living large?

I was reading a speech posted on Toomuchcoffee made by Johann Rupert at the University of Pretoria recently and was really interested by a couple of points.

He claims that "prior to a century and a half ago, the standard of living was roughly the same all over the world. It didn’t really matter whether you lived in New York, London, Paris, Mexico City, Johannesburg, Cairo, Nairobi, Beijing, Tokyo or Manila - the standard of living was roughly the same. In the past century however, the standard of living in various countries has changed dramatically so that today we have developed nations and undeveloped nations.

During this period some societies clearly prospered, some trod water and others actually went backwards. Africa has gone backwards. It’s got nothing to do with us being African or black, forget this old racist line of ethnicity. If so, why did similarly educated people with the same ethnic background end up experiencing such different qualities of life? I was in East Germany just after the fall of the Wall. They were destitute. Why is the average South Korean nearly 6cm taller than his northern counterpart? The truth seems to be found in the choices made by societies as to the economic and social political system under which they choose to live."

It seems to me that we need a whole new way of thinking about how we do things. We need to have big dreams and the determination to see them become reality.

I was in an interview earlier this week with Blum Khan, CEO of Metropolitan Health Group, one of South Africa's biggest medical scheme administrators. He had many pertinent things to say.

Something that really stood out for me was "We weren't ambitious enough when we worked out our structures for health care post '94".

Prior to the '94 elections, South Africa essentially had a health care system that was working well for about 6.5m people. After '94, the customer base increased to 44m, as it attempted to expand health care to the entire population.

This UDF poster was made in 1984. How far have we actually come in the past 24 years?

What has happened since then? Nursing colleges have been closed down (allegedly because of funding issues), hospitals have been restructured and "normalised" (political-speak for enforced transformation on racial grounds) and highly skilled people have been fired or pushed out.

We have more than 40 000 vacancies in our health care system. In a reply to a question in Parliament last October the number of vacant posts for professional nurses was given as as 16 362, staff nurses 5 752, nursing assistants 10 403, medical doctors 3 632 and specialists 1 652.

But just last week I heard of a doctor in a Cape Town hospital who was told that when it comes to promotion "the first place will go to a black man, the second to a black woman, the third to a coloured man, the fourth to a coloured woman, the fifth to an Indian man, the sixth to an Indian woman. So you're seventh in line, no matter what your qualifications are".

That's just insanity. We've gone from one politically insane system to another.

The powers that be seem to have forgotten that one of the principles of our democracy is a health system that provides better care and better access for all.

So what's the solution? What's going to stop us slipping further and further behind the developed world?

During our struggle years, human rights and dignity and hope were fought for by people of all races, regardless of the personal cost. And now, nearly 15 years later, we find ourselves in a situation where greed and nepotism and tribalism ensure that the benefits of this democracy are once again just for the few.

It seems to me that the time has come once again for the ordinary people to stand up and demand change before it is too late. Do we have the drive and will to do it all again?


julochka said…
wow, that's a very powerful statement that i hope you're writing other places as well! it needs to be heard and repeated again and again!
Skoorby said…
Lynne, I don't disagree with your assessment of the current situation in SA, but I'm skeptical of Rupert's (actually from a book, "Africa in Chaos", by Professor Dr George Ayittey) unsupported assertion that the standard of living in the 1850's in say Paris and Mexico City was the same (Johannesburg was founded in 1886). There may have been some wealthy people in Cairo, but I seriously doubt that the average standard of living was similar to that in London or that Egypt's level was comparable to Britain's at the height of its empire.

I'd be much more comfortable with the counter proposition - that differences in living standards across major cities and countries were much larger in the 1850's than they are now.

If the premise that Rupert buys into is false, it's likely that his prescription for action will be ill-founded. For most people, this wouldn't matter much either way, but Johann Rupert wields a great deal of money and influence.

Development economics is a notoriously difficult thing to get right, although since the 1980's we've seen substantial improvement around the world. There's an interesting discussion of the novels of Charles Stross at Crooked Timber. Many of them delve into the problems of development economics, while, unbelievably, managing to be highly entertaining. Paul Krugman's review at
is a good introduction.
Hi Lynne,

once again, I enjoyed your writing and your thoughts. And I agree with the top comment there, that this should be written elsewhere for others to read.


Lynne said…
Thanks Skoorby, very valid points. I'm ashamed I didn't pick up on the date discrepancy with Joburg, seeing as our great uncle laid claim to being the first white baby born there
Lynne said…
thanks Julie and Clint... I'll see what I can do. I'd better take Skoorby's comments into account first though!

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