poverty hearings

poverty hearings

  • African Monitor

    To be an independent catalyst to monitor development funding commitments, delivery and impact on the grassroots, and to bring strong additional African voices to the development agenda
  • South Africa Faces a Human Emergency

    The state of the nation is not simply about how the economy is doing, or how strong our currency is. The state of the nation is about how well the people of South Africa are doing.  Are they able to live with dignity, feed their children, meet their basic needs and access employment, education and health care? According to the views expressed during the poverty hearings, our state of the nation is dire. Communities are crippled by poverty. It is a state of emergency.

    This is the conclusion I have come to after listening to the testimonies during the poverty hearings across South Africa. 

    Below are excerpts from some of the stories shared:

    “Since I was born poverty has been following me.” (14-year-old girl in Numbi, Limpopo)

    “My two boys are street children as we speak right now. They are smoking glue and eating from rubbish bins.” (a mother in North West)

    “Dit is sonder gevoel en dit is ongemaklik en veroorsaak die opbreek van families en gesinslewens.” (Poverty is uncomfortable, unsympathetic and unending and it leads to the breakdown of family relationships) (woman in Northern Cape)

    “Without employment young people end up doing wrong things like selling themselves for food and money, robbing people and afterwards getting illnesses like HIV and AIDS.” (elderly man, Northern Cape)

    “A hungry stomach knows no law … .” (young man in Gauteng)

    Another young woman told us that her parents had died while she was still young, leaving her with siblings to raise. Because she was not a guardian, she could not access benefits from the social security system. She says their lives were a daily struggle. It was not unusual for them to go without food for days. Their situation became so desperate that one day the small children ended up eating cow dung.

    Throughout the poverty hearings, community members shared testimonies of their struggle for food, to access social services, take their children to school and guarantee their future.  Their struggles are of basic survival – to put food on the table and have clean water to drink. 

    While talking to one of the researchers during the poverty hearings, a young woman asked: “Do you know what it is like for a mother to hear her children cry and beg for food and not be able to feed them?”

    Across the country, the lack of sufficient food has been raised as a critical issue. It has caused the loss of human dignity and the erosion of family and societal values. Ordinary citizens are resorting to desperate measures in order to feed themselves and their children - such as eating from dustbins and begging on the streets. A number of young people spoke about how not having enough food had driven them into prostitution or engaging in criminal activities.

    I am surprised that in the 21st century - when there is so much wealth, technology and knowledge - there are still people in the world who have to suffer the injustice and indignity that comes from hunger.  

    The greatest instigator of this desperation is a lack of employment. Young people, whether school drop outs, matriculants, or those with tertiary education, are all saying they cannot find jobs. Our economy is not producing jobs. What kind of an economy is able to produce wealth for the rich, but no employment for young people who are the future?

    Unemployment among young people is driving them into disillusionment, hopelessness and bitterness. For them, the future remains bleak. A number of them expressed frustration and anger at their inability to access youth funds like Umsobomvu. 

    An angry young man in Cape Town said: “Hunger creates hatred. I see people with money and I want to rob them.”  Another from Kwa-Zulu Natal commented, “When there is no food from home, I end up stealing and eating in dustbins”.

    People infected and affected by HIV/AIDS made specific reference to food insecurity. While their testimonies indicate that access to treatment has improved significantly, they are often unable to take their ARV treatment because they have no food to eat. ARV treatment demands a good balanced diet. Most of them depend largely on the disability grant for survival. However, they can only receive a grant when their CD4 count drops to less than 200. A number of them confessed that they would rather not take medication so that they could continue to receive the grant. 

    There is no doubt that the social grants in South Africa are providing an invaluable safety net against poverty. However, communities are clearly saying that they also want opportunities to fend for themselves, sustain their livelihoods and realise their dreams. Without the creation of employment opportunities, increased support for agricultural production and institutional support to the poor, none of this seems possible. 

    Poverty is a deadly cocktail that is causing a state of emergency.  The words of an elderly woman in Kwa-Zulu Natal are indicative of this: “I am saying to the power brokers – death has come knocking – please come help us.”

    The anger, frustration and the feeling of hopelessness especially among young people is a recipe for possible disaster. Our recent experience of an outbreak of anger and violence resulted in xenophobic attacks. I believe the stage has been set for another eruption. 
    Enough is enough.  South Africa must act now. Most of the policy provisions to cater for the poor are enshrined in the constitution, and reflected in various policies including ASGISA and Vision 2014. 

    But words will not feed the hungry. It is time for action. It is no time for semantics, or debates about who is right and who is wrong. It is time for action that will address the needs of the people of South Africa. 

    Archsbishop Njongo Ndungane is the President and Founder of African Monitor. He was the Chief Commissioner during the 2008 Poverty Hearings. For more information and for further interviews with Archbishop Njongo Ndungane please contact Ms. Buhle Makamanzi on +27 82 898 8488 or +27 21 713 2802.
  • Ending Aid Dependence

    “Ending Aid Dependence” is a book which shows how developing countries can liberate themselves from the aid that pretends to be developmental but is not. Authored by Yash Tandon, the book argues that exiting aid dependence should be at the top of the political agenda of all countries.

    For more information, click here.

  • 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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    Butjwana Seokoma
  • Lessons for Aid Effectiveness from Poverty Hearings

    Over the past two months, the African Monitor, working with Black Sash, CIVICUS, Hope Africa, South African Human Rights Commission, COSATU, Southern African Trust, South African Council of Churches, SANGOCO, Studies in Poverty and Inequality Institute and IDASA,  has held Poverty Hearings in across South Africa. These gatherings have provided people from all walks of life the opportunity to talk about their experiences of poverty.

    This process builds on a similar exercise conducted 10 years ago when the founder and president of the African Monitor, Archbishop Njongo Ndungane was a Commissioner on the Poverty Hearings Commission.

    So far 1 900 people have participated in four of the nine provinces by giving testimony of their experiences of poverty. What we have found is shocking.

    It confirms what many people know but which most donors and African governments refuse to acknowledge:

    • Not much aid and development resources reach poor communities
    • Poor people do not have access to basic services
    • Youth unemployment is damaging communities, including increasing the crime rate
    • Unemployment among men is leading to social erosion and community tensions such as the recent xenophobic outbursts in parts of the country
    • Many households depend on the income of women pensioners. The same women also being targeted by criminals when they withdraw their meagre pensions
    • Overcrowding in shacks is widespread as is lack of access to such services including treatment for HIV and TB
    • Increases in food and fuel prices have increased vulnerability .
    • There is increasing frustration with the sense of hopelessness and powerlessness among the poor 

    African Monitor is gathering more testimonies in South Africa and through partners across Africa. This will culminate in an international Poverty Hearing at the United Nations Headquarters in New York later in September 2008.

    Discussions about aid have generally been framed around the inadequacy of resources or of aid ‘under-dose’ where too little often comes too late. However, sometimes it is not about lack of money but the way it is channelled to those who deserve it. For example, some governments like South Africa have set aside a well-resourced youth fund; Umsobomvu but for the youth who testified at the Poverty Hearings in the Free State, these funds have not been accessible. 

    Therefore the South African Minister of Finance at the recent Third High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Ghana could have felt quite pleased that he has provided for his country’s youth, despite the reality on the ground being very different. 

    Various other initiatives and funds are available for Africa’s development – the Infrastructure Development Fund, the Alliance for a Green Revolution (AGRA), amongst others. The real challenge is that little of these resources actually reach grassroots communities. As one of the poverty Hearings Commissioners aptly put it: 

    “A country works well when people talk and work together. On poverty there is no effective dialogue. Everyone does their own thing. The relationship of those in positions of power, such as lawyers, civil servants, elected representatives, with the poor must be changed and made more equal”. 

    It is in this context that African Monitor called on delegates at the Third High Level Forum to take the opportunity of holding the Forum in Ghana to:

    • Work together towards understanding of the deprivation as well as the contribution of the poor to building a just Africa
    • Mandate regular monitoring of aid and its impact on grassroots communities
    • Adopt continental hearings on aid and development effectiveness
    • Prioritise the needs of the poor in aid and development delivery 

    Africa can ill afford ending at just acknowledging the presence of poverty and making glorious declarations which at best have subtle substance.

    For questions, comments or interviews contact Archbishop Njongo Ndungane, Warren Nyamugasira or Buhle Makamanzi. African Monitor, Tokai on Main Office Complex, Main Rod, Tokai 7945, Cape Town, South Africa. Tel: +27 21 713 2801, Fax: +27 21 712 1082 

  • 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.

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