THE abject poverty facing the majority daily is reaching unacceptable levels. The 2014 Oxfam Report on Poverty has shown that many South Africans are condemned to a permanent life of abject poverty. This is sad, given the wealth of our country. The number of people who scrounge rubbish bins looking for rotten apples and leftovers are increasing daily. What is discouraging to those who find themselves in this predicament is the growing greed among their fellow men.
The recent spate of violence directed at fellow Africans and the growing lawlessness has succeeded in highlighting the level of impatience that is brewing in the minds of our fellow citizens. The poor in our land are not asking for affluent lifestyles, they only want to fulfil and access their human basic needs. Those needs include, but are not limited to, adequate food, water, healthcare, shelter and basic education.
The Oxfam Report tells us that “one in four people in South Africa do not have enough to eat and half the population is at risk of hunger, despite the country producing more than enough food”. Oxfam cites joblessness, low incomes, inflation and the lack of productive assets for many people in South Africa as a major driving force behind the levels of poverty seen in our country. According to the report, 13 million people go to bed starving daily. The report states that 20 years after obtain- ing our freedom, 2.3 million residents of the Eastern Cape (36, 2%) feed their families with as little as R6 a day. Countrywide, the report shows that one in four people go hungry.
This scandalous picture is even bleaker in our province, where people battle hunger daily. Sadly, our optimism ofa goodlifeforall, inspiredbythe attainment of freedom and being governed by our own, now lies in shambles. The growing greed that has crept into our society is engulfing us into a terrible socio-economic mess. The xenophobic violence might just be the first instalment. The 44.4% unemployment rate, according to the South African In- stitute of Race Relations, is a social time bomb by any measure. It is lamentable that in our min- eral endowed and wealthy country, one could find men, women and children scratching for scraps of rotten food in rubbish bins for their meals. This, happening 21 years after independence, is pathetic. It is said that conventional statistics show that the situation has deteriorated tenfold since then (1994). People in our province are carrying the main burden of this hardship despite it being the bastion of black intellectualism.
The sad story is that available socio-economic data shows that the situation is not going to be reversed soon with the current leadership. Our political leaders need to abandon their political showmanship and start to assess the characteristics and causes of this humanitar- ian crisis in the whole country. They must start to develop new concepts and approaches to deal with this shocking tragedy. The picture of a free South Africa, as painted by Oxfam, is not different to the apartheid one portrayed by Cosmas Desmond, in his book, The Discarded People. In the book Desmond gives a chilling and brutal ac- count of the misery of African re- settlement in South Africa.
The Oxfam report has just elicited furious disgust in me in the same way I felt then about the treatment of black people by the apartheid rulers. The poverty, which is partly fuelled by the current power elites who seek to protect particular economic interests, will result in increasing class, ethnic, religious and social tensions. Abject poverty is always a breeding ground for civil strife. Academic Bruce E Moon writes: “The challenge is that the measure of a society is the way it treats its poor.” He also says: “Adequacy is measured in terms of observable outcomes” (The Political Economics of Basic Human Needs, 1991). South African policy makers have produced the best policies on paper to fight poverty. However, when it comes to implementation of their own policies their score is zero. Any sensible patriot will tell you that the normative reasons of worrying about poverty are universal and compelling.The point is that it does not matter where we are sitting religiously, or in secular humanist philosophies, we all have to recognise this virtue.
To be concerned and speak out is a moral imperative and charity in the face of need. We can never plead ignorance or innocence on the appalling treatment of our people. Abject poverty is an evil that must be fought at all costs. This kind of poverty stunts the at- tainment of human potential. It goes without saying that every effort must be followed for the poor to be able to fulfil their nutritional and calorie needs. The Oxfam Report is critical and is directed to people who should know best that growth-centrism was of little solace to the multitude of our poverty stricken people.
One day we shall all know that the coexistence of extravagant wealth and absolute deprivation is not in tandem with a prosperous future for all. A fair, accountable and sustainable food industry that ends practices such as price fixing, reduces waste and does more to help small scale producers, is the path to follow. Such a situation is a formula for the proliferation of warlords, and their comedic and bizarre deeds. Poverty alleviation can only happen when productivitylevels increaseand withlabour-in- tensive-driven growth. Such an approach will increase the incomes of the poor, through im- proved productivity. The best bet for the poor is for the govern- ment to pursue export oriented growth in la- bour-intensive production. In our case there is a great scope for agricultural development-led industry.Courtesy of The Herald / Monday 8 June 2015