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National Treasury springs an ecologically fallacious family grant proposal that must be rejected

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former statistician-general of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa. Photo: Thobile Mathonsi

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former statistician-general of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa. Photo: Thobile Mathonsi

Published Nov 2, 2021


THE RECENT debates emanating from what approaches of social assistance and relief in the context of Covid-19 and even prior to it, have pitted civil society with the National Treasury. But now the Treasury has proposed a family grant and civil society is livid and will have none of it, on three grounds at least.

First, they say the Treasury has secretly and privately concocted this decision without any consultation. Second, the Treasury sought to ambush the public with a policy that is woefully deficient and can only exclude the South African poor. Third, it is a policy that has no conscience of the environment on which it is implemented, hence the notion of ecological fallacy. It is this last point I will elaborate on.

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The social justice chair, headed by Professor Thuli Madonsela at the University of Stellenbosch, is a rather unexpected vanguard player in seeking foresight tools for engaging public policy. Yet she is.

She has assembled a range of expertise from mathematicians, data scientists, sociologists and statisticians to work with lawyers. The complex question they have to answer is what policies are designed? Why were they designed? What is their impact? Who gains and who loses?

What are the compensation and or mitigation programmes for those who lose when the design is seen as unavoidable? The discussions and design thinking that Madonsela led preceded Covid-19.

What Covid-19 presented was a perfect storm that elevated these considerations to the fore. Social justice related policies often have a long-range benefit that largely focus at notions of remedy and not doing harm.

In the case of South Africa, where years of apartheid have brought about race-based structural poverty, inequality and unemployment, the systems thinking and design thinking for social justice would have not been more apt.

Of great relevance are key drivers of multi-dimensional poverty in South Africa. According to reports on poverty by Statistics South Africa, a key driver of the scourge of poverty is unemployment.

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A long-term strategy to resolve this structural challenge is required and this should aim at resolving past and future transmission mechanisms of generational inequality.

But to know which set of strategies can work and how they would work requires foresight designs that would approximate through spatio-temporal lens, how the designs will be in practice. Madonsela has immersed herself in these tools of foresight that seek to secure solid understanding of policy designs and impacts currently on the future.

One would have thought that such tools were for the government which, by its own work on the national development plan, would have been more enthused in engaging such tools.

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Unfortunately, no such tools exist in the government, nor has the Treasury displayed any intelligence nor conscience towards such tools when they sprung the proposed family grant titled “Draft anti-poverty strategy (abridged version)” from their secret abracadabra box. Civil Society got sight of this and made it public.

South Africa should welcome Madonsela’s initiative, because the public policy value chain in South Africa is fraught with incoherence.

In fact, the policy frameworks, while constitutionally sound, suffer what is called ecological fallacy. The public service seems not to be

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sensitive to these widespread ecologically fallacious platforms upon which these policies attempt to land.

I will consider one determinant of the fallacious ecology. It is the biological one and it has profound implications on public policy execution.

Did the Treasury consider that 60 percent of fathers say they are married against 35 percent of mothers. In 62 percent of birth certificates, the name of the father does not appear. This is the reality of South Africa.

A social policy that fails to recognise and understand that behind these public statistics, there are women and children who daily suffer gender-based violence and femicide, can only be produced by callous bureaucrats not worthy of the term public servant.

This policy should be rejected and the Treasury officials should be sent to social justice chair to be socialised in systems and design thinking.

Dr Pali Lehohla is the former statistician-general of South Africa and the former head of Statistics South Africa. Meet him @ and @Palilj01.

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