In 2012, shortly before the end of the first term of former South African President Jacob Zuma's administration, with the economy sluggish and inequality and unemployment stubbornly high, the National Treasury, then led by Pravin Gordhan, saw a new urgency for strong evidence to shape appropriate policies.
The Treasury invited the University of Cape Town's Southern African Labour and Development Research Unit (SALDRU) to establish an independent, national research project, the Research Project on Employment, Income Inequality and Inclusive Growth (REDI3x3) with three discrete focus areas:
- Employment and unemployment (convened by Professor Frederick Fourie)
- Income distribution (convened by Professor Murray Leibbrandt); and
- Inclusive growth (convened by Professor Haroon Bhorat)
The project spanned five turbulent years in South Africa's political economy. The finance minister changed four times during the period, and the early signs of state capture under the Zuma administration grew into well-documented evidence. But under the leadership of the research convenors and key Treasury officials, it moved steadily ahead. Overall, 79 research papers were produced, covering key gaps in knowledge.
The project also produced a book on the informal sector (edited by Frederick Fourie,) as well as one on migrant labour in the post-apartheid era (edited by Leslie Bank, Dorrit Posel, and Francis Wilson).
It generated two websites: www.econ3x3.org, which showcased the research in the form of shorter, accessible articles. The website is still active today and hosts articles dealing with key economic policy and development debates. The other is the REDI3x3 website which hosts the papers produced: www.redi3x3.org.
Since then, we have compiled a book synthesizing the research findings and policy recommendations: A Measure of our Ills – and how we might fix them. The book, authored by journalist Pippa Green, who worked for REDI3x3, with a conclusion by Andrew Donaldson, former senior Treasury official and SALDRU researcher, is essentially a synthesis report of the REDI3x3 papers, as well as proceeds of policy conferences. It also offers some historical background on the role of research in policymaking. Donaldson addresses key policy priorities to tackle uneven growth, inequality, and unemployment.
The event on 27 January 2023 is not only to launch the book and to acknowledge the role played by scores of researchers and policymakers, but also to highlight the ongoing role that research can play in policymaking.
The importance of evidence-based policy has now been taken forward by the SA-Towards Inclusive Economic Development (SA-TIED) programme. SA-TIED, like REDI3x3, was initiated by the Treasury, and is supported by UNU-WIDER. It is a natural successor to REDI3x3 and has already produced a wide array of research papers and a synthesis report in its first phase.
Econ3x3, which began as part of REDI3x3, will work with SA-TIED to publish key research findings to make them more accessible to both policymakers and a broader public.
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