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#changethestory: A water cannon of shame

Long queues again at the Bellville Sassa payout offices despite the minister's intervention. People with disabilities, the elderly and the unemployed queued from midnight to be front of the queue. Picture: Ian Landsberg/African News Agency (ANA).

Long queues again at the Bellville Sassa payout offices despite the minister's intervention. People with disabilities, the elderly and the unemployed queued from midnight to be front of the queue. Picture: Ian Landsberg/African News Agency (ANA).

Published Jan 19, 2021


by Lorenzo A Davids

The UN adopted the concept of the multi-dimensional poverty index in 1990. It was born out of the Oxford Poverty and human development initiative to deepen the UN’s human development reports. It also became the forerunner for migrating the millennium development goals to becoming the sustainable development goals (SDG).

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The world’s 3 billion poor people are stuck in poverty cycles that, despite the multiple indexes that seek to interpret and mitigate their poverty, have remained intransigent. From education to water, from sanitation to habitation and from refugees to war; the burden of poverty is borne by a people that all live in the shadow of the world’s 2 153 billionaires who have more wealth than the 4.6 billion people who make up 60% of the planet’s population.

The UN’s 2015 sustainable development goals is an agenda set to reduce global poverty significantly by 2030. The SDG Index measures 149 countries, comparing their current progress with a baseline measurement taken in 2015.

The South-East Asian Open Development Mekong website has showed that, when measuring progress to reduce global poverty across all 17 Sustainable Development Goals, Sweden tops the countries surveyed. It is 84.5% of the way to achieving its poverty reduction targets envisaged for 2030.

Other Scandinavian countries such as Denmark, Norway and Finland are in second, third and fourth place. The top 20 countries who have progressed best in terms of achieving their SDG goals by 2030 are Scandinavian, European (Ireland), North American (Canada) and Asia-Pacific countries (Japan, Singapore and Australia), who rounded off the list at 18th, 19th and 20th.

It is within these contexts that South African Social Security Agency (Sassa) beneficiaries must be viewed. Our growing culture of political aristocracy, who deem themselves to be important people, have become a class of deluded politicians, who care more about cars, clothes and social media than actual poverty relief work. They have handed out more political T-shirts than educational bursaries, and have had more people attend political rallies than people attending real job opportunities.

Sassa has become the new “hand of god” for politicians to preserve their aristocracy. This service will increasingly become the pre-eminent vote-catching bastion for the ruling party.

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The growing poverty crisis in South Africa is led by a minister who will go down in history for her use of the apartheid handbook on vulnerable people: sitting in an armoured police vehicle addressing the poorest and most vulnerable of her constituents, many of whom were disabled and chronically ill. After that, the people were sprayed with a police water cannon.

When a major policy renewal exercise must be undertaken, the intelligence within the Department of Social Development must be able to manage the systemic implications thereof. The national departmental leadership team of social workers and social development practitioners at managerial level throughout the department, many with PhDs, must have had predictive insight into the chaos that would ensue.

Why was the system, that serves the most vulnerable, allowed to become this national embarrassment to our country’s management of multiple-dimensional poverty?

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Sweden, Norway and Denmark do not know poverty to the extent we do. We know poverty more intimately than any of those top 20 nations on the SDG’s best performers list. Our universities have produced research that are of the best in the world. So what’s different? The difference is that they treat their people better. The difference is that human rights matter. The difference is that their politicians use public transport and bicycles to work and their people have flattened the social strata to such an extent that differences are minimised, and aspirations are collectivised.

The quasi-aristocrats in South Africa who parade as politicians – opposition politicians included – have failed the poor. When a country like South Africa has leaders who sit in armoured vehicles spraying grandmothers and disabled people with water, then you know that its politicians have no idea how to lead this fragile country.

* Lorenzo A Davids is chief executive of the Community Chest.

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

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