Poverty and inequality have co-existed for generations both in developed and developing nations, and in spite of the multiple interventions, the progress in eliminating this problem remains elusive. Many commentators have referred to the impact of globalisation and its concomitant and deleterious effects on nation’s labour markets and dismantling the welfare state. In many of the developed nations, welfare has become residualised through the restrictions of benefits which have contributed to the intensification of poverty, and the further exclusion and marginalization of groups.
These were the sentiments shared by the University of Johannesburg (UJ), in partnership with the Steve Biko Foundation and the Open Society Foundation for South Africa (OSF-SA), as they hosted a FrankTalk Regional Conference under the theme: “Promoting Economic and Political Empowerment to Preserve Democratic Principles and Rights”, at Auckland Park Kingsway Campus on Wednesday, 16 May 2019.
The moderated dialogue between academics, activists and thought-leaders looked at what should be done to address and reduce poverty and inequality and refine the building blocks for the establishment of a full democracy in South Africa.
As 2019 marked the sixth democratic general elections in South Africa, the Steve Biko Foundation, a non-profit organisation, is facilitating a number of dialogues in different communities around the country post-elections, aimed at reflecting on some of the critical challenges facing South Africa since 1994.
The aim of the Steve Biko Foundation is to also promote the values that Steve Biko lived and died for, restoring people to their true humanity.
Nkosinathi Biko, Founder & Executive Trustee at the Steve Biko Foundation gave an overview and purpose of the Foundation, and its aim of looking at the critical issues that are affecting communities in South Africa. “Given the worsening levels of poverty and inequality in South Africa we hope this conference will help us to develop valuable insights and analysis designed to reduce poverty and inequality in South Africa.” ”This will enable a broad range of discussions on the current state of and projections for South Africa’s economic transformation by focusing on key issues related to translating economic transformation from rhetoric to policy, transforming untransformed sectors and also be focused on the Constitution and the right to equality,” he said.
The panelists included UJ’s Ms Pamela Mondliwa, Senior Researcher, CCRED; Ms Ntombohlanga ‘Hlanga Mqushulu, Strategic Integration Manager: Soul City Institute and Mr Ayabonga Cawe, Development Economist & Managing Director of Xesibe Holdings (PTY) Ltd; Ms Tasneem Fredericks, Deputy President, Black Management Forum; Ms Nishara Rajah Naidoo, Executive Member, International Movement for Monetary Reform; Ms Basani Baloyi, Development Economist & Inequality Lead, Oxfam; Ms Rose Sessie Molokoane, Founder and Board member uTshani Fund and Mr Yamkela Spengane, Pan-Africanist social Commentator & Activist.
The issue of poverty was delved into by panelists who emphasised that policies which are pro-poor must be supported by research evidence with monitoring and evaluation included in the conceptualisation and planning stages. It was also stressed that the government needs to begin to conceptualise long-term strategies to reduce dependency on social grants because the consequence will be that we trap the poor in a cycle of poverty. The poor and unemployed are to be encouraged to take ownership of processes and decisions, and thus enhance social and human capital.
Other issues that were tackled were on dealing with the stunted economy, the contentious land question, as well as the post-elections status quo.
The conference concluded on the note that in spite of the gains that have been made with respect to gender equality, critics have expressed concerns that the redistribution of resources and power has not shifted the structural forces with respect to the oppression of women. Inclusion has rather been an avenue for reinforcing elite women’s access to the formal political system while not (as yet) translating clearly into policies that address the needs of poor women.