Our people remain our greatest treasure and asset. If we were to get ourselves out of the economic stagnation that we are currently facing, due to a sluggish global economy and a local economy that needs restructuring, then we must begin to invest in our people. We cannot promote austerity and cuts on social expenditure if we are to ensure that future generations should the reap the benefits of the investments we are sowing now.

Throughout the past few weeks, reading about the Steinhoff saga, one could not help but recall the words of students when they shouted: if you believe education to be an investment why not use PIC funds to fund higher education. Today PIC funds are severely dented as the actions of White monopoly capital continue to plague our economic landscape. 

Development studies, the study of development of peoples and societies, has certainly evolved over the last century. In particular, during the eighties, when Thatcher and Reagan dominated the Western economy, much emphasis was placed on growth rates and economic growth. Yet no better example can be pointed out than South Africa, or even Angola, who some twenty years after Reaganomics saw good growth rates which meant nothing to the people on the ground and at grassroots level.

Development then rapidly developed into something that focussed on the human person and their development. During the nineties and naughties, emphasis was placed on how people were able to use their capabilities by first ensuring that the shackles which prevent people from exploring these are discarded. The capabilities theory, which gained the economist Amartya Sen his Nobel prize, is closely linked to human development. Put differently, if we want our young people to develop themselves, become entrepreneurs, go into co-ops or if we want them to explore what they are capable of, then we must ensure their human development.

As the ANC therefore comes from its twice a decade Conference, it must focus on the human development aspect of young people. The United Nations Human Development Index mentions a number of features to be looked at when determining the levels of human development of countries. These include population trends, such as life expectancy, health, education, income, work, security, international integration, perceptions of well-being and human rights.

On the 2015 index, out of 188 countries rated, South Africa ranks at 119, as a ‘medium human development’ country. With a Human Development Index rating of 0.666, 1 being the perfect society, South Africa ranks among countries such as  Indonesia, the Philippines and India. We are joined by African counterparts Botswana, Gabon, Egypt, Morocco, Cape Verde, Namibia, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Ghana, Zambia and Kenya. Yet the category also has countries such as Palestine, ranking higher than South Africa, Iraq and Myanmar. Mauritius, Algeria, Tunisia and even Libya rank much higher than South Africa in human development on the continent. We have been concentrating too much on economic development to the detriment of human development.

In 2015, the expected years of schooling was 13 years while the average was 10 years of schooling. At a time when our gross national income estimate was set at over twelve thousand US dollars per capita, with the highest gini coefficient ranking in the world we know that our people are not coming near to this figure which equals approximately an income of R13 500 per month per South African.

Again, this figure in itself shows just how skewed and imbalanced our economy is. It means that the South African economy was capable, in 2015, to deliver R13 500 per month to the pockets of every South African. People who concentrate on economic growth alone suggest that we must simply enlarge the cake but what this will inevitably lead to, unless the economy is restructured, is that those at the moment thrice or four times more than R13 500 per month while simply increase their salaries while those who are earning R3 500 and less, who are in the majority, will earn even less.

In the same year, life expectancy in South Africa was set at 57 years. This has a direct correlation to the type of health system that currently exists in South Africa. In this respect, the National Health Insurance system piloted hitherto in some sites in the country and which continues to be in its first phase must be rolled out in order to ensure greater accessibility by our countries poor. 

However, those who have studied the pilot of the NHI point out that the problem remains the same as with the old system. In the health system there are three parties: the patient, the health practitioner and the health conglomerates which are the private hospital companies and the medical aids. Frequently, the challenges lies between the patient and practitioner, on the one hand, and the health conglomerates on the other. Hospitals, especially private ones, charge exuberant fees whether the patient is on medical aid or not. On the other hand, patients and practitioners often have to succumb to the burdensome administration and defense of claims to medical aids.

The NHI currently once again pumps money into the conglomerates rather than ensuring we have more practitioners and patients receive quality healthcare. Hospital companies who are preparing to cash in on the scheme will continue to charge, now government, excessive rates while giving patients and practitioners a hard time when claims are made or when procedures have to take place.

While much has been written and discussed about higher education in the past two years, basic education continues to receive very little attention. At the same time, we must ensure that our understanding of security is widened to include security against violence and crime but also food security, environmental security, shelter security and job security.

In the discussion document on social transformation for the National Policy Conference, the ANC recognized, and so must all of us, that South Africa under the ANC-led government has made considerable efforts in ensuring a better life for our people. The statistics are boundless in proving how much this government has done to improve Black lives in the last two decades than in the entire history of this country. A simple example is that more Blacks have graduated in the last two decades from our universities than in throughout the history of our country. Yet more can and must be done.

While its the economy that ultimately matters, the ANC in 2018 and going into the 2019 national and provincial elections must not downplay the importance of human development. It is for this reason that their theme for the conference: “…Towards unity, renewal and radical socio-economic transformation’ becomes key. We must concentrate on social transformation as well as economic transformation because it is only through investing into our people, our greatest assets, that we will be able to engage in economic transformation. 

Wesley Seale teaches Politics at Rhodes University & a PhD Candidate at Beijing University in China 

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