Poverty alleviation getting lost in the flurry of corruption stories
Government and the ANC appear to have become obsessed with the problems relating to the leadership of President Zuma and serious allegations of corruption and maladministration. Other seminal issues such as poverty alleviation are not being meaningfully addressed.
An unconscionable 14 million people go to bed hungry in South Africa every day according to according to a report of the South African Food Sovereignty Campaign (Daily News article “Fourteen million go hungry in SA daily”, May 29). According to Stats SA 15% of pupils go hungry each day, according to its survey for 2016.
The UN Children’s fund (Unicef) has stated that 15% of children in Gauteng are hungry every day, and that 12% go to bed without a meal.
Unicef has reported that hunger has killed more people every year than HIV/Aids, malaria and tuberculosis combined. Furthermore, it is responsible for 64% of deaths of children aged under 5 and one in five children are stunted in their growth.
These statistics are mind boggling and present government and the South African community with an inordinate moral and political challenge.
We still have poverty on such a vast scale that is morally debilitating and threatens political stability, 23 years after the inception of a democratic dispensation.
Although there are no instantaneous solutions both government and civil society should be doing much more to alleviate poverty.
One of the means that should be considered is a basic income grant. Such a grant could be introduced incrementally to make it more affordable.
It is submitted that it is urgently needed for both political stability and social justice in South Africa. Although, inter alia, the Basic Income Grant Coalition, Cosatu and the DA are in favour of this grant, the ANC the government are opposed to it and have refused to implement it, indicating that it is unaffordable.
The coalition has called for a universal, non-means tested grant. Means testing has proved to be a barrier to the very poor and destitute accessing social grants.
A basic income grant is a measure that could give effect to the constitutional requirement to cater for the immediate basic needs of about 14 million people living below the poverty datum line.
It is submitted that it is a constitutional imperative that some meaningful measure of access to social security is required for these people. A basic income grant is one means of doing this.
The basic income grant is a bold and innovative proposal that would give social assistance a major role in poverty alleviation.
Although it is not a panacea, the proposal of a basic income grant goes beyond the residual function of ad hoc social assistance as a social safety net and could facilitate the involvement of poor people in South Africa in the economic development and upliftment of the country. This would occur through what is known as the second or ancillary economy.
Those who propose a basic income grant perceive structural poverty and inequality as a fundamental reality and challenge in the realpolitik of South Africa.
It is submitted that a basic income grant could play a seminal role in addressing basic subsistence needs in our society, thereby empowering the poor and destitute to begin to participate in the economy of South Africa.
Given the inordinate inequalities in the South African economy and society, a major social assistance programme like a basic income grant is also a mechanism for income redistribution that will also promote greater economic equality and social justice and stability. Indeed it could be perceived as meaningful radical economic transformation.
The Basic Income Grant Coalition has carried out research which shows that the grant is the most effective policy option for eliminating destitution and reducing poverty. It gives everyone a real stake in South Africa’s future.
It can be argued that at this time when fiscal discipline and austerity is the order of the day, this kind of grant is unaffordable. However, the grant could be introduced incrementally over a period of five years.
If the government is able to envisage spending more than a trillion rand on a questionable programme involving the Russians to develop nuclear electric power in the future, the economic feasibility of the grant deserves to be investigated.
What is required is a vigorous debateon this crucial issue to induce the government to commit to the principle of such a grant.
As far as civil society is concerned, far greater co-ordination of the manifold efforts made by religious and secular organisations is required. Government should be involved in facilitating such co-ordination and soliciting greater assistance from the private sector in relation to poverty alleviation.
There is no doubt that hunger threatens both our people and the economy. A mammoth effort is required to address the problem. Effective poverty alleviation is an imperative issue from both a moral point of view and for political stability.
George Devenish is Emeritus Professor at UKZN and one of the scholars who assisted in drafting the Interim Constitution in 1993.