Don’t speak for the poor

Vuyiswa Ndzakana,
Cape Town

I have always known him to be the voice of reason.

I read somewhere Steven Friedman says that it is commonplace for debates around social and economic prospects to ignore the poor.

He cites the E-toll system as an example of how the poor have been ignored in this instance.

People who can afford cars, are refusing to pay for the roads they use.

They masquerade as social justice activists and as part of the common man (read poor) against an unjust system.

In reality, if the E-toll debt is absorbed by national government, then it stands to disadvantage the really poor.

Another example
he cites is with regard
to free higher education.

Proponents of free higher education argue that the poor (and by extention themselves) are extremely disadvantaged by the high fees.

These people, the very people who refuse to pay E-tolls, want the national government to absorb the higher education debt.

They ignore the fact that the majority of the poor either do not even qualify for a university entrance, or cannot afford to live far from home.

We currently have a situation where the residents of Soweto owe Eskom billions in electricity fees. Debates around payments are led by those who refuse to pay E-tolls.

They argue that Soweto residents should pay because they themselves pay.

In fact they argue that electricity should be shut off and their meters taken until they pay.

There is no debate around the material conditions of people in Soweto or government assisting with anything.

So how do we make sure we “hear” the poor, and not those who have elected themselves to speak on behalf of them?