The Solution to Rural Poverty is at Hand, but Government is Not Interested

By Ashley Westaway · 22 May 2008

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Picture: Border Rural Committee
Picture: Border Rural Committee

In the midst of the drama of the past few days, which has seen South Africans rampaging against foreigners to vent their frustrations at the slow pace of delivery of land, housing and jobs, one story stands out as the antithesis to the story of non-development.

In the little rural village of Cata in the Eastern Cape Province, the employment rate has increased from 4% in 2001 to 26% in 2007. At the same time, the percentage of households with a monthly income of more than R1600 has increased from 6% to 31% in the past six years, while the percentage of households with no income at all has plummeted over this period, from 43% to 4%.

Living standards have improved in tandem. The percentage of households that now use electricity for cooking has increased from 3% in 2001 to 51% in 2007. And while still not a perfect situation, 99% of the households eat twice a day or more often, whereas food insecurity was pervasive eight years ago.

How was this achieved?

The Cata development process and success story arose out of a successful land claim for dispossession wrought through the implementation of so-called betterment policies by the apartheid government. Through the implementation of these policies, one million people in the former homelands of Ciskei and Transkei were dispossessed of land rights through betterment, which resulted in the internal displacement of people as well as the fracturing of their community networks and support systems.

East London-based NGO, Border Rural Committee assisted the viallge of Cata to achieve their success by developing a community-driven development plan, which ensured that planning and implementation were integrated. Amongst other things, this meant that infrastructure and economic interventions were developed in a complementary manner.

Hallmarks of the Cata development process are that decision-making about available resources vests in the community, there is an emphasis on building local institutional capacity, benefits are spread as broadly as possible, and development is managed in a transparent and participatory manner.

Government is required to serve the people, instead of the people having to slot into government programmes. This is the approach that has yielded the dramatic outcomes quoted above.

On 17 May 2008, the Cata development process received an Impumelelo Award at a function in Cape Town. Impumelelo is an isiXhosa word that means ‘success by working together’. The Impumelelo Awards recognise innovative partnerships that reduce poverty in South Africa while addressing key national development concerns.

BRC hopes that the Cata success story can move beyond being a mere incubator and gain the recognition of the South African government too.

However, despite the tremendous gains shown by Cata, the South African government has been slow to come to the party in support of this and other proposed initiatives. By and large, our government demonstrates no political will for addressing structural poverty in rural South Africa.

Until the settling of the Cata claim in 2000, Eastern Cape authorities maintained that betterment dispossession fell outside the framework of the land restitution process. The policy was changed at that point – to recognise that betterment dispossession does meet the criteria of the Land Restitution Act. However, by then the deadline for affected communities to lodge claims had already passed. This meant that betterment claimants in the province were locked out of restitution.

Once affected communities in the province found out about the policy reversal, they began organising themselves, in pursuit of the demand that they be afforded an opportunity to lodge their claims for betterment-related dispossession. This campaign is called 'Vulamasango Singene' (Open the door, so that we can come in). There are now about 700 communities in the Eastern Cape that have elected campaign committees.

As early as November 2003, the former Minister of Land Affairs Ms. Thoko Didiza met with the campaign leadership. In the very first meeting, almost five years ago now, government acknowledged that it had erred in excluding betterment claimants and set up a task team to find a solution to the problem. The task team made recommendations to government in early 1994. One of the recommendations was that “betterment claimants in the Eastern Cape Province be permitted to lodge special restitution claims over a six-month period that will commence as early as possible as is feasible in 2004”. Minister Didiza approved the recommendation in April 2004, just after the swearing in of President Mbeki for his second term.

But government has not implemented the approved recommendation in the four years since the Minister signed the memorandum. In the meantime the task team has done more work. Amongst other things, it has crafted the detail of a ‘betterment redress programme’ as the institutional mechanism to channel compensation to the affected communities. The programme has been structured along the lines of the Cata development process.

It took three years for the ANC, NP and others to negotiate the transition in South Africa from white rule to democracy. Yet, government has not - after five years - moved to rectify acknowledged policy prejudice that has cost the people of Ciskei and Transkei billions of Rands in development.

The only explanation for this apparent anomaly is that government has no intention of ever rectifying its supposed mistake. After all, this government does not have a rural development strategy; instead it has adopted a spatial development framework that deliberately steers investment away from the former Bantustans, despite the fact that poverty is most pervasive and debilitating in precisely these places.

The South African government does not encourage participatory democracy in the rural areas; instead it upholds undemocratic forms of governance there, in the name of tradition. This government views the former Bantustans as welfare zones, not capable of sustaining meaningful economic activity.

The policy prejudice was no mistake at all; it is entirely consistent with what Mahmood Mamdani has described as the bifurcated nature of the South African state. If government wanted to eradicate poverty from the former Bantustans, it would, through the implementation of the proposed betterment redress programme and other means.

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J. Nic
21 May

Beware of lack of rural development

The intentional steering away from rural development by government smacks of sinister motives. The Bantustan grounds are occupied by traditionalists who are subsistence farmers that survive thereupon. Since the soil is not subject to commercial enterprises it is uncontaminated by mineral fertilisers and will therefore be of great value to capitalist inspired farming enterprises.
These large tracks of land are extremely valuable and the previous and continues neo-liberal efforts to inspire rural blacks and esp. the youth to move into urbanised slum conditions have to be viewed with suspicion, along with the government

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