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Civil unrest in July a threat to South Africa’s democracy

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa. Picture: Thobile Mathonsi

Published Sep 12, 2021


AFTER almost a decade of sterling work on poverty and human development and Summer School programmes, the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative (Ophi) has raised the bar by introducing Executive Education Ophi ExEd for Multidimensional Poverty Indicators as a potent development planning tool.

Ophi tools have been deployed successfully in Latin America and Asia. They have translated into action what Amartya Sen said: “Human lives are battered and diminished in all kinds of different ways, and the first task … is to acknowledge that deprivations of very different kinds have to be accommodated within a general overarching framework”.

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Last month the maiden programme of ExEd was launched and senior officials from the public and NGO sector were treated to a potpourri of experience by former heads of state and practitioners who immersed themselves in addressing poverty and tackling development.

Attended by 28 participants from Asia, Africa and Latin America, the Ophi ExEd is poised to contribute significantly in materially changing the meaning and governance of development.

South Africa has forked and this has long been coming. The events of massive destruction of infrastructure and wanton looting of shops triggered by the imprisonment of its former president, Zuma, have their genesis in the deep intersectionality of race, gender and place-based inequality, increasing unemployment and poverty which the country suffered and continue to suffer 27 years after apartheid was removed from the statute books.

The 1996 Constitution made a mandatory policy statement of a better life for all.

While there is evidence of the path towards achieving material well-being for the poor in the first 10 to 15 years of the post-apartheid period, the next 12 years witnessed significant reversals of this path, culminating in what some see as an insurrection willed by the looters of the State.

Against this insurrection theory, the opportunity to massively loot and destroy retail and manufacturing infrastructure left South Africa shellshocked, especially when this occurred in the month dedicated to the struggle Mandela and his compatriots dedicated to South Africa’s liberation.

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Applying the Alkire-Foster Method, poverty has been measured multidimensionally. Through the dimensions it is now possible to create compacts on the most crucial and unsettling elements or drivers of discontent in societies and among people.

What South Africa witnessed in July and its impact long after is an existential threat to its 27 years of democracy.

The watershed settlement of 1994 raised hopes for South Africa as a winning nation, and with it was a settlement for a constitutional democracy.

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In fact, it is the strength of the form of democracy South Africa chose that led to the imprisonment of the most powerful person in the country – its former president Zuma.

This puts paid to the fundamental principle and impact of equality of justice. Yet it is also against the implementation of this constitutional principle that the uprisings were triggered, thus marking the fragility of the State, which by all accounts has been hollowed of any capability through in part corruption and a policy vacuum.

The trigger of the riots can be uncovered in the context of this multidimensional definition, when development as freedom is denied.

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The Ophi ExEd interactions were addressed by eminent luminaries, including the former Prime Minister of Bhutan, Tshering Tobgay. He introduced the Gross National Happiness measure for Bhutan 15 years ago and raised levels of resilience.

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa. Meet him at and @Palilj01.

*The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL or of title sites.


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