It has been decades since the global campaign “Make Poverty History”, spearheaded by some of the biggest names in Hollywood and the music industry, took the world by storm. Sadly, most of the world’s population still lives below poverty lines and will continue to for years to come. Here at home, the ‘war on poverty’ has not ended.
Yet, according to research from the Centre for Global Development (CFGD), ending poverty for emerging economies is possible. The research findings show that, “lower poverty lines ending global poverty may now be within the financial capacities of most national governments of developing countries either in the form of potential new taxation or reallocation of existing public finances though this is not the case at higher poverty lines”.
This had me thinking about the billions of rand that has been spent and will be spent on struggling state-owned entities (SOEs), namely Eskom and SAA. In February, the former had to take a R5 billion bridging loan on top of the R300 billion debt it already has. Now, imagine if those two companies did not require public finances to bail them out and sustain them. Of course, the only way such a scenario could be possible would be if SAA was sold and Eskom partially privatised. In turn, those billions would then be reallocated to programmes aimed at ending poverty.
So yes, there’s merit and even quantifiable evidence to the CFGD research, South Africa and maybe some developing economies already have the financial capacities to end poverty and even lift the middle up slightly.
The monies spent on just two SOEs in the last ten years alone could have had a significant impact on the 30 million South Africans (mostly children) who are living in poverty.
In chastising and calling out business for ‘slave wages’, organised labour must equally call out government for being the force that made and sustained poverty.
I believe one of the hardest things trade union Cosatu must do soon, if it is to remain relevant, is confront itself before confronting its alliance partner – the ANC. Does the union want government to continue financing the leaking and economy-threatening SOEs or does it want a government that addresses inequality and smartly redirects resources?
South Africa is a country that finds itself in the belly of an unfolding process called globalisation while trying to improve the lives of most of its people. While currents of the global growth of the last 30 years filtered to most parts of the world including here at home, they are yet to reach those who live below food poverty lines meaning more must be done by their governments to help them, to jumpstart them, lift them out of poverty and plug them into the economy as the wheel of globalisation continues to spin forward.
At the start of this article you may have received the impression that I’m against global campaigns aimed at ending poverty. I am not, when it comes to poverty, every effort matters. In our continent’s context, and more so at home, we cannot always look to aid organisations for help, they’re not the panacea of solving problems.
In the medium and long term, South Africa must develop its strategy on tackling what former statistician-general Pali Lehohla aptly named “the feminisation of poverty” since after children, women are more affected by poverty than men.
Government must start now, unless it wants to carry the mark that creates and sustains poverty by misusing and failing to redirect public finances from areas (SOEs and unnecessary government departments) where they are wasted into areas where they can make a difference – the people.
*Centre For Global Development – Gasoline, Guns, and Giveaways: Is There New Capacity for Redistribution to End Three Quarters of Global Poverty? – Working Paper 433