Keynote address by Minister of Social Development, Dr Zola Skweyiya at the Social Policy Colloquium: 'Social Policy in Southern Africa: Exploring a new research agenda', University of Fort Hare, Bisho campus
The Vice Chancellor of the University of Fort Hare, Dr Mvuyo Tom
Members of the Executive Management of the University of Fort Hare
Deans of schools and members of faculties of the University of Fort Hare
The Director of the School of Public Management and Development, Professor Sipho Buthelezi
The Director of the Centre for the Analysis of South African Social Policy, Professor Michael Noble
Researchers and academics from countries in the Southern Africa's Development Community region
Ladies and gentlemen
Allow me to start by extending my sincere and heartfelt gratitude for the invitation extended to myself and members of my department to come to this great institution of the African continent to give this keynote address on this important occasion. It warms my heart to see that, today, there is a cadre of researchers and academics at universities, who are aware of and identify with the challenges our governments in the Southern African Development Community region (SADC) region are facing in the ongoing fight against poverty and underdevelopment. We are gathered here today for a joint colloquium organised by the University of Fort Hare's School of Public Management and Development and the Centre for the Analysis of South African Social Policy, based at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.
This joint colloquium is an important development in many ways. Amongst other reasons, it is important, firstly because of the issues with which it is concerned and, secondly, because of the institution at which it is taking place. There are many eminent Africans whose dreams and desires were born and nourished in this great institution. The University of Fort Hare has played a very important role in the history of the liberation of the African continent. This is the main reason the archives of the liberation struggle of the people of South Africa are housed and protected at the Alice Campus of the University of Fort Hare. This liberation was achieved with contributions and sacrifices made by people and governments of the SADC region and the continent. It is particularly appropriate that we are gathered here, today, to discuss and share our knowledge and expertise on how best we can address the endemic poverty through appropriate social policy.
The fact that this colloquium is taking place at Fort Hare is of profound meaning. Undoubtedly, the historical significance of this illustrious institution has not been lost to many of us gathered here today. Being the oldest historically black university in southern Africa, Fort Hare's history is inextricably intertwined with the anti-colonial struggle and the fight for human dignity on the African continent. From its beginnings in 1916, this institution has produced a line of renowned sons and daughters of the continent who subsequently emerged as advocates for the self-determination of their respective countries and the liberty of their fellow citizens.
Included in its list of alumni are names such as Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Govan Mbeki, Chris Hani, Robert Mugabe, Robert Sobukwe, Yusuf Lule, Ntsu Mokehle, Seretse Khama, Charles Njonjo and Herbert Chitepo. All the men and women who walked the paths of this university and went on to become eminent leaders of the African continent personified a spirit of undying resistance against oppression and wholeheartedly embraced the ideal of liberty for all, regardless of race, ethnicity or gender. These sons and daughters of the African continent carried a vision for the liberation of the conquered, exploited and oppressed people of the African continent. In the African continent, many leaders in the political arena and great thinkers such as Came Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Cabral, Patrice Lumumba, Bantu Biko waged a war of resistance against the oppression and control of the mind of the oppressed by the oppressor. For centuries and decades our leaders made sure that the flame of resistance against colonialism did not die.
It was the Organisation for African Unity (OAU) that expressed the demand that freedom, equality, justice and dignity are essential objectives for the achievement of the legitimate aspirations of the African peoples. The OAU saw its responsibility as the 'total advancement of our people in all spheres of human endeavours'. In recent years we have seen this vision carried forward in the African Union (AU) as we strive for economic emancipation and fight against poverty and underdevelopment in the continent.
Ladies and gentlemen
This occasion of the social policy colloquium is also important because of the objective that its deliberations aim to achieve. The objective is to found a rigorous research and social policy programme in this glorious institution of our country and continent. Research, social policy and the formulation and implementation of well-designed policies is a critical and urgent need in the governments and departments of the SADC region. We look up to the academics and researchers of the University of Fort Hare to commit to this initiative, to produce and provide research that informs policy development and policy choices made by our governments and departments.
More importantly we trust that the University of Fort Hare will build and strengthen this social policy initiative, make it grow into a centre of excellence in the region on matters on social policy. We expect the University of Fort Hare to take its rightful place and contribute in the creation of knowledge that has a direct and positive impact on the lives of the poor in the region, in the continent and the world. If the University of Fort Hare is successful in this endeavour, it will be carrying the torch that eminent African scholars such as Tiyo Soga, Jabavu and Matthews ignited many decades ago.
Ladies and gentlemen
We must always bear in mind that whether we are in government, or in civil society organisations, or from research and academic institutions, we have a common bond that binds all of us together. This connection and link between all of us draws its essence from the work we do and the passion we share. This passion and work must create platforms to realise a better life for all, to improve the quality of life of all people of the continent, the region and our respective countries. Social policy is at the very centre of the vision of the type of society we want to build. Social policy is a way of thinking about the interventions and solutions for the many social and economic problems we face. Social policy is also a tool and instrument that we must use to better understand our problems in the process of creating real and lasting solutions to our problems.
We must find solutions to the malnutrition, the infant mortality, improve our education and health systems and make sure that our social and economic policy leads to real and positive outcomes for the millions of our children and young people. In our context that is what social policy and research have as the key objective. It is this conviction that has brought us to this venue from our various walks of life and countries, in order to deliberate, share, and exchange views on critical issues of social and human development.
Let me repeat and clarify this point in this manner. Our great leaders liberated us from the yoke of colonialism. The challenge now is to find solutions that are going to liberate our people from poverty and underdevelopment. This second phase of liberation is the motivation behind this gathering. We are looking for more effective and efficient solutions.
There are a number of serious and critical questions that we trust you will provide answers to. In the African continent we witnessed structural adjustment programme reversing many positive human and social development gains that had been achieved in the post-colonial period. We were informed and instructed by those who claimed to have better knowledge of the conditions in Africa that in order to see progress and advancement in the African continent, we must promote and focus on economic development. The wisdom we were given which we then dutifully followed was that we must grow the economy first and other things such as social development will follow afterwards. After some decades of the structural adjustment programmes in many countries of the continent the evidence leads us to the conclusion that focussing only on economic growth and placing less emphasis on human and social development issues such as childhood development, quality education and quality health, severely limit the potential for real long term social and economic development. The consequences of focussing on economic growth only undermined and crippled many societies in the continent. We saw gains made in addressing child mortality being reversed, the quality of education systems undermined and the public health systems collapsing. The introduction of user fees for services such as water saw water borne diseases come back and the disturbing recurrence of the cholera epidemic.
These are lessons we have learnt. We must accordingly, in our planning and implementation, integrate social and economic policies. This integration must be ensured in order to eradicate poverty, promote full employment, enhance social integration, achieve equality between women and men, ensure access to basic social services for all, reduce inequality and mitigate adverse impacts of economic shocks. We must develop policy tools necessary for applying an integrated and holistic approach to social and economic policy and incorporating social assessment into policy analysis to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of our policies.
Here at home in 1996 we adopted a Constitution in which we declared that:
'We, the people of South Africa, recognise the injustices of our past; honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land; respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity. We therefore, through our freely elected representatives, adopt this Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic so as to:
* Heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights.
* Lay the foundations for a democratic and open society in which government is based on the will of the people and every citizen is equally protected by law.
* Improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person.
The Bill of Rights in our Constitution entrenches socio-economic rights. We declared therein that 'everyone has the right to have access to adequate housing. The state must take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to achieve the progressive realisation of this right' On health care, food, water and social security we declared that 'everyone has the right to have access to health care services, including reproductive health care, sufficient food and water, and social security, including, if they are unable to support themselves and their dependants, appropriate social assistance'.
In respect of all the foregoing rights, the state is enjoined to take reasonable legislative and other measures, within its available resources, to achieve their progressive realisation. On children, we declared that 'every child has the right to basic nutrition, shelter, basic health care services and social services'. On education we declared that 'everyone has the right to a basic education, including adult basic education, and to further education'.
What is the meaning of these rights in our post-apartheid context? How do these rights help in changing the lives of our people in Mqanduli, kwaMaphumulo, Flagstaff, Winterveld, Phokwane, Nyanga and many other sites of deep poverty in our country? These are some of the important issues that academics and researchers must continue to investigate and provide clear and workable solutions.
Ladies and gentlemen
The research you conduct, the analysis and conclusions you draw must help to inform the development of social policies and implementation. Ideally this must happen within respective countries and thereafter, at the regional level. Therefore, the theme for this conference "Social Policy in Southern Africa: Exploring A New Research Agenda" could not have come at a better time than now.
This is due to the fact that there are developments already unfolding in this area. We must concern ourselves with the question of whether our solutions are related in a direct manner to our real social context. In short, the question is, do we have social policy frameworks that are African in orientation? Are the interventions we make relevant to the realities of our societies, the region and the continent? Further, can we unequivocally assert that the theories, the frameworks and paradigms we adhere to in the development of social policies take into account those who remain marginalised in our societies? Here we are referring to rural women in particular and include those living in unserviced shack settlements, the disabled, the aged, abused women and orphans? Perhaps in the course of the next two days some of these points will be raised.
Nevertheless, taking this stance is not merely for the sake of debate but a position that begins to call for an African agenda in matters of social policy and research. "Home-grown" solutions are of critical importance in this regard. It is therefore imperative that regional universities and research institutes take up the mantle and become leaders in such innovations.
This colloquium will focus on mechanisms of effecting research and social policy within the context of southern Africa. This approach is not accidental. It hinges on strong historical factors that moulded social, political and economic landscape and the institutions of the peoples of southern Africa. The symbiotic links between countries in the region is deeply embedded in the cultural as well as linguistic affinities of communities in this area. Many still share a common sense of identity despite the artificial boundaries that separate them. Perhaps, the best example of this is the struggle for freedom in the former Portuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique, and also Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, whereby at different stages of history independent countries in the region hosted their brothers and sisters still under colonial subjugation.
Also, freedom fighters were given sanctuary to wage war against a very powerful enemy. All this was possible because of the African sense of giving and reciprocity or Ubuntu. Such informal institutions eventually give birth to political formations like the Front Line States, initially propagated by the late President of Tanzania, Dr Julius Nyerere and Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia. The Front Line States evolved into the Southern African Co-ordination Conference (SADCC) and later re-constituted into the Southern African Development Community (SADC). The formation of this regional bloc is therefore not an intellectual initiative but something that emerged out of lived and shared experiences of the people of southern Africa. It is this history that makes regional integration and co-operation a desirable option for SADC countries.
Whilst taking all these issues into account, it must be noted that there are important initiatives taking place in this arena. In recent years, social policy has been brought to the centre-stage of regional integration as a way of improving the social and economic conditions of Africans. It is a move that is propelled by the notion that development will not accrue to those living in poverty in a sustained manner unless the development is multi-pronged in approach. Moreover, addressing social development priorities at the regional level has been recognised by the continent as cardinal in addressing the challenges faced by African countries in the meeting of social and human needs.
The African Union (AU), the New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have recognised the importance of regional co-operation and especially in the area of social policy. In November 2004, Ministers for Social Development from the SADC region met in Cape Town and formed the SADC Forum of Ministers of Social Development. The primary concern of this forum is to bring social development issues in the region in the forefront of regional co-operation. The overriding aim is to tackle poverty, underdevelopment, HIV/AIDS, child poverty and issues on education and health and other social and economic challenges. These are some of the issues that the colloquium is going to consider.
In November 2006, SADC Ministers for Social Development met again. The meeting of Ministers was preceded by two days of discussions among senior civil servants from the region. The outcome of this meeting was the SADC Johannesburg Declaration of Ministers of Social Development and the Draft SADC Regional Social Policy document. The discussions at this meeting yet again placed social policy at the centre of the solutions for the challenges in the region and highlighted the need for regional collaboration.
At the regional level, social policy becomes an engine to realise the following:
* intergovernmental cross border co-operation in sector investments and programmes
* intergovernmental cross border co-operation on policies which address social problems such as poverty and social exclusion, and policies that promote redistribution, social justice and equity and
* co-operation to protect human rights and fundamental freedom.
Efforts are being made in the abovementioned areas, but more needs to be done especially in the manner in which evidence emerging from well-executed research can inform decision making. Since the key objective of social policy is to change the lives of poor people and enhance their well-being, it becomes imperative that this enterprise is built and strengthened through accurate data and empirical evidence so that scarce resources are well targeted. This will also help to identify limitations and minimise wastage in implementation.
The Department of Social Development is making significant strides in this area. We now have a clearer picture as to how we deal with the issue of poverty through the provision of social grants. Evidence from research indicates that in many households social grants are the only regular predictable source of income that keeps away hunger. Many studies in South Africa show us that the old age pension saves multi-generational households from starvation and destitution. In this light, evidence from research has helped us to dispel certain unfounded fears that social grants either engender dependency of the recipients or leads to capricious lifestyle where the youth find it worthwhile to fall pregnant in order to access a Child Support Grant. Such research is at the coalface of social policy development.
Ladies and gentlemen
Let me conclude by reiterating my gratitude and appreciation for the invitation to come and address this gathering. Let us work together. Let academics and researchers at institutions of higher education come together and share their research and knowledge with those who are policy makers in government. Let us also bring to the round table of discussions on how to improve the quality of life of the poor the Non-Governmental Organisations, faith based organisations, community based organisations and traditional leaders. This is the approach that will bring maximum benefit to all.
I hope you have fruitful deliberations that will inform regional social development. Knowledge development for the sake of it cannot be taken as life altering, however, knowledge that is geared towards real social transformation, will be needed in our pursuits of human liberation from poverty and the elimination of social strife, hunger and destitution.
I thank you.
Issued by: Department of Social Development
23 January 2008