Stats SA published their new report on 21 August entitled “Poverty trends in South Africa: An examination of absolute poverty between 2006 and 2015“.

Although multi-dimensional poverty seems to have gotten slightly better, more than half of South Africans (30,4 million) are living in poverty and the situation is declining. Economic pressures have been touted as the main reason for the decline: “This period has seen the financial health of South African households decline under the weight of these economic pressures and, in turn, has pulled more households and individuals down into poverty.” – Stats SA. However, the Daily Maverick published an opinion piece by Marianne Merten that suggests we are not tackling the root cause. Inequality, poor education and lack of access are major themes that seem to pop up time and again. Additionally, “The number of social grants has increased to 17-million today, from around three-million in 2000. An overwhelming number of households are dependent on these.” Is this healthy? Does this lead to independence and dignity? Necessary for now, sure, but is there a plan to taper off as we strive to build a resilient, independent nation?

Statistician-General Pali Lehohla states “The key driver of poverty is unemployment.” Really? Is this a fair statement? Transports costs can eat up to 60% of income … it’s often not worth finding work!  And did anyone at Stats SA ask about income and work rather than employment and jobs? They might have gotten a different answer. What about self-employment? Did Stats SA take into account the thousands of self-employed people on the street selling various products and services? Creating new, informal businesses for themselves? And I’m NOT talking about entrepreneurship. Self-employment is a viable option. Is Stats SA asking the right questions? We are seeing great improvement where households are taking on the responsibility of poverty eradication and not waiting for government or corporates to step in. But they need access and an ecosystem that is enabling within the informal sector.

Here are some points I think we need to think deeply about:

  • Poverty is multidimensional; it’s not just about money … it’s about aspiring to better quality of life that includes health, education, housing, self-awareness and motivation, etc.
  • We keep talking about jobs and employment instead of income and work … self-employment is a viable option!
  • We need to use new and innovative ways of engaging with people that requires self-diagnosis and reflection, leading to a desire and action to build a better life.
  • We cannot move forward unless we deal with the current levels of trauma existing in society through clever healing mechanisms that increase self-worth and confidence.
  • Orgs can no longer work in isolation – we have to collaborate and partner to create a holistic system of support that influences and drives for permanent change.
  • Nobody has shown willpower to pick up and run with NDP as practical blueprint.
  • 17 million people on social grants  … a nation of dependents. How do we encourage the desire for independence that can be turned into action?

Based on our Poverty Stoplight data and results, if there is one thing I am absolutely convinced about, it’s that we can no longer run programmes without 3 main constructs: healing, social development that results in true impact, and economic empowerment. And the most important is healing … because without this, we are simply overlaying skills and knowledge onto a person who is not able to respond coherently or with efficacy.