Creating avenues for civic participation in the political, economic and cultural life of South African society
Established in 1998, the Steve Biko Foundation is a community development organisation inspired by the legacy of the late anti-apartheid activist. Given that a core element of the Foundation’s mission is restoring people to their true humanity, the human dimension through which Manuel framed his 2009 budget speech was most welcome. Many of the line items articulated in the Minister’s budget have the potential to positively impact the lives of millions of South Africans, as well as the initiatives of the Steve Biko Foundation. Notable among these possibilities is the:
- R25 billion increase in provincial budgets, with education and healthcare slated to receive the greatest allocations;
- Recognition of the need to support small farmers in skills development and accessing finance;
- Sizeable allocation of R20.3 billion to land reform and restitution for the next three years.
While at face value these adjustments will create greater opportunities for individuals and communities at large, they bring to light a number of the challenges confronting the developmental agenda, primary among them being the efficacy of the system.
It is worth noting that over the past fourteen years Minister Manuel has successfully delivered billions of rands to support national development initiatives. This track record has become one of the primary reasons for which he is celebrated. Yet, South Africans seldom interrogate the causes and consequences of the vast volumes of under spent funds that are returned to the Minister’s coffers at the end of every financial year. In an environment in which government performance suggests a limited capacity to spend, what - if any - will be the real impact of additional funding for national priorities such as education, health and housing? In this regard, the Minister fell short of outlining the remedial measures that are necessary to ensure that his efforts translate into tangible outcomes.
One practical example of this challenge raised by the Minister is the Land Bank. This institution, a primary pillar of the nation’s transformation strategy, has suffered a crippling loss of credibility. Having taken responsibility for its oversight the Minister neglected the opportunity to share the conditions attached to the support the Bank continues to garner.
An outline of the conditions will, in turn, provide guidance as to the recourse that respective constituencies have in the event that they are failed by these institutions. How then do we ensure that, for example, the beneficiaries of land reform and restitution processes are empowered to hold the bank to the mandate of supporting the creation and sustaining of commercial ventures? How accessible are these budgetary adjustments to the majority of the population? At what point does policy intersect with the people?
This intersection is the space in which the Steve Biko Foundation has sought to work, translating policy into programmes; and creating platforms for individuals and communities to speak to the challenges facing them, implementing solutions as only they know how. In short, the Foundation seeks to create avenues for civic participation in the political, economic and cultural life of South Africa.
In creating dialogues and initiatives for engagement with political and socio-economic issues, the hope is that individuals and communities will be equipped to become active partners in their own development. But one manifestation of this hope would be the success of communities in accessing and efficiently utilising government funding, so that none returns to Treasury, but the totality is deployed to improve the quality of people’s lives. Another is the creation of agricultural co-operatives that would facilitate technical training, access to finance and economies of scale for both small farmers as well as beneficiaries of land reform and restitution processes. The final permutation would be what Manuel himself sites, the construction of “a South African approach, founded on our own vision for a shared future” in all aspects of national life.
Director: Fundraising & International Partnerships
Steve Biko Foundation