Pro-poor policies move into action

Thursday, September 25, 2014

By Communications Minister Faith Muthambi

In 1994, government inherited a country with high levels of poverty and unemployment. These challenges regrettably persist even today largely due to the destructive effect of apartheid policies which had limited access to quality education and sought to restrict formal labour market participation for the majority of South Africans.

This tragic legacy has not yet been overcome. Government has therefore over the past twenty years implemented a number of pro-poor policies to assist the most vulnerable in our communities.

As we mark Social Development Month next month, we are reminded of our successes to provide social services to millions of South Africans, however more work remains. Therefore, during October, the Department of Social Development (DSD) will continue to build on the successes of the past through the national service delivery improvement strategy called Project Mikondzo.

This programme launched last year September which means “footprints” in Xitsonga, mainly aims to increase the ‘footprint’ of the social services. It also attempts to better understand the social challenges faced by the poorest wards. To accomplish this, office-bound officials from DSD and its entities, the National Development Agency and the South African Social Security Agency (SASSA), join frontline officials to interact with communities on their social needs.

Once a challenge has been identified, the Department of Social Development with local authorities and social workers create interventions to respond to the needs of the communities.

Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini recently highlighted one such intervention.  “Through project Mikondzo we came face to face with the plight of thousands of seasonal farmworkers who remain vulnerable to seasonal risk to food insecurity and malnourished children. This led us to introduce the pilot programme in De Doorns to provide support to seasonal workers,” she said.

Between September 2013 and March 2014 Project Mikondzo reached 730 wards in the 23 poorest districts. The lessons learned from these interactions have proved invaluable in assisting the Department of Social Development to develop a Service Improvement Plan.  

During Social Development Month, Project Mikondzo will further its reach and consult with the following communities:  Bizana in the Eastern Cape (7 October), Limpopo Province (17 October), Emampondweni in the Eastern Cape (23-24 October), Matatiele in the Eastern Cape (31 October) and Welkom in the Free State (4 November).

These consultations are critical to ensure that we provide communities with the most appropriate social services and make these services as easy as possible to access.

One of our social services we are the most proud of and which also forms the cornerstone of our pro-poor policies is social grants. Currently more than 16 million South Africans are benefitting from it of which 11 million are Child Support Grants.

Our track record in social services had a measurable impact among poverty stricken communities. The “Poverty Trends in South Africa” report released by Statistics South Africa’s report earlier this year, states that the successes of pro-poor policies are reflected in the decline in poverty between 2006 and 2011. Furthermore, 2013 General Household Survey also found that the percentage of households that experienced hunger decreased by 16 per cent between 2002 and 2013.

We are extremely proud of these gains, but also disappointed that the social services are often tainted with corruption and fraud. Between April 2012 and November 2013, a total of 241 SASSA officials were suspended, dismissed or convicted for fraud related matters.

The SASSA CEO Virginia Petersen is adamant that fraud and corruption will be rooted out. “Every case of fraud in the system robs a deserving poor South African of a chance to improve their lives,” Petersen said.

Another important milestone in the fight against corruption was made earlier this month when Minister Dlamini announced steps to stop exploitation of its social grants database, which had been used to issue loans, sell airtime and funeral policies to beneficiaries.

“The social assistance grants provide poor households with the means to meet their basic needs, especially food and we cannot allow these solidarity funds to be eroded to enrich a few unscrupulous business people,” she said. 

The Department is now implementing measures to safeguard its payment systems by making them off-limits to creditors. The Social Assistance Act Regulations will also be strengthened.

As we root out corruption on the administrative side, government is also warning South Africans against the abuse of social services. We urge communities to report all corruption and misuse of all types of grants to authorities.

As we mark Social Development Month, we should all be proud of the impact that our pro-poor policies have had on improving the lives of South Africans. However, many are still shackled by poverty and as a caring society we all need to work together to beat the tipple challenge of poverty, unemployment and inequality. Let us work together to move the country forward!

 

 

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