‘Explosive’ poverty figures a result of government neglect, says Archbishop Emeritus Njongonkulu Ndungane

The explosive revelation that more than half of South Africa’s population is poverty stricken is the direct result of government’s failure to heed the warnings during the past 20 years by civil society organisations on escalating rates of poverty.
On Tuesday, 22 August 2017, Stats SA announced that more than a quarter of the country’s population was living in abject (extreme) poverty. Another quarter was simply poverty-stricken.
In a statement, the former Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town and Founder of African Monitor, Archbishop Emeritus Njongonkulu Ndungane, said figures released on Tuesday should shame the government.
“Regrettably, it seems not to do so, as I watch Cabinet ministers become more bloated in their endeavours to enrich themselves at the expense of ordinary people, and scurry around seeking to ensure they achieve success in the upcoming ANC conference elections so that they continue their high-flying lifestyles,” he said in reference to the upcoming ANC elections at the end of this year.
“In the apartheid years these figures would have caused a national outcry of neglect. The general silence from our leaders is as deafening as it was back then.”
Ndungane wonders what has happened to the moral compass of South African government leaders.
“Our leaders these days seem not to care or even be embarrassed. Earlier this year we had a situation where social grants were almost not paid because of the truculence of a cabinet minister. Now we have this devastating news – and government just watches as our people starve.”
Ndungane speaks from vast experience. In 1998, he headed the Poverty Hearings, an initiative of civil society organised by SANGOCO, which heard evidence from a wide cross-section of people throughout South Africa. Hearings took place in all nine provinces with an over-arching message from those who gave evidence that government should support community initiatives on the ground.
Government received the recommendations, broadly to this effect, but did nothing effective – a fact illustrated by the Statistician General’s findings yesterday, Ndungane said.
Ten years later another series of hearings were held. Again, Ndungane was closely involved through the organisation of which he is president, African Monitor. Yet again, government failed to respond positively.
“On this occasion, I was taken aback by the anger I heard from young people. We heard people tell us that the very government for which they had voted had failed them. We heard many stories from poor people with no formal education – another failure of government – who were enthusiastic in their desire to work but who needed a hand-up from a government they thought would help.”
Again, says Ndungane, the recommendations were taken to government, which was warned that the increase in poverty levels was beginning to create an explosive situation.
In a third initiative, about 100 civil society organisations organised a meeting in Benoni with the then deputy president, Kgalema Motlanthe. A joint strategy to deal with worsening poverty was drawn up, and Montlanthe took these to government.
“This showed we were willing, able and ready to work together with the authorities. But when Motlanthe gave me feedback he said this would be dealt with in terms of the ANC’s National Development Plan (NDP).”
Once again, this assurance has been shown to be completely hollow: “Just look at the sickening figures released yesterday by Stats SA,” says Ndungane.
He adds: “That 13.8 million people are now living below the breadline (the food poverty line) of R17.38 per person per day gives the lie to government’s assertion that it cares for ordinary people. It doesn’t. And that can no longer be argued. The fact that more than half of our people – about 30.4 million – are living below the upper-bound poverty line, is just as scandalous.”
Ndungane says the explosive situation is exacerbated by high unemployment figures among the youthful in the potential work force. He notes that nearly 5.8 million people between the ages of 15 and 34 years are unemployed, according to figures supplied by the Institute of Race Relations based on information provided to it by Stats SA.
Ndungane says that had the government taken action after the poverty hearings this disaster would have been averted. What was now required was the equivalent of a Marshall Plan that would involve a wide range of non-government, civil society and religious organisations, and harmonise their activities to do what the South African government had failed to do.
Such organisations had proved their efficacy in the apartheid years, and now needed to stand up again and take action. In the apartheid years, it was left to organisations such as Operation Hunger of the Institute of Race Relations, Kupugani, the churches and others, to provide poverty relief on the one hand, and opportunities for community development projects on the other. The time had arrived again for more active involvement in this way, said Ndungane.
Government should “put its money where its mouth is” and supply grants to organised civil society, which has in the past shown it has the moral compass, ethics and accountability, which government lacks, to see to the needs of the poor.
“Failure to do so is going to lead to a blow-up in our society which is too terrible to contemplate,” he warned.

Share this article

Leave a comment