one we are a failure. More black people are climbing the corporate ladder but the distance between them and those at the bottom million is yawning ever wider.

We are racing ahead, yet we are surely grinding to a halt.

We are so happy to experience the coming of the gorgeous Johannesburg afternoon thunderstorms but we are depressed by the prospect of the Jukskei River bursting its banks. The headlines will tell of the poor people who built alongside the river, despite warnings not to do so. They have nowhere else to build a home. They have no choice.

Business Day newspaper reported last week that South Africa now has “47 000 dollar millionaires, almost 5 000 more than last year”.

In so many respects we do — a glorious tale indeed. Yet in so many respects we don’t have a good story. As the numbers reveal, we are leaving more and more of our people behind.

There was a caveat, though. The newspaper also said: “At the same time, South Africa falls into the ‘very high inequality’ category, with the wealthiest 10% of the population owning more than two-thirds of the country’s assets, according to the Credit Suisse Research Institute’s fifth annual global wealth report.”

This is the contradiction of our times, the real challenge that South Africa faces.

As Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene delivers his maiden medium-term budget policy statement this week, standing stark before him and the nation is this reality: unemployment situation is getting worse, the rich are getting richer, the poor are being left behind at an astonishing speed, the state has less money but the demands on it are increasing   and the economy — the pie we are supposed to grow — is stuttering to a halt.

The ANC’s slogan in this year’s national elections was powerful: “We have a good story to tell”.

In so many respects we do — a glorious tale indeed. Yet in so many respects we don’t have a good story. As the numbers reveal, we are leaving more and more of our people behind.

We are becoming more and more deeply the country we did not want to be: a divided people, an unequal society, a place of insiders and outsiders.

Our country is becoming restless. Look at the service delivery protests: it is not just public buildings that are torched and destroyed, but private vehicles as well.

The rich, those who are getting even richer by the day, are seen as deserving of the anger of the poor and unsatisfied.

It makes for a frightening glimpse into the future.

In the same Business Day article piece Department of Economic Development deputy director-general Dr Neva Makgetla said apartheid was a system designed to prevent black South Africans from accumulating wealth.

“It is a long, difficult process to overcome this and get rid of the barriers to accumulating wealth,” she said.

Makgetla’s point presents a double challenge to all of us: to continually roll back the legacy of apartheid and constantly ensure that all of us continue to grow more prosperous.

But it presents a third challenge, too. Those of us fortunate enough to have a little bit more than our fellow men and women need to give a little bit more of ourselves to ensure the prosperity, education and upliftment of our neighbours.

Otherwise the gap between rich and poor will widen. The fear and loathing between insider and outsider will increase. The tension between Sandton and Alexandra township will heighten.

If we don’t act with urgency South Africa will explode.

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