Thuli Madonsela: What if the poor mattered? – News24

Is the presidents address signalling a shift from one-size-fits-all to equal consideration to all persons?

What if Kayamandi mattered?

Would the government policy responses to the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic have been designed differently?

Who is Kayamandi and why does it matter that Kayamandi matters?

Kayamandi is a township accounting for four municipal wards in the Stellenbosch municipality.

Its population was 24 640, with the median age between 24 and 26, and unemployment was at 55% in 2011.

Things are worse now, with all three measures of poverty increasing, according to the Western Cape governments Social-Economic Profile of Stellenbosch in 2017.

The annual average income in the same year was R30 000, with 10% having zero income and only 4% earning between R75 000 and R600 000.

Only 6% of Kayamandians had cars and most worked in the informal economy.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Tuesday a whopping R500 billion social relief and economic support package as a phase 2 response to the coronavirus.

Read: Ramaphosa levels with SA on plans to reopen the economy

Until then, in Covid-19 policy responses, I had been concerned about the governments deafening silence on constitutional social justice commitments, including freedom from poverty and the duty to advance equality.

As a social justice think-tank convened by the social justice hub at Stellenbosch University, we were increasingly concerned about the apparent dereliction of the equality duty in policy responses to the virus.

We thought this was pushing many disadvantaged groups further behind or off the social life grid.

This, we knew, would not augur well for hunger, anger and, concomitantly, the rule of law, sustainable democracy and peace.

We must applaud Ramaphosa for the audacity to invest such a huge amount of money, mostly in people, to contain the effects of Covid-19 and the movement restricting policy responses to it.

Equally encouraging is that the theory of change behind the presidents address balances considerations regarding igniting economic growth with preserving lives and livelihoods for all, including disadvantaged groups and communities.

In this regard, the president appears to be shifting from years of neoliberal economic approaches and reclaiming the social democracy path former president Nelson Mandela expounded through the reconciliation and development programme and related policy interventions.

It also appears that the government listened to the voices of more than 200 economists and associates, expressed through an open letter prepared under the auspices of the Institute for Economic Justice.

Equally encouraging is that the theory of change behind the presidents address balances considerations regarding igniting economic growth with preserving lives and livelihoods for all, including disadvantaged groups and communities

Thuli Madonsela

This reflects a shift towards policy influence beyond a small group of mostly big business, health experts and corporate embedded economists.

It is good that the economists letter leans towards the World Banks shared view that cash transfers to the poor are not anathema to economic growth and stability because they reinforce local economic systems and peoples agency.

The social relief package also seems to have learnt from Greece that strategic spending is better for economic and social regeneration than blanket austerity measures.

I have a caveat though.

The temporary universal grant should be accompanied by a community service duty, as should the duly expanded child grant to parents.

My heart sang when Ramaphosa said: Our new economy must be founded on fairness, empowerment, justice and equality.

I have another caveat, though. Humanity cannot live on bread alone said Jesus as quoted in Matthew 4:4. The effect of Covid-19 and the restrictions of movements far transcend economic and food security.

Our social justice M-Plan research suggests that this would have been known had more diverse societal voices participated in the policy design, beyond a few business, labour and health oligarchs, and the economists who intervened.

We need more voices shaping policy design.

The missing voices include those of students and pupils who have been forced back to Kayamandi and thrown into e-learning and teaching.

Read:Should varsities receive a Covid-19 stimulus package?

Disadvantaged students are competing on (un)equal footing with their counterparts with laptops, own rooms/studies, data and a generally supportive family environment, comprising a digitally literate family and extended social network on the other side of town.

Consider Noma*, whose university sent her back to a village without internet reception, and who needs a taxi to take her to Empangeni daily to take part in online learning at an internet cafe.

To compound matters, taxis refuse to take her because e-learning is not an essential service. And her mother can no longer raise transport and data money through selling magwinya (vetkoek).

Their counterparts have cars that can take them to buy groceries at a mall where they accidentally bump into colleagues and discuss whatever challenges they might have.

The temporary universal grant should be accompanied by a community service duty, as should the duly expanded child grant to parents

Thuli Madonsela

Where are the voices of historically disadvantaged universities, such as Fort Hare, which do not even have e-learning resources and competencies?

What about the voice of Lucy* from Kayamandi who, after testing positive, refused to stay in hospital because she feared leaving her nine-year-old daughter with her abusive boyfriend in a one-room shack in Malmesbury?

Then theres Linda*, the hospital cleaner, who normally leaves her two daughters with Aunt Mara* but now cannot do so because the regulations have closed early childhood development centres, even though there is no childcare for emergency workers.

Theres also Palesa*, who called recently asking for money to buy prepaid electricity and food for her child because she had become indigent when movement restrictions stopped her freelancing.

And what happens to Ben*, whose mental health therapy included walking the dog around the block for at least 30 minutes?

These are some of the stories and questions that have emerged in working groups, established after the inaugural Virtual Roundtable on Social Justice and Corona, as we prepare for a follow-up round table on April 23 2023.

One of the questions asked was if Kayamandi mattered, what would the policy responses have looked like from the very outset?

Each working group is required to consider:

This is in addition to answering questions on equality, discrimination, consultation and the use of disaggregated data to predict the effect of planned policies and laws.

The social relief package is likely to offset some of the effect of unfair indirect discrimination that has been suffered, mostly by poor people, township and village communities, and the missing middle.

It is also understandable that some harm was inevitable.

One of the considerations in determining if such harm is constitutionally permissible in the light of the equality duty is whether the purpose of the harmful policy outweighs its disproportionate harm or burden on a group and there is no less intrusive way to achieve such purpose.

An emerging research conclusion is that the policy misses are owed to the inadequate use of disaggregated data and the democratisation of the policy design process.

Both disaggregated data and inclusive consultations are essential for impact prediction.

Not using municipal ward-based data leads to spray-gun approaches that are both inefficient in terms of resource use and not responsive to meeting people where they are.

An example is unnecessary food parcels or items because a one-size-fits-all causes many to fall through the cracks.

Is the presidents address signalling a shift from one-size-fits-all, from neoliberal economics and other problematic approaches to an epic journey of advancing shared prosperity and equal consideration to all persons?

Will the lived reality and pressing socioeconomic concerns of Kayamandi and the Gogo Dlaminis have equal validity in our policy design? Epic journeys have humble beginnings.

*Names changed to protect the identities of the people quoted

Madonsela is professor, social justice chair and M-Plan convener at Stellenbosch University, and founder of the Thuma Foundation

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Thuli Madonsela: What if the poor mattered? - News24

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