How you can help in eradicating poverty and its attendant consequences in South Africa

2014-12-20 10:44

"The greatest evil and the worst of crimes" wrote George Bernard Shaw " is poverty".

How accurate. In the South African context, we reaching, if we have not already, a gargantuan crisis. I have an idea or two as to the possible solution.

My central message is that, looking back 21years,at grass root level upwards, forward bound, the problem is one that can be solved. But the solution requires a cocktail containing active citizenry and effective governance.

Ending poverty is not a matter of resources. Cynics and Afro-pessimists will argue otherwise. For me, its a matter of ubuntu and our, that is as active citizens, responsibility to help out as best as possible not with handouts but with lending a hand in empowering families in need as Muhammad Yunus advocates. It makes financial sense. The Cubans have proved that despite fifty years of US strangulation they managed to contain poverty through enterprise  development and empowerment of the people.I submit that we can learn from them.

Poverty is much more than, as Amartya Sen, wrote in the forward to Duncan Green's "From Poverty to Power" 'just (about) a shortage of income'. Its about unfreedom and this goes to the heart and soul, to the very foundational framework upon which our Constitution is premised. The absence of freedom leads to the conditions that we see, namely burgeoning informal settlements, illegal occupation of homes, people standing in busy intersections looking for daily jobs so that they can fend for their families. Certainly low or no income is a strain on our resources such as health,housing and education.

South Africans remain poor and unempowered through a myriad of complex intersecting processes and I have a divergent view than what Amartya Sen posits, namely that the predicament of the poor "need not be the result of deliberate cultivation of assymetry of power by identifiable 'evil doers'. On the contrary we have these 'evil doers' who in Zvelimviva Vavi's lexicon are 'hyenas and jackals' who are feeding our resources dry.

So how can you help?

Give every family that feeds and empowers another identified family that is deserving and which qualifies, a tax break.This shouldn't be difficult considering that over 46% South Africans don't get to eat supper because of the lack of food security.

That's one way. Notwithstanding the price of fuel coming down by a whopping R 1,07 or thereabouts,in January 2015, the cost of basic food items will not follow a downward trend and I will not be fooled by the illusion that major retailers and supermarkets create through their glossy adverts as they seek to entice people to part with their diminishing financial resources.

Another solution is empowering people to take charge of their own destiny. The buzz word is 'active citizenry'. Permit me to briefly elaborate.

We can do this by creating a bank of skilled leaders and entrepreneurs, and to do this we must start at secondary school level. We can also do this through a mentorship or skills transfer process.

Jeffrey Sach's book "The End of Poverty" theoretically identifies the problem and points the way towards a sustainable solution but its geared in the context of first world standards.Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus's "Creating a world without poverty ", on the other hand,provides one. Instead of handouts, he suggests empowerment of women and the disadvantaged through interest free or low cost loans that facilitate the creation of home based industries. Of course his Grameen Bank initiative in his native country Bangladesh attracted the scorn and chicanery of western based banking industry that sought to discredit the concept but measure the success rate of his idea in practice and in operation and you would get to know that its feasible in South Africa.

I am not a votary of doling out social or child grants and I understand what Duncan Green has to say in his book " From poverty to power". I recommend you to study these books that I referred to. I do support, the redistribution of power, and of opportunities to break the cycle of poverty so as to restore to people their human dignity and their capacity to own their destiny and this is what Duncan Green forcefully posits.

Of the estimated 1 billion people in the world who are trapped in the cycle of grinding poverty and despair, a disproportionate number live in South Africa and we can't look away. Believe this.South Africa has taken over from Brazil as one of the most unequal societies in the world. Surprised? Don't be.

As Moeletsi Mbeki agues in his book "Architects of Poverty" , the major problem lies with those who govern our country, the political elites or self anointed who contrive to keep our people trapped in that cycle while enriching themselves.

Bearing in mind my central message, I write this blog piece not as a pessimist but as an optimist appealing to everyone to become an active citizen through empowering and liberating those amongst us who are poor.

I wish for everyone reading this a spiritually enhanced Christmas/Hanukkah celebration and the prayer that we can truly emerge and identify ourselves as a rainbow nation.

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