Today’s plenary session tackled the big issue: Why is there still so much poverty in South Africa? The session was ably facilitated by senior news anchor for eNCA and Power FM programme host, Iman Rapetti. Panellists included Dr Pali Lehohla, South Africa’s Statistician General, Dr Mamphela Ramphele, long-standing political activist, Ms Fatima Shabodien, Action Aid Country Director for South Africa, Independent analyst Professor Johannes Petrus Landman, Christabel Phiri of Southern African Trust, and SAWID trustee, Chair of the SAWID Development Commission, and National Development Commissioner Dr Vuyo Mahlati.

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The discussion highlighted the alarming statistic from the Stats SA 2016 households survey that one in five households run out of money for food before the end of each month, and that fourteen percent of South African households skip meals because they don’t have sufficient means to feed themselves regularly. It was noted that the poorest South Africans reside in the predominantly rural provinces of KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape and Limpopo provinces, although there are considerable pockets of urban poor, such as in shack settlements in Gauteng. The following three core drivers of poverty were identified and discussed by panelists and participants.

Iman Rapetti WDB Making Poverty History


Lehohla made reference to the Stats SA 2016 survey on key challenges as identified by South African citizens, namely lack of safe and reliable water supply, unemployment and the cost of electricity. From his perspective, however, the key drivers of poverty today are unemployment and inadequate years of schooling. While South African’s ranked access to education as only the 15th greatest challenge, Lehohla made it clear that our educational attainment outcomes indicate that we are facing an intractable crisis. We need to make education a priority to receive political and policy response, such as through municipal IDP planning processes.

Stats SA WDB Making Poverty History

From panelists responses, it would appear that education is indeed our core challenge in overcoming poverty. Landman noted that while women have reached parity with men in education levels, in rural provinces, the proportion of young women completing tertiary education is less than that for young men. To create a better future, we need to ensure that women achieve the same educational levels as men. Participants added their voices to this perspective, calling for measures to eradicate illiteracy and innumeracy.

Economic framework and policies

A second core challenge relates to macro-economic structure and policies, and the economic framework adopted globally. Shabodien made the point that for the first 22 years in post-apartheid South Africa, women have been fighting for a place at the economic table, yet we need to address and seek to transform the current economic framework that is premised on the exploitation of people and the environment, and does not benefit women. The National Development Plan does not speak to the structural challenges faced by women, and we need to assert these issues into the planning of our economy, and place women at the centre of the vision of our long-term economic plans.

Mahlati concurred, stating that we cannot deal with poverty through welfare approaches – this requires a structural transformation of a system that disempowers, and a state with the capacity to deliver. Participants supported these sentiments, with seasoned global feminist economist Devaki Jain from India stating from the floor that we need to challenge the economic framework that allows free trade and the dumping of cheap foreign products in South Africa, resulting in the devaluing of local products and perpetuating unemployment, especially that of women. They called on WDB to challenge macro-economic policies in this regard.

Devaki Jain Plenary One

Securing a future for our children

The Stats SA survey indicates that while 60% of men say they are married, (explaining the prevalence of men who regard themselves as married yet in reality are absentee fathers) while only 31% of mothers say they are married, meaning that there are children of unmarried mothers falling through the cracks. Lehohla stated that men are not taking responsibility for feeding and educating their children, which perpetuates poverty. Mahlati noted that 70% of children born in 2014 were born out of marriage, yet our policy and institutional spaces still cling to traditional family structures that do not reflect our current societal realities. Participants concurred, citing issues such as fatherless boys going to circumcision schools without their parents’ permission, and the forced marriages of young girls, resulting in teenage pregnancy and drop-out in schooling. There was an appeal for support for young women in the Eastern Cape, and whole families dependent on old age pensions in their families.

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So what are the solutions?

An alternative, sharing economic model

Phiri spoke of the opportunities available to women to take advantage of SADC trade protocols, with DTI support, to explore opportunities to trade with our neighbouring countries. Devaki Jain spoke of a network “Women Trade Across Borders”, which set up a women’s society and registered this under a common brand, trading across borders in South-Asian countries, to benefit local women. Participants spoke of their need for interventions to develop skills and create employment locally, support entrepreneurship and South African-made products. Participants urged women to mobilise and lobby leaders to negotiate a better deal in trade and economic partnership agreements, to invest directly in South Africa’s rural poor and take up South Africa’s localisation policy to ensure local producers are supported.

SADC Plenary One

Landman spoke of emerging, award-winning technological support for enhancing food security, noting that if implemented, South African could double the number of households producing food in their own back yards, thereby eradicating hunger. The challenge is to ensure that this is made available to local women, and overcome policy and coordination challenges experienced in this regard.

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Women’s mobilisation and solidarity

There was an appeal for women to raise their voices, and strengthen the work of SAWID, to ensure a coordinated women’s mobilisation and to harness and build on the “ingenuity and energy of women,” as Fatima Shabodien concluded. Participants also called for a renewal of the concept of an annual conference to support women’s mobilisation, for networks of support among women and the emergence of solidarity actions, against violence against women, and against poverty. Landman noted that civil society organisations have a key role to play in this regard, in reaching every single town in the country, in the way that the ATKV once organised. The WDB and SAWID have important roles to play in strengthening civil society and ensuring information-sharing. Mamphela Ramphele hailed SAWID as a nation-wide network to spread information, knowledge and skills, promote healing and leverage women’s energy to drive the transformation that is needed.

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Rapetti concluded that her key observations were the need for information and the fact that it is up to each of us to bring about the transformation that is now needed.

Watch the Youtube videos from the WDB 25th Anniversary Celebratory Dialogue “Making Poverty History.”

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