Madonsela and other bright minds have a plan for SA’s recovery
The former public protector is aiming for a more just and equal SA by 2030
Stellenbosch University law professor Thuli Madonsela, who dedicated years of her life to exposing state capture and corruption in SA, is now working tirelessly on the road to SA’s recovery.
On Monday, she led the second in a series of round-table discussions towards what is known as the M-Plan, and to this end the former public protector has her eye firmly on the goal of a more just and equal SA by 2030.
By then, “structural inequality should be history” in our country. The main quest was a land in which nobody should be trapped on a path where “social mobility is just a pipe dream”.
She said the idea for the M-Plan was borrowed from the Marshall Plan, the recovery agenda that Europe used to rejuvenate in the aftermath of World War 2. But, she adds, our M does not stand for Marshall. It stands for Palesa Mosa, a teenage girl who was arrested on June 16 1976 and whose subsequent arrests and torture “arrested her education and her economic” opportunities.
Today, she works part time in tourism at the Women’s Jail, and sells cheap Chinese cosmetics. Living in a poor area of Soweto and never making ends meet, she is now the face of the M-Plan which highlights how “poverty perpetuates poverty”.
Madonsela asked those present: “Why should you care about poverty if you’re not poor?”
Her answer is that if we leave others behind, we do so at our own peril because we deprive ourselves of the resources needed for a sustainable economy.
Corruption had also been a part of the problem because “it creates a field where the least competitive win”, and that is a process that takes away resources.
Prof Mark Swilling, academic director of the Sustainability Institute at Stellenbosch University, said analysis of the country’s economic policies from the past few decades showed that we don’t have what Mcebisi Jonas called a “new economic consensus”.
“With 90% of assets still owned by 10% of the population, we are certainly the most unequal society on Earth when it comes to assets.”
Dr Nicky Padayachee, from the presidency, focused on food insecurity and hunger, drawing on his personal childhood experiences to illustrate the point.
Padayachee said his mother was forced into an arranged marriage at the age of 14, and gave birth to him at 15.
The family lived on food stamps which would last for only two weeks each month. It was “difficult to understand things if you haven’t experienced them”, and when he asked the audience who had experienced sustained hunger and poverty in their childhood, Madonsela raised her hand.
Padayachee went onto say that at the current rate, it would take “220 years to get to zero stunting” of children in SA, and it would take “52 years to eradicate hunger”.
Former statistician general Dr Pali Lehohla has emphasised the importance of data analytics when policies are written.
“We have to use data. If we do not know when to intervene, then we have not analysed the data properly. We need to use modelling to make predictions and set up strong planning systems,” he said.
An example of a useful yet very worrying statistic he gave is that currently 66% of white South Africans are in skilled labour, yet only 14% of black Africans – a percentage that has dropped over the past few years.
For Dr Miriam Altman, of the National Planning Commission, SA could work on the M-Plan by taking a leaf out of China’s book.
“We try so hard to be a high-income country,” she said, “yet leaders in China talk about being a ‘moderately prosperous' country because they are taking a more methodical step-by-step approach, which has paid off.”
She said SA had had 50 years of low per capita growth, whereas Vietnam over the same period had fared much better simply by investing heavily in its people.
She said that approach of “crossing the river by feeling the stones” would work best for SA.
The other high-profile speakers at the round table included Dr Seeraj Mohamed from the parliamentary budget office, Prof Ben Turok from the Institute for African Alternatives, and Dr Vuyo Mahlati from the International Women’s Forum.
The focus areas of the M-Plan include data analytics to inform legislation, mobilisation of resources, social accountability of those who hold the purse strings, international relations to support social justice, and collecting money from civil society to heal the divisions of the past.