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What policy-makers should prioritise

- Kemantha Govender

Academics and youth from around South Africa contributed to a lively discussion on the country's economy and unemployment rates.

The Wits School of Governance (WSG) and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung South Africa (FES) held its first roundtable for 2018, focussing on “Rethinking Economic and Social Policy for Inclusive Development in South Africa”.

Pundy Pillay, Professor of Economics and Public Finance and the Research Director, WSG, argued that South Africa could not wait for economic growth to deliver equity and development, “because it will not”. Pillay said, “We have to create an economy that is inherently redistributed.”

“The National Development Plan needs to give us an essence of what kind of society they are planning towards,” said Bongani Masuku, COSATU International Secretary, and Southern African Trade Union Coordinating Counsel Solidarity Committee Chair.

Masuku and Pillay joined Sethu Nguna, a coordinator at Centre for Sustainable and Integrated Rural Development at the University of Zululand, and Professor Alex van den Heever, Chair of the Social Security Systems Administration Management at WSG, as panellists.

Nguna advocated for the recognition of innovation. “The kind of developmental state that South Africa is trying to create, needs to be extremely aware of what economic matrix is used, not just the typology but how they function to improve their efficiency.

“The government and the private sector must be aware that innovation of processes is increasingly important in the modern economy,” said Nguna.

Meanwhile, Van den Heever posed a question, “Does our unemployment level exist because of the way we distribute income or because we are not growing faster?”  for participants to ponder.

Nguna, always looking to learn, said she participated in the event because she believed that in sharing a space of engagement of that nature and at that level, is a great source for getting diverse perspectives on the South African economic and social reality.

“These perspectives feed well into my work on the ground and also ground my research interests in a slightly more sobering way. I also enjoy sharing my own experiences in the rural sector specifically because I believe the concentration of urban viewpoints is a normalised practice within the South African intellectual space,”.

She added that the FES contributed a great deal to her own social awakening with regards to her role in the development space and she enjoyed the depth and clarity of the contributions and discussions.

“We find ourselves in a time where it is easy for intellectual discussions to be rigidly bordered in terms of ideology and political partisanship, but I sensed a very purposeful stance on progressive and practical analyses on the South African issues that came up and this made the experience even more enlightening than it might otherwise have been,” said Nguna.

Dineo Kekana, who is working on an urban agriculture business model with Wouldn't It Be Cool (WIBC) within the pre-incubation programme with the Urban Agriculture Initiative, said she is particularly interested in contributing towards reducing unemployment, building a sustainable business and improving livelihoods. 

Kekana, passionate about transformation and addressing inequality in South Africa said the session was thought-provoking and insightful. “As a young person I am the future of the country and need a platform where my views and inputs could be considered especially for insight into policy drafting and implementation,” she added.

Kekana said that it is also important to talk about how we define success outside capitalism.

“Our session focused on addressing the consequences of capitalism instead of the fundamental flaw in the system, being the entrenched globalised capitalism. Addressing consequences only yields a temporary solution that may not only be unsustainable but may also perpetuate the system.

“In addition to the proposed efforts to minimise the inequality gap in our country through, but not limited to, the implementation of the minimum wage, wealth redistribution and skills development, I believe that we need a paradigm shift that merges profits with social impact,” Kekana said.

She said that one ways to achieve this is to incorporate this in the basic education curriculum to entrench this mindset from an early age.  “Other factors to consider in the effort of minimising the inequality gap include looking into technology and artificial intelligence as a positive enabler.”

The discussion indicated that policy-makers should prioritise: redistribution of wealth and inequality, progressive income taxes, labour market protection such as minimum wage and improving public services such as education, income equality, sustainability and socio-economic development as opposed to poverty alleviation.

There will be a series of Roundtables in 2018 with an overall focus on developing and accessing pathways to achieving transformation in South Africa.

The project will focus on the development of knowledge and the creation of a platform for social dialogue, and will address key developmental areas such as sustainability, youth, urban governance, and civil society activism.

The Roundtables will create a space for engagement across all sectors in society, aiming to contribute towards social democracy, the formation of a social compact, and influencing political discourse.

Nguna said these Rountables are so important in the current state of intellectual engagement within the country. “There need to be spaces that are not politically aligned but that speak to matters that young people genuinely grapple with. These spaces must be safe for innovative and divergent perspectives that propel even further thought and action on things that affect the country in different forms.”