Lack of food security a threat to all

A bit of maize-meal porridge, brown bread and tea with milk and sugar. That does not sound too bad, right? Not at all … except if this is basically all you have to eat all day, every day. Such a diet does not represent adequate nutrition because its energy value is too low and it does not provide enough dietary diversity.

Yet these five products are the most widely consumed food items in South Africa. Why? Because it is all most people can afford. The cost of this diet for a five-member household works out to R650 a month, which is far less than the R3 300 for the basic economical diet recommended by nutritionists.

If your household income is only R3 100 a month, which is the average earnings by a South African worker, then your choices are limited. Bear in mind that people have other expenses too, such as housing, clothing, transport and education. So, you end up with a daily energy intake of just 2 500 kilojoules instead of the recommended 8 000 kJ for children and 10 000 kJ to 12 000 kJ for adults.

That is if you are lucky enough to have at least one member of your household employed – in a job that pays the minimum wage. One third of our population is unemployed, a quarter of workers earn less than R1 600 a month, and an estimated 60% of the population live in income poverty, earning less than R570 a month.

No wonder millions of South Africans are food insecure. According to the first South African National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, published in August, only 46,6% of households in our country regularly have access to enough food for an active life. That means 28 million of our fellow citizens have too little food to eat.

The consequences are severe, especially among children. Stunting is one of the most common nutritional disorders in our country, affecting 20% of all children. Due to hunger and malnutrition their daily intake of energy, minerals and vitamins are less than two thirds of the recommended dietary allowance of the World Health Organisation.

Doctors say once established, stunting is mostly permanent. So, the 1 in 5 South African children who suffer from it will never catch up to their full growth potential. And because their vital organs do not fully develop during childhood, they will probably suffer premature death later in life.

Our Constitution guarantees everyone the right “to have access to sufficient food”, but this is meaningless without concrete steps to make it a reality. So, what is being done?

As is often the case, we do not have a shortage of plans to improve the situation. Since 2002, South Africa has had an Integrated Food Security Strategy, led by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. We have also had the Integrated Nutrition Programme of the Department of Health since 1995, and more recently the Zero Hunger Programme of the Department of Social Development. Other arrows in our policy quiver include the national school nutrition programme, numerous forms of agricultural support and various social security grants.

Yet more than half our population are still food insecure. Professors Mohammad Karaan and Luc D’Haese of Stellenbosch and Ghent universities respectively say part of the problem is that food security related activities “are neither well-coordinated nor optimally developed on a nation-wide basis involving all relevant role players.”

The National Development Plan, which sets out a Vision 2030 for South Africa, identifies food security as a key intervention and output area. Amongst others, it calls for land reform, improved land utilisation for agriculture, smallholder farmer development, growth of sustainable rural enterprises, more investment in agro-processing and better access to markets and financial services for farmers.

Time will tell whether this will work, but we should take heed of the warning by Karaan and D’Haese that “unless all these policies/strategies are coherent and coordinated parts of a food security management approach, failure is likely.”

Part of the problem is also the complexity of food security. There are more than 200 definitions of the concept. It has four dimensions: food availability, access, utilisation and stability/sustainability. And there are four levels of food security to consider: global, national, household and individual.

Another part of the problem is that there is no “gold standard” of measuring and monitoring food security. There have been numerous food-security studies in South Africa over the years, yet uncertainty remains about the exact extent of the problem. It turns out there has never been a national survey measuring all the dimensions of food security using standardised criteria.

In the meantime, the situation is getting worse. Rising food prices means that food poverty is increasing. In 1995, 43% of households in South Africa were unable to afford a nutritionally adequate diet. By 2010, this figure had risen to 80%.

Food insecurity is one of the biggest expressions of our socio-economic inequalities in South Africa. With one of the highest Gini coefficients in the world, our country has an enormous wealth gap. In food security terms, this means that the elite has too much to eat and the masses too little.

This is a recipe for disaster, which we ignore at our peril. Let us not forget that the Arab Spring started with food riots in Tunisia in December 2010.

– ADDITIONAL SOURCES: BFAP Poor Person Index; National Food Consumption Survey; Stats SA

* Feel free to comment below, or tweet me @RusselBotman. I am looking forward to hearing from you. I will be taking part in a panel discussion on food security to be broadcast live from the Neelsie on RSG, 9-11 am on 17 October. (This blog flows from an initial thought leadership discussion that I convened on food security in South Africa recently. Stellenbosch University established a multidisciplinary Food Security Initiative as part of its HOPE Project in 2010.)

The time has come for an ‘NDP of the soul’

Close on 20 years after South Africa’s transition from apartheid to democracy through a negotiated political settlement, our country finds itself at a crossroads again. Progress in many areas has been commendable, but in others the pace of change has been far too slow. And in some areas things have actually deteriorated.

Particularly worrying are revelations such as the recent one that hundreds of South African Police Service members have criminal records. Most of them are senior officers in management. If we cannot trust all our guardians, how safe are we?

One is similarly disillusioned when looking at the high levels of corruption in South Africa. Billions that should have been spent on social services and human development are lost due to what cannot be called anything else than theft from taxpayers.

What makes matters worse is that some public servants and elected officials are involved. They are supposed to serve selflessly, yet they act out of self-interest. They are supposed to promote the common good, yet they only seem to care for self-enrichment.

Equally disconcerting is the fact that those who pay and take bribes, those who break the law and violate the Constitution, should know better. After all, many of them are members of the one or other faith community, and believers all claim to ascribe to some moral code.

So, the time has come for serious introspection, visionary reorientation and decisive action to get South Africa heading in the right direction again. A good place to start is to look at the country’s spiritual and moral foundation. For many people, this is the bedrock on which our society is built, yet it is fast being eroded.

Morality, simply put, is the pursuit of the good and avoiding the bad. Norms and values are essential concepts in this regard. They form the foundation of our most important beliefs, and influence our behaviour directly.

Where does spirituality, specifically religion, fit in? The majority of the population say they are religious, and religion has been very influential in South Africa. This is clear when one looks at the decades leading up to the country’s transition to democracy in 1994. The faith community provided leadership during the struggle against apartheid, but also in human development – relating to poverty, health and education, and also the peace movement.

Yet these days, the faith community seems to have grown silent. Why did this happen? Perhaps with the defeat of apartheid, a common goal around which everyone could unite became less obvious, and so most churches and mosques and temples started focusing on their own activities.

Attempts by the government to engage the faith community started under former President Nelson Mandela. He had called for an “RDP (Reconstruction and Development Programme) of the soul” in South Africa.

Next came the Moral Regeneration Movement (MRM), which former President Thabo Mbeki assigned to his then Deputy, Jacob Zuma, who has since assumed the highest office in the land. The MRM was supposed to focus on the moral fibre of society. However, its credibility has been undermined, and it seems to have faded away.

What other avenues are open to us now? It is worthwhile to look at South Africa’s National Development Plan (NDP), published last year. The NDP was drawn up by the National Development Commission appointed by President Zuma in 2009, with Trevor Manuel and Cyril Ramaphosa at the helm.

The NDP calls for “an active citizenry that is empowered to hold public officials accountable” in order to overcome the twin challenges of corruption and lack of accountability in society. It also envisages a South Africa “in which leaders hold themselves to high ethical standards and act with integrity.” The NDP says “political leaders must remain conscious of the impact of their behaviour on the honour and integrity of the political office they hold.”

The NDP enjoys broad, though not universal, support. We should not be surprised. The NDP is a radical document – in the ethics that it espouses and the moral basis that provides.

If we support the NDP’s vision of the future, what can we do to help make it a reality? This is a task for the religious and non-religious alike, for morality belongs to all of humankind.

We need to conduct the “national conversation about the qualities of leadership that are required in all areas of public life” that the NDP calls for.

We have to rethink the way in which the faith community exerts its influence in South Africa. All religion can be seen as a response to the burning issues of society. As such, the faith community cannot avoid its responsibility to tackle societal challenges head-on.

This will be good for the nation as a whole, because the NDP cannot succeed without strengthening the spiritual and moral foundation of society.

I think it is now opportune to amend Madiba’s call for an “RDP of the soul” to an “NDP of the soul”. This time, though, civil society should unite to repair the moral fibre of society. It is a cause no less noble or urgent than the struggle against apartheid. About this there should be no disagreement.

  • Feel free to comment below, or tweet me @RusselBotman. I am looking forward to hearing from you. (This blog flows from an initial thought leadership discussion that I recently convened on South Africa’s spiritual and moral foundation.)

South African, African, global citizen

There was a time when South Africa was the polecat of the world. Then we averted civil war by way of a negotiated political settlement, and suddenly we had the world at our feet. In the meantime, however, our shine has dulled somewhat. Exactly how do we fit into the global community these days?

This question is of particular importance for young people who are busy with university studies or who are on the point of entering the job market. Is there something about their South Africanness and their identity as Africans that makes them unique? Do they have an advantage over their peers elsewhere in the world? And what is there that they still need to learn before they make their mark in the global village?

In the discussion the last while about our South African identity, the first point that stands out is that our diversity as a nation is one of our strengths. Exposure to a variety of people and ideas puts things into perspective. You realise that you do not know everything, and you can enrich your outlook on life with other insights. You also learn not to be afraid of the unknown, and to be tolerant. This is of great value in a world that is becoming ever more integrated as borders and boundaries fade and multicultural contact increases.

Something else that we can be proud of are the principles enshrined in our constitution. As a South African you have respect for democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights. You think an open society is a good idea – one in which a better quality of life can be pursued for all and where everyone is given a chance to free their full potential.

You believe all people are equal and that they should be treated with dignity. You pursue non-racialism and non-sexism. You are opposed to unfair discrimination on the basis of ethnic or social origin, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, culture or language.

Obviously we are talking here about the ideal “you”. In reality, most of us fall short of this ideal. Nevertheless, this is what the authors of the constitution bequeathed to all South Africans – and what a sought-after inheritance it is! Of particular relevance to this discussion is the fact that the universality of these values connects you to all of humanity – not only to your countrymen and women.

This is why it is important that you vote next year, particularly if you are one of our born frees who first saw the light of day in the new South Africa after the 1994 elections. Every adult citizen “has the right to vote in elections for any legislative body established in terms of the Constitution.” By voting, you will be doing your part to protect the constitution and hold elected officials accountable.

The second point that has stood out recently in our discussion of South African identity is that we are also African – and this means that you are a person through and with other people. That is why we act humanely towards other people.

Ubuntu is Africa’s gift to humanity, and as a South African this treasure is also yours. Share it freely with people from elsewhere, and make the world a better place in this way. But do not necessarily expect gratitude in return. Africans are often marginalised in the global community. Times are changing, however, and you can help swing the pendulum further in our continent’s favour by pursuing excellence at all times.

In the knowledge economy of the 21st century, the most important resource is not gold or oil or labour or even military or political power, but information. The fact that digital information flows freely on the world-wide web means that borders are fading and once established practices are being replaced by new conventions. No-one is in a better position to benefit from this than natives of the information era – as long as they remain flexible enough to keep up with the rapid pace of change. Therefore, take that which is good from your South African and African identity, and make the world your home.

  • What does your identity as a global citizen mean to you? Feel free to comment below (click on the heading above if necessary), or tweet me @RusselBotman. I am looking forward to hearing from you.

(This blog flows from an initial thought leadership discussion that I convened on South African identity recently, and will feed into a live broadcast of Praat Saam on RSG, which will be presented by Lynette Francis from Stellenbosch University on 4 September 2013.)

 

Proudly African

We have recently been chatting about our South African identity. Many say that it is not only our diversity that is characteristic of our nation but also our celebration of it. To them, we are, as our country’s Constitution (of 1996) puts it, “united in our diversity”.

I concluded my previous blog with the thought that the best point of departure in this debate may be to look not only at our national identity but also at the next level – our African identity. I would now like to expand on this.

Being South African necessarily means that we are also African. Our country is, after all, part of this continent. But what does it mean to be African?

It is not just about geography. The African identity is also about certain values. And at the heart of it is the idea that I am person through and with other people. This view of life is known as ubuntu.

Linking your own humanity to that of other people implies two things: you empathise with all people; and you treat all people with respect. This is what makes you human; this is what it means to be part of humankind.

The advantage of this is that it creates unity where there is division. The emphasis falls on what we have in common rather on what sets us apart. So, even if you and I do not look the same, even if we do not speak the same language, even if we vote for different parties, we still have something in common with one another – our humanity. And this is why we act with humanity towards one another.

It is appropriate that a view that traces our identity back to something as fundamental as our very existence should be associated with Africa. After all, based on archaeological and genetic evidence this continent is the origin of humankind. In fact, some of the oldest humanoid fossils were discovered in our proverbial backyard – at Sterkfontein on the West Rand. This area is not called the Cradle of Humankind for nothing.

As I said on Afternoon Talk on SAfm, presented by Naledi Moleo, on 16 August 2013 (find podcast below), I believe that we owe it to Mrs Ples and all who came after her and scattered across the earth to pay heed to the centuries-old African wisdom that we are people through and with other people. It is with this heritage as our foundation that we can build a better future for the next generation of South Africans.

This means that we accept and embrace and celebrate our diversity because what matters is not that we can be excluded from this or that subgroup for whatever reason, but that we are all included in the overarching collective – humankind itself.

That’s why I am proudly African.

  • What do your South African and African identities mean to you? Please comment below (click on the heading above if necessary) or tweet me @RusselBotman. I look forward to hearing from you.
  • Click here for a podcast of Afternoon Talk on SAfm, presented by Naledi Moleo, on 16 August 2013.

(This blog follows on from an initial thought leadership discussion about the South African identity that I recently convened, and links up with a radio talk show on Praat Saam on RSG, presented by Lynette Francis on 2 August 2013 – click here for a podcast)

What does it mean to be South African?

The enrolment of South Africa’s first “born-frees” at higher-education institutions earlier this year has brought the issue of our national identity into sharp focus again. Having grown up in a post-apartheid society, their experiences have been different to that of previous generations. As we enter a future that will ultimately be shaped by the next generation, we need to review our progress as a nation and look again at where we are heading.

Taking identity as a starting point is useful in the process of re-evaluating our past and future. I regularly experience this in engaging with students. Most of them they say that what binds us together is the ideal of embracing everyone’s human dignity in the context of our diversity as a nation. (Find video below, or visit http://bit.ly/LLL_SA_ID). And judging from the response to a recent radio discussion on this issue (on the programme “Praat Saam”, presented by Lynette Francis, on the SABC station RSG, 2 August 2013 – find podcast below), national identity is an issue of interest to all South Africans.

Sociologists and anthropologists tell us that identity is not a given; it is constructed. It comes about when an individual or group identifies with certain values or actions. It is a form of consciousness, an awareness of how you define yourself and others, and how society sees you and others – with constant interaction between the self and the other, the personal and the social.

The concept of identity is multi-faceted, complex and contested. It has both personal and group dimensions. It is a powerful phenomenon that can act as a force for good, but can also have destructive effects. These were some of the initial inputs made at an initial thought-leader discussion that I recently convened on the South African identity.

A useful point of reference in the argument that the idea of a South African identity serves a good purpose is the country’s 1996 Constitution. The preamble reads that “We, the People of South Africa, recognise the injustices of the past.” A few lines further we see that “South Africa belongs to all who live in it” – and then comes an important phrase – “united in our diversity”.

In the process of constructing a post-apartheid South African identity, our first instinct seemed to be to link this to our diversity. This would be the one thing that we could agree on – the existence of various groups in the country, whether defined in terms of race, ethnicity, religion, etc. So why not make a benefit of our diversity instead of a burden?

But for this to work, the South African identity constructed in such a way that it embraces diversity has to contain a further notion: Inclusivity. Again we find support in the Constitution for this position. In its founding provisions we come across such values as human dignity, equality, human rights and freedoms, non-racialism and non-sexism, as well as democracy. One cannot speak of these values without interpreting them in an inclusive way.

The emphasis on inclusivity is echoed in another key document – the National Development Plan (NDP). It was drawn up by the National Development Commission (NPC) appointed by the President in 2009, and was published last year. The NDP also links the South African identity to the values contained in the Constitution: “We [South Africans] have made the rules by which we want ourselves to live.”

I think the strong emphasis on diversity and inclusivity, on democracy and human rights in these two important documents can best be seen as both a reaction to our history and a yearning for a better future. On the one hand, this entails a rejection of the discriminatory, oppressive and exploitative practices of our apartheid and colonial past. And on the other, it entails striving for such ideals as equality, freedom and justice for all.

If identity is a social construct, the question is do we need an on-going construction of the “South African” identity? I think that in light of the history of apartheid and its legacy still dragging on, we cannot sidestep it. And we should particularly emphasise diversity and inclusivity and the other values of our Constitution as part of our identity.

The South African identity may not sufficiently capture the full complexity of our humanity, but it is probably necessary to use it to achieve the goal of uniting us in the fight for our ideals and against the legacy of the past.

And perhaps a useful starting point for our South African identity is to think of ourselves first and foremost as African. That would mean we consider ourselves part of Africa and we identify with all of our continent’s people in their full diversity.

  • What does being South African mean to you? Please feel free to comment below (click on the title above to activate function if necessary), or tweet me @RusselBotman. I am looking forward to hearing from you.
  • Click here for a video of students of the “Critical Thinking” LLL House at Stellenbosch University talking about their experiences.
  • Click here for a podcast of the programme “Praat Saam”, presented by Lynette Francis, on RSG, 2 August 2013.