CRY THE COUNTRY AS POVERTY PREVAILS
Aug 29, 2017
The release of the Latest Poverty Trends in South Africa Report: An examination of absolute poverty between 2006 and 2015, on the 21 August 2017, by Statistics South Africa (StatsSA), was much like the release of crime statistics, late and bleak.
While the period in question traverses a large swathe, 2006 to 2015, the escalating numbers of people falling into poverty is alarming to say the least. The 141-page report is summed up in one paragraph by the Daily Maverick’s Marianne Merten, in a piece published on 23 August 2017, “The figures are blunt: 30.4 million of South Africa’s 55 million citizens in 2015 - three million more than in 2011 - lived in poverty, or below the upper poverty line of R992 per person per month. One in three South Africans lived on less than R797 per month, or half of the country’s 2015 mean annual household income of R19 120.00, with more women affected than men, and children and the elderly hardest hit, while racial inequalities continue to define poverty as largely a black African problem”.
While the Report proffers the oft-cited and increasingly tiresome reasons for the decline of growth and the rise of poverty, including global downturn, high levels of unemployment, impact of commodity price fluctuations, low levels of investment and growing indebtedness by South African consumers, the big elephant in the room is studiously avoided.
Graft, corruption and state capture are by no means recent discoveries and their corrosive effects are cumulative, as is becoming increasingly evident. A current snapshot, using similar indicators as the Poverty Trends Report, might throw the country into an apoplectic fit if the weary nation can rouse itself from Zuma fatigue.
While StatsSA is an official entity serving the government of the day, outgoing chief statistician, Pali Lehohla, dared to put his head above the parapet at the launch of the Report and wearily asked, “I think the question we must ask ourselves, is for the children who are yet to be born. What life will they lead?”.
The rising rate of poverty is already blowing Government’s National Development Plan (NDP) targets of reducing poverty, unemployment and inequality by 2030 out of the water. Again, Pali Lehohla did not miss a beat and said that, “What I see is things are turning against what the NDP wants. On the unemployment and poverty front, the country is going in the opposite direction and that is a big worry for those who are running the NDP”.
The last most people heard was that no-one was running the NDP. On the contrary, the vision of the NDP is the antithesis of the stark realities contained in the Poverty Trends Report.
Perhaps it would offer succour to a weary nation to reiterate the vision of the NDP that, “South Africa has the means, the goodwill, the people and the resources to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality. It is within our grasp. But it will not happen unless we write this new story; a story of people, their relationships, their dreams and their hopes for a better tomorrow. We want our children and young people to have better life chances than we have”.
The harsh realities of the state of the nation, thanks to the #GuptaLeaks, have evaporated the sweet whisperings of former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel, quoted above. While the economy lies in tatters, with investors taking flight or sitting on cash for fear of political uncertainty and the calcifying effects of corruption, a nation holds its breath. First, for December 2017 when the ANC meets to elect a new leader, and finally, for the 2019 national election. Until then, we live with the slow burn of President Zuma.
Ms Zohra Dawood is Director, Centre for Unity in Diversity.