Poverty Hearings: Speak Out About Poverty

Thursday, 9 October, 2008 - 09:57

South Africans are standing up against poverty. The hearings which have been held in four provinces, provides the opportunity for the poor to speak about their experiences of poverty.

Archbishop Njonkonkulu Ndungane has called upon South Africans to stand up against poverty. Speaking during the Gauteng round of national poverty hearings in Johannesburg on 12 September, Ndungane said: “We came here to listen to your problems.”

The poverty hearings, which have been held in four other provinces over the last two months, provide the opportunity for the poor to speak about their experiences of poverty.

Participants at the Gauteng hearings commended the process for not being merely an “academic talk-shop” which is irrelevant to the needs of ordinary people, and said the fact that they could speak about their experiences in their own languages was important.

Some participants criticised the government for failing to provide quality services to the poor; citing the poor conditions in many public hospitals as well as negligence of health professionals as a case in point. Giving testimony at the hearings, many related the events that let them to abandon school to seek employment to support their families.

Participants also highlighted the experiences of workers in the informal and survivalist sectors, as street vendors accused government for promulgating bylaws which disadvantage them. The decision by the City of Johannesburg to confiscate goods belonging to street vendors was raised as a case in point. They argued the City should rather channel its energies towards empowering the street vendors to create more jobs for the poor.

Street vendors are a key player in growing the city’s economy, participants said. They condemned the harassment of street vendors by the Johannesburg Metro Police, pointing out that these actions contradict President Thabo Mbeki’s call for people act in the spirit of vukuzenzele. Street vendors say they are still described as “dirty, illegal businesses and tax evaders”.

Effectively addressing the impact of poverty requires the active involvement of government and citizens. Arguing for a realistic approach, the South African National NGO Coalition (SANGOCO) pointed out that people can only stand up and do things for themselves if government institutions such the National Empowerment Fund and the Gauteng Enterprise Propeller meet their mandates and help people turn their business ideas into reality.

Chairperson of SANGOCO in Gauteng, Ndivhuho Sekoba, argued that these institutions are not doing enough to help women start their own businesses. Sekoba says that people have reported that when they submit their business plans, they are simply turned down on the grounds that their business ideas are not viable, instead of helping them to improve those business plans. She called for the poverty hearings to take place in communities, not in cities, so that the experiences of a wider range of South Africans are shared.

Dorothy Maimela, a resident of the overcrowded and impoverished Alexandra township, commended government programmes aimed at reducing poverty in the area. She pointed out that despite being located next to the affluent Sandton suburbs, many people in the township still rely on handouts due to poverty.

Maimela argued that the only way that government programmes will have the kind of impact required to change the lives of the people, is for them to be properly monitored and evaluated.

The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC)  warned of the negative impact of poverty on people living with HIV and AIDS. TAC has launched a campaign to influence the government to provide chronic disease grants for everyone living with HIV and tuberculosis. Speaking at the hearings, TAC’s Thabo Moloi expressed concern over the distance that most have to people travel in order to get to the health facilities that provide antiretroviral drugs (ARVs). Another serious issue he said was the consequences of people taking ARVs when they do not even have enough food to eat.

The hearings form part of the 10th anniversary of the National Poverty Hearings, which were held in 1998. Organisers aim to use these hearings to assess the adequacy of South Africa’s efforts to eradicate poverty. The hearings are chaired by Archbisohop Ndungane working with a team of commissioners including representatives from government, business and civil society. The views, testimonies and advocacy messages that come out of this process will be taken to local, provincial and national government for action.

For questions, comments or interviews contact Archbishop Njonkonkulu go Ndungane, Warren Nyamugasira or Buhle Makamanzi. African Monitor, Tokai on Main Office Complex, Main Rod, Tokai 7945, Cape Town, South Africa / Tel: 021 713 2801 / Fax: 021 712 1082.

- Butjwana Seokoma is the information coordinator at SANGONeT

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