Tag Archives: poverty

Education: the key to prosperity for all

In Zimbabwe, the reason why there was such a delay in addressing land ownership was because until 2000 Mugabe never took much interest in the need for land restitution – he was more focused on consolidating power. Funds from the UK for land redistribution were squandered and many of the farms that were bought for blacks in the late ’80s and ’90s were simply given to Zanu PF cronies — something which also happened time and time again in the 2000 land grabs. These started when disgruntled war veterans, tired of a government obsessed with self-enrichment, started protesting about their dire economic sitation. To retain his grip on power, Mugabe blamed the land and economic imbalances on white farmers and encouraged them to invade private properties.

In South Africa, land reform is moving far too slowly and needs to be more of a priority for the SA government. The government must also ensure that the process happens in a sustainable and holistic manner without jeopardising South Africa’s food security. It is imperative that technical and financial support be provided for the recipients of land transferred from white ownership.

The wealth gap between rich and poor is also increasing. Although the black middleclass has grown astronomically, it still – sadly – represents only a fraction of the total black population. This is largely due to the fact that policies like Black Economic Empowerment have succeeded only in creating a small black politically-connected elite and have failed to empower the masses of impoverished black South Africans. I get the sense that these policies were designed more as a means of entrenching ruling party patronage and ANC economic influence instead of actually being an attempt to empower those disadvantaged by apartheid.

The key to long lasting prosperity for ALL South Africans lies not in redistributing white wealth but in creating a South Africa where everyone has the opportunities to reach their dreams. To this end, it is vitally important that education in SA improves. Education is the way out of poverty because it is through education that people receive the skills and intellectual nourishment that facilitates innovation and increases the likelihood of employment.

Currently our education system is chronically under-resourced. There are not enough teachers, text books and classrooms for the vast majority of South African children. The ANC government has failed to resolve the inequalities within education inherited from apartheid. These need to be addressed urgently.

The government and civil society must also encourage and facilitate entrepreneurship through support agencies, microloans, skills development initiatives and at schools. Service delivery must also radically improve in effectiveness and impact so as to eradicate poverty.

For the wealth gap to decrease, South Africa needs a government that cares about the people (and not merely the top echelons of the ruling party). Politicians must look beyond self-enrichment to create a South Africa in which everyone has the opportunity to create wealth.

South Africa’s government must be one that acts with courage and decisiveness in combating corruption and patronage. It must strive to implement policies that benefit all South Africans – but especially those disadvantaged by apartheid’s poisonous legacy.

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Immigrants the scapegoats for ANC delivery failure

The barbaric attacks on immigrants are in essence a protest against a lack of delivery and opportunity. Immigrants are an obvious target; a conductor rod to the storm of discontent that has gathered as inequality, poverty and unemployment in our townships has continued to remain rampant.

The seething anger that has been vented on the streets of our cities illustrates the resentment that, almost fifteen years into our democracy, jobs are scarce and social infrastructure — health, housing, education — is woefully inadequate.

Immigrants, in the eyes of protesters, are simply the straw that broke the camel’s back. They are perceived — all too often unfairly — as job-stealers, criminals and competitors placing unreasonable demands on scarce resources and shaky infrastructure.

In keeping with its hallmark denialism, the government has deludedly suggested that the appalling attacks on immigrants are the works of criminal elements — or even a shadowy third force. This only goes to show how out of touch the ruling party is with the majority of its constituents.

Until the government stops passing the buck through misattributing the cause of xenophobia, inequality will remain entrenched — and service delivery and social upliftment will never be the urgent priorities that they should be.

The ANC has become the default oppressor of the people because, while enriching its own elite, it has done little to change a status quo that remains rooted in South Africa’s unjust history of colonialism and apartheid. Self-enrichment amongst a politically connected few has flourished while life for many in this country remains much the same.

While the government acknowledges our nation’s widening wealth gap, it still advocates BEE to continue unreformed. This is despite the initiative’s obvious inability to redress economic imbalances and despite the fact that BEE pays only lip service to true social transformation.

BEE has been quite correctly described by President Mbeki’s brother as “a formula for co-opting — and perhaps even corrupting — ANC leaders by enriching them as private individuals”.

For xenophobia to be effectively contained, the people’s needs must be met. Efficient service delivery and a radically overhauled economic empowerment programme would be a good place to start.

This post was first published on Monday 26 May on Alex’s Thought Leader page.

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A party by any other name …

A tongue-in-cheek suggestion that the DA was in desperate need of a branding overhaul was met with a broad spectrum of responses — from “DA who?” to indignant rebuttals from DA activists.

The reality of the situation is that that the official opposition is severely stigmatised. Negative emotions towards the party — from mistrust to hatred — is entrenched. There is the widespread perception that it is a minority party with minority interests. Many genuinely believe that it is a bunch of racist white reactionaries hankering after a privileged past.

There are two reasons (in my view) why these unfair misconceptions persist.

1. The ANC’s vilification
The ANC, that paranoid party which tried to topple Cape Town’s DA-led government almost a dozen times (and couldn’t), has led a sustained demonisation of liberalism. There are those in the ANC who believe in the movement’s perpetual right to rule.

If one reads the back issues ANC Today, it is only too clear that the party believes that to be held accountable by an opposition party is a threat that needs the harshest censure. To be blunt: the ANC will do what it takes to remain in power until — as Zuma says – “Jesus comes”.

2. A hostile media
Yes, it is a rather sweeping statement, but most of the media is openly hostile to the DA. The press goes to great lengths to portray the Democratic Alliance as unequivocally antigovernment and anti-ANC just for the sake of being the official opposition. The constructive role the party often plays in the legislative process (such as in ensuring the promulgation of the Civil Union Bill met its deadline) is invariably underreported.

Independent Newspapers leads the pack. But then with ANC acolytes jetted to Tony O’ Reilly’s (Independent’s Irish Lord and master) castle for fireside chats that’s hardly surprising. Slagging Zille and her party has a clear motive — to earn kudos from the ANC and ensure the survival of their rash of news outlets. One can’t do without those “Happy Hanukkah!” adverts from the premier’s office on page three, after all.

That the SABC is an ANC mouthpiece doesn’t help matters either. There have been documented accounts of bias, especially in the propaganda machine’s Cape newsroom where reporters have been actively pressured to report on DA and the coalition running the City of Cape Town in a negative light.

The poisonous fruits of Bantu education and a post-apartheid education system which is little better (and in some cases tragically worse) have meant that we have a populace largely ill-equipped to make empowered decisions about their political future. The enslavement of ignorance that apartheid did its best to achieve has not been dismantled by the current government.

Awareness of our constitution and of our democratic processes remains painfully low. And our democracy is paying the price for that. There is rising anger — and enormous dissatisfaction — with government’s performance. For many of the poor, trust and optimism placed in empty election manifesto promises has unravelled to disillusion and bitterness. Yet the ANC still wins enormous majorities at each election. Why? Partly because of the movement’s romantic associations with the struggle, but mainly because masses of people believe there is no alternative. They believe there is no other political party that can represent them and fulfil their dreams of true liberation.

Anger is therefore vented not at the ballot box but on the street — in violent protests and the murder of ANC councillors. This needs to be changed.

To stave off extinction and irrelevancy, the DA needs to reach out to the impoverished, capturing hearts and minds and positioning themselves as a viable alternative to the ANC. It needs to destigmatise its brand and become a visible, vibrant political entity in the townships and rural heartlands.

It is not going to be easy for the DA to counteract the negative perceptions held about it. Strategies far more complex than the ones I half-jokingly suggested last week should be developed as a matter of urgency — especially with the 2009 election looming.

Of course, the first step in the right direction is to accept that such perceptions exist.

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Malaysia’s lessons for South Africa

Malaysia’s governing coalition which has been in power since independence in 1957 has suffered a blow to its hegemony in the latest elections. In the federal legislature, opposition parties more than quadrupled in representation – from 20 in 2004 to 82. Opposition parties now govern 5 states, up from 1 in 2004.

The key cause of this seismic shift is an increasing disillusionment with the National Front coalition’s race-based policies. An article in The Economist explains:

Many Chinese Malaysians have tolerated the New Economic Policy (NEP), introduced in 1971 to redistribute wealth to the poorer Malay majority, as a guarantor of communal harmony at a time when all ethnic groups were getting richer. Now even some Malay voters appear to have turned against it, seeing it as an excuse for cronyism and corruption. Some voted for the opposition, a loose alliance of three parties, which called the NEP obsolete and, on taking power in Penang, has started to dismantle it, saying its provisions will not apply to state-government contracts.

The situation faced in Malaysia has parallels with South Africa’s own politics and race-based policies. While economic empowerment of the previously oppressed is vital, the way in which it has been implemented has to a large degree been a failure.

Afrodissident wrote last year:

Half our black population lives on $1 a day or under. In 13 years of freedom, unemployment has swollen by an official 25%. The number of South Africans living in relative poverty (calculated on income) increased from 40.5 (in 1996) to the whopping 47% currently.

We continued with:

BEE is an insult to the millions of poor South Africans and their ancestors who were oppressed under apartheid and colonial rule. It is an insult because it has resulted in little more than the creation of tiny black elite and an economic system based on patronage and cronyism rather than merit and innovation.

Moeletsi Mbeki, the president’s brother, says: “BEE looks deceptively like a form of reparation. The reality, however, is very different. BEE is a formula for co-opting – and perhaps even corrupting – ANC leaders by enriching them as private individuals.”

From Malaysia’s history it is clear that SA is not the only country where ethnically-based policies inevitably lead to self-enrichment and patronage. What I sincerely hope for is that this will lead to disillusionment with the party who perpetuates these divisive and ineffectual policies – just as it has done so in Malaysia.

True empowerment is not one black woman being on the boards of 71 companies (Danisa Baloyi – before Fidentia hit the fan). It it is not ANC funding fronts being awarded massive deals from state parastatals.

For the impoverished to receive true socioeconomic emancipation we need to create an equal and open opportunity society where an education system can provide much needed skills and catalyse innovation.

We need loads of scholarships (especially for teachers and other sectors facing personnel shortages). We need academies for promising pupils (perhaps modelled on Oprah’s school). We need small business resource and skills development hubs in the townships and rural areas.

As long as the ANC remains in power in its current form, BEE and other racially-based policies will continue. They will persist because they are a useful mechanism to plunder resources for the personal gain of a politically-favoured few. One day other parties will eventually pose a significant challenge to that at the ballot box. But who knows when that will be. Let’s hope it doesn’t take 50 years – like it did in Malaysia. South Africa – and especially its poor – deserves much better than that.

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But it’s just not fair!

According to a report released by an economic thinktank called the Adam Smith Institute, Fairtrade labelled goods aren’t actually benefiting the very people it’s meant to help because it sustains unproductive and unprofitable farming in underdeveloped regions. The report also claims that Fairtrade is a mere marketing gimmick, with most of the surcharge slapped on coffee and other supermarket products actually ending up in retailers’ coffers.

Free trade – where tariffs and red tape are slashed and markets opened for investment – was mooted by the institute as the most humane and effective way of helping vulnerable farmers.

Click here to read the Daily Telegraph article on the report and here on columnist Janet Daley’s take on the matter.

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