• Poverty Hearings: Speak Out About 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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  • Relational Poverty & The Modern World

    The 50-minute DVD is an excellent introduction to basic neurodevelopment and traumatology for clinicians, parents, caregivers and policy makers. Drawing on the work of the CTA and colleagues in many disciplines, it helps put a broad context on the positive impact of high quality care giving, supportive family and a stable community while illustrating the devastating impact of neglect, trauma, chaos and violence. It emphasises the negative consequences of recent changes in parenting, technology, community and culture on our developing children and suggests that recapturing healthy childrearing practices enriched in nurturing relationships may be the key to health.

    US $89.95 plus S&H.  Also available in PAL version.

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  • Sexual Offences Amendment Act Criminalises Buying Sex

    In September 2006 a new clause was inserted into the Sexual Offences Act (include a link to the full text of the Act) making it an offence to “unlawfully and intentionally engage the sexual services of a person 18 years or older for financial or other reward, favour or compensation.” According to the Portfolio Committee on Justice and Constitutional Development the intended aim of this clause is to protect sex workers from exploitation and abuse and to prevent trafficking in persons by eradicating sex work.

    The clause criminalising the purchase of sex was inserted at the last minute after most of the public participation on the Bill had already taken place. In fact most members of the public remain unaware of the insertion of this clause. Sex workers themselves had very little time to give their opinions on this law which will affect them. Sex workers who were asked if they felt their clients should be arrested said:

    “No, clients should not be criminalised. They are adults and they are deciding to buy a service from us” (Sandra, 33 years, Hillbrow).

    “I don’t think clients should be criminalised…I think that underage sex workers should be protected from clients…” (Neo, 38 years, Carltonville).

    It is believed that if clients stop purchasing sex, that the sex work industry as a whole will stop operating. This largely ignores the reality that most sex workers do the work to earn money to support themselves and their families and that sex workers actively look for clients. If sex workers see fewer clients, it means that they will have to work longer hours to earn the money they need to survive.

    The result of this law is likely to be that the sex work industry will be driven further underground. The burden of protecting clients from arrest will therefore fall onto the shoulders of sex workers themselves, who will work in more hidden ways or in less safe areas, to shield clients who are their only source of income. Sex workers would also have to see more clients in a day to make the money they need. A sex worker had this to say about the effects of criminalising clients:

    “If clients are criminalised, most of them will be too scared to come to us and therefore we won’t make any money any more” (Marianne, 42 years, Kenilworth).

    A similar law criminalising clients of sex workers has been in place since 1998 in Sweden. This law has not succeeded in doing away with the sex work industry and sex workers, police and social workers have indicated that the law has driven the industry further underground and made sex workers more vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

    Cari Mitchell, of the English Collection of Prostitutes, denying the theory that the Swedish model improves the conditions of women in the sex industry says: “Criminalising clients forces prostitution further underground. Women have even less time to check out men fearful of arrest. Instead, women are pushed into more isolated, less well-lit areas where they are more vulnerable to attack. Whatever anyone thinks about men paying for sex, safety should be the priority.”

    Sex workers themselves have strong opinions on what would improve their lives and protect them from abuse and exploitation. Perhaps it is time to listen to what they say about what would protect them:

    “It would improve our work if sex work was decriminalised or it there was a red light zone where we could work in safety…” (Samantha, 32 years, Salt River).

    “It would improve my life if the police could concentrate on catching murderers, rapists and child killers. The police put a lot of energy money and time into chasing us around the streets” (Marianne, 42 years, Kenilworth).

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  • G8 Summit 2008: All Talk, Zero Walk

    The world, both rich and poor countries, is clearly facing multiple crises. Unfortunately it is poor people who suffer the most, suffering immensely from food price increases. We expected this year’s G8 summit to reflect the gravity and urgency of the situation globally, but more so in Africa. Rather we got more and more talk and zero practical, measurable and tangible commitments with set timelines.

    The Group of Eight (G8) summit has come and like other previous summits gone. A lot of anticipation preceded this year’ summit against a backdrop of an escalation of the usual problems and new challenges bedeviling the world, particularly the African continent.

    Today, our world communities are confronting the worst food crisis in 45 years. Food prices have tripled in the last three years. The World Bank estimates that 100 million people are falling deeper into poverty as prices for basic staples that feed the world ie wheat, rice, and corn, have risen by a staggering 83 percent. Coupled with the existing challenges that Africa faces, it is clear that our continent is disproportionately affected. 

    The world is also faced with escalating oil prices, which are driven by market forces which unfortunately do not take into cognisance the development aspect and the multi faceted effects of these increases on the poor. Poor people are hence hardest hit by global oil prices, which have also contributed to the dramatic rise in food prices.

    Climate change represents a nightmare globally but it presents a much more precarious scenario for the future of the people of the world's poorest continent. Global warming has had its consequences on the change in weather patterns of the world. The consequence already has been dramatic, including declines in rainfall and a fall in crop yields that could make previous famines look like small tragedies. Desertification is another result and it is accelerating in Africa, specifically around the Sahara. There are already severe water shortages in some parts of the African continent and too much water which has killed or displaced people in other parts. These extreme weather patterns have undoubtedly worsened the African situation.

    Given these scenarios which threaten to aggravate an already desperate situation on the continent, African Monitor had expectations that the summit of the group of the most industrialised and rich nations of the world would reflect the gravity and urgency of dealing with these issues, much more than before. I believe we were justified to have high hopes. I know that we shared this eagerness with other people and entities who are concerned about the state of affairs, particularly in Africa. It is clear that the world economic situation has restricted the ambitions of this G8 but the simple fact remains that it is not the money but the will that matters. The same will that drove the political contract of deep seriousness in Gleneagles in 2005 is still needed today, but this time it has to be twinned with radical action.

    Among the many issues that we were looking forward to, we expected that the G8 would recognise that they are failing to meet the promised aid levels to Africa. We predicted that all G8 countries would reaffirm their commitment to the Gleneagles pledges, particularly on increasing ODA levels by increasing aid to $50 billion a year by 2010, with half of that going to Africa itself and to cancel the debt of the most heavily indebted poor nations. We expected an undertaking to take concrete steps with timelines by the G8 countries.

    Last month, a report by the Africa Progress Panel, a group set up to monitor implementation of the Gleneagles plan, said that under current spending the G8 will fall $40bn short of its target. The report was rebutted by Japan's foreign ministry a day before the summit started, which denied the G8 was failing to deliver on its promises. It is disappointing that some G8 members would be in denial when evidence that a lot needs to be done is clear. Notably, collectively, the G8 has delivered just $3 billion of the $25 billion that was pledged to Africa in 2005.

    As it is, our expectations were largely not met! Rather, Africa’s problems were eclipsed by the Zimbabwe issue. There is nothing wrong about focusing attention on Zimbabwe - there is certainly a need to be concerned. However, to allow one country’s problems to take precedence over the rest of the continent, given the gravity of problems in Africa and the vastness of the continent was a big disappointment.
    We applaud the fact that the leaders of the G8 discussed development in Africa, with President Bush reiterating his call for G8 accountability. It is also plausible that in this spirit of accountability, the G8 nations have released reports on health and anticorruption to demonstrate progress toward fulfilling past G8 commitments. We note that the G8 leaders also committed to realistic, measurable commitments on health worker training, neglected tropical diseases and long-lasting insecticide-treated bed nets. Similar reports should also be released on ODA to Africa, including budgetary commitments towards development in Africa (and this should be new money as opposed to money that was committed in the past).

    However, the G8 summit fell short of offering practical steps to work towards improving global food security by not addressing urgent needs for food while launching mid-term and long-term targets to promote sound policies and double food production in key African countries.  Practical undertakings to invest in agricultural production and to prioritise Africa in this endeavor, including setting up an emergency fund to avert the global food crisis, could have been one of the tangible steps by the G8. African Monitor research  shows that donors are contributing the least to agricultural production in Africa. The G8 could have encouraged a policy shift, given the food crisis. There could have been practical steps committed to in order to ensure that unfair trade practices, for example agricultural subsidies, do not hinder Africa’s agricultural development, especially in light of the food crisis. Trade justice issues were also downplayed at this year’s summit and yet they shape today’s tilted world in which systems and policies in place ensure that the poor countries are doomed to be perpetually dependent and become poorer.

    We have seven years left before the deadline to meet eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set by the U.N. General Assembly in September 2000. The G8 renewed their commitment to the MDGs while acknowledging in its statement that significant challenges remain at the mid-point to those goals despite some progress. The group expressed its determination to honour in full their commitments to fight infectious diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis and polio, and work towards the goal of universal access to HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care by 2010. Acknowledging that there is need to upscale is not enough. The G8 needed the political guts to come up with specific measurable practical commitments with timelines to help particularly Africa meet its MDGs.

    Although the G8 pledged to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50 percent by 2050, each country was left to pursue its own path in tackling pollution blamed for global warming. The verbal commitments therefore are non-binding and this sounds nothing more than mere talk. There was need for a clear, practical adaptation plan for Africa, supported by these countries in the form of an African emergency fund for climate change issues. Without practical commitments, the fear is that “at this rate, by 2050 the world will be cooked and the G8 leaders will be long forgotten,” as Oxfam policy adviser Antonio Hill was quoted saying in a statement. The US, the world's largest economy, has been the world's largest emitter of carbon dioxide, trailed closely by China. Russia and India also rank among the globe's biggest polluters. While we recognise the call for talks to draw up a successor to the Kyoto protocol which expires in 2012 this sounds like delaying tactics by the industrialised countries on an issue that is urgent, particularly given the US failure to commit to and implement the Kyoto protocol.

    One can therefore be excused for concluding that this year’s 8 summit was a talk shop especially on issues where there was just acknowledgements that there are problems without measurable practical commitments undertaken to address the issues. It sounds as if G8 members were instead trying to avoid a pledge made at last year's summit in Germany to meet the Gleneagles goals.

    The world, both rich and poor countries, is clearly facing multiple crises. Unfortunately it is poor people who suffer the most, suffering immensely from food price increases. We expected this year’s G8 summit to reflect the gravity and urgency of the situation globally, but more so in Africa. Rather we got more and more talk and zero practical, measurable and tangible commitments with set timelines.

  • Is there a Rationale for Conditional Cash Transfers for Children in South Africa

    This paper assesses the rationale behind Conditional Cash Transfers (CCT) in South Africa. Authored by Lund, F, et al, the paper looks at evidence of the reach and impact of major CCT programmes, particularly in Latin America, and the Child Support Grant (CSG) in South Africa.

    The authors point out that this review of the evidence suggests that introducing behavioural inducements to poor people in South Africa to ensure the best educational and health outcomes for their children should not be the main focus of attention for policy makers. They are f the view that a universal categorical grant for children would sit with greater ease in what on paper appears to be a social democratic policy agenda.

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