Pali Lehohla is the former Statistician-General for Statistics South Africa
JOHANNESBURG - Two weeks ago, statistician-general Risenga Maluleke released inflation-adjusted poverty lines for the year 2018.

The Consumer Price Index, which is the rate at which prices of household consumption goods change over time, has been benign for more than a decade.

In this regard, the changes on poverty lines have also not been that drastic. However, the poverty level changes captured do imply a higher income requirement for each line in 2018 compared to the same period in 2017.

The table illustrates what would be the rand level amounts that are required to keep individuals just about out of poverty in respect of anyone of the poverty lines illustrated in the years of 2017-2018.

For instance, to maintain the same standard of poverty for individuals that were on the Food Poverty Line in April 2017, an additional sum of R16 per capita on top of R531 will be required to keep an individual at the same poverty level of 2017. If this money is not provided, ceteris paribus, then the individual will be worse off in 2018 compared to 2017.

In August 2017, as the then-statistician-general, I had released a report that showed that poverty had accelerated in South Africa, with more people living below each of the poverty lines in 2015 compared to 2011. By then, 55.5percent of the population lived below the upper poverty line of R1138, compared to 53.2percent who lived below the equivalent line in 2011.

The report went further, to show the link between poverty and education, whereby those without schooling were 10 times more likely to live in poverty compared to those with a university degree.

Not only was this the case, but those without education had their poverty levels increase, while those with university education showed more resilience. Their already low poverty level remained the same even in the face of deteriorating economic conditions which in significant ways were prime drivers of poverty.

In the report, while drought would have contributed, the key drivers of poverty remained unemployment and the poor economic growth. With a severe momentum in the youth bulge who are unemployed, we are then more likely to see even deeper stresses going forward.

That then reminded me of the interview former Russian president Boris Yeltsin had after assuming office when asked about the crystal ball for Russia for the year ahead.

Yeltsin bellowed back: “This year is certainly better than next year.” I could not help but remind myself that he could have then been referring to the current year in comparison to next year for South Africa.

Downward revisions

The reports on economic growth and levels of unemployment, which Maluleke released, the subsequent downward revisions on growth numbers by Reserve Bank Governor Lesetja Kganyago, the impending retrenchments on the mines, the oft-cagey and fork-tongued pronouncements for civil service retrenchments under-girded by almost a decade of economic mismanagement and graft, show a troubling trend unlikely to mitigate the poverty levels measured in 2015.

To this add the persistent uncertainty and end-of-June failure to pay social grants. This not only plunges the vulnerable into further poverty, but exposes them to the immediacy of hunger, starvation, malnutrition and stunting.

Very little doubt remains in our minds that like in the case of Yeltsin then, 2017 was a better year than 2018. The situation continues to deteriorate.

We need to remind ourselves that next year is the year politicians of all shapes and sizes will be criss-crossing the country ensuring that South Africa meets the democratic right of free will to choose political leadership that will lead South Africa for the next five years.

What South Africans should ask themselves as they approach the 2019 elections is to seek proof prospectively on solutions placed before them as a legitimate platform to initiate evidence based choices to which we can hold one another to account. So ask the political suitors a simple question:

Show me the plan, show me the evidence that what you promise is doable and how it will benefit South Africa, my community and I? How is what you say going to change poverty lines and at what point can we check your promise against a plan to know that we are on course or otherwise?

What are the attendant risks for the path you promise and how can we mitigate them? Once you got the answers then illustrate what it is you would do to advance the purpose yourself.

While a cross on the ballot box is an arbiter of who wins or loses an election, that cross is an albatross on democracy and only through evidence can such a burden of choice be made with an honest and clear conscience informed by hard evidence.

Only then we can understand the depth of our crisis, the profound urgency for accountability and the pressing need for us to put shoulder to the wheel.

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

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.