Former KZN Premier Senzo Mchunu resigned on May 23. File picture: Sandile Ndlovu

Durban - More than 3 million people living below the poverty line in KwaZulu-Natal are set to benefit from the country’s first poverty eradication office, set up by the provincial premier, Senzo Mchunu.

Speaking to The Mercury, Mchunu said the new Durban-based office would begin its work next month to address the causes of poverty, rather than glossing over it through grant dependency.

“This plan has been in the making since last year, but we have now finalised the details and are ready to roll out,” he said.

“The first task will be to find and verify those 3 million people living in poverty in our province. We have six out of 10 of the country’s poverty stricken districts and already have some data. Once our team has confirmed all the information, we will analyse the circumstances which forced those people into living below the breadline. This forms the diagnostic phase.

“The next stage will be implementation of results- driven initiatives to take people out of the cycle of poverty where they are mainly grant-dependent. For example, if our team discovers a family where nobody has any skills or there are youth who are not attending school, we will intervene to place the learner in a school, provide skills training for the adults and thereafter provide job placement opportunities. For those who plough the land, we will enhance their agricultural skills and provide opportunities and the tools for them to work within this sector so they can use their knowledge to end poverty, also within their communities,” Mchunu said.

He said the plan had already received the thumbs-up from the Treasury, which has committed towards raising the R100 million needed for its successful roll-out.

The ambitious drive is seen as a central feature of the government’s National Development Plan, which aims to eliminate poverty and reduce inequality by 2030. Poverty remains a serious challenge, despite recent studies by Stats SA showing a decline in numbers.

In 2011, there were 16 million people in the country living below the poverty line – down from 23 million in 2006.

A dramatic increase in social grants is a key reason for the drop in poverty figures, rising from 3 million grants in 2000 to 15 million by 2011.

However, Mchunu insists that while grants are needed, they are not the long-term solution.

“We need to break the cycle of grant dependency to restore dignity to people and give them the tools to empower themselves.

“Our poverty eradication plan is aligned to Operation Phakisa, which was launched by President Jacob Zuma this year and is aimed at fast-tracking critical issues of our National Development Plan, including socio-economic development and poverty,” he said.

KZN’s leading rural organisation, the Rural Women’s Movement, has welcomed the plan.

“This is fantastic news and is the first real intervention which we hope will lead to less dependency on grants,” said the movement’s founder, Sizani Ngubane.

snapshot of poverty levels in the province

* Six out of 10 of the country’s poorest districts are in KwaZulu-Natal.

* Msinga, in the Mvoti district, remains the poorest municipality in the country, with 85% of its residents heavily reliant on social grants and living below the poverty line.

* Individuals with little or no education suffer higher levels of poverty.

* KZN’s poverty rate stands at 45.1% – down from 48.4% in 2012.

 

* 61.3% of the poor are under the age of 25.

The Mercury