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Dr. Somadoda Fikeni: Overcoming Poverty

Sunday Times-Business-Times Q & A: Dr. Somadoda Fikeni 

Since the dawn of democracy addressing issues around poverty, unemployment and inequality have been on South Africa’s agenda. These areas form government’s priority and to address these triple challenges government has adopted a National Development Plan (NDP) as a guiding framework to eradicate poverty, reduce levels of unemployment and address inequalities by 2030. The NDP targets on the triple challenges, are to eliminate income poverty by reducing household income below R419 per person to 0 by 2030, reduce inequality to 0.6 Gini coefficient, increase employment to 24 million by 2030.

Kagiso Trust under the Heart of Gold Campaign will be calling on all sectors of society to partner and collaborate in the formulating and implementing of community-centred development models to address poverty.

In this editorial, Political Analyst & Advisor to Unisa’s Principal and Vice-Chancellor and Director Special Projects Dr. Somadoda Fikeni shares his insights.

  1. What type of leadership qualities are needed to move the country forward in order to realise a prosperous, peaceful and just society?

 The scale and extent of challenges we currently face will need more than one messianic leader but a team of leaders drawn from different sectors of our society. The character of leaders is perhaps more important than any other attributes as values, norms and ethics of leaders has now proven to be the most important element. South Africa need honest, ethical servant leadership driven by deep convictions for social justice for all. The leaders should focus on balancing two seemingly contradictory and yet essential aspects of our society: unite the previously divided society while at the same time making sure that there is a genuine transformation that seeks to redress historical apartheid socio-economic geography to give rise to a just inclusive society. Leadership should be a shared competence in different sectors of our society.

  1. Is it fair to expect inequality, poverty and unemployment to be resolved in 23 years?

It is not always the case that social and economic change comes incrementally and gradually over a long time. If there is political will and deep conviction or commitment to profound change. Sometimes the risk of not effecting swift change is very high and may open an opportunity to populists who may promise instant change even if in a reckless manner. We witnessed Burkina Faso under Thomas Sankara fundamentally transform society in a space of four years just as we saw the same with Silvia da Lula who almost eradicated poverty and drastically reduced poverty and inequality in Brazil. We are currently observing Rwanda under Paul Kagame rising from the ashes of a genocide into a serious model of post war reconstruction. Status quo is often maintained and find friends in those who believe in gradualism and incremental approach over an extended period. It is possible to drastically reduce poverty, inequality, and unemployment if the right policies, proper and efficient deployment of resources within a framework of a clear vision and policies that are effectively implemented.

  1. What are your thoughts on radical economic transformation and what policies do you think need to be amended or drafted to achieve this?

I do think that there is an urgent need for genuine transformation of socio-economic as this has been lagging behind in the last two decades. If properly conceptualized and implemented this would create an inclusive economy that will unleash the true potential of this society and optimize its productive capacity. Policies for agrarian transformation and rural development, policy on undoing concentration of economic power in the hands of few dominant corporate companies in each sector of the economy, reforms in the financial sector to enable small and medium black business to assess credit or financial support. Simplification of compliance laws and empowerment laws. Perhaps building state capacity to implement and professionalization of civil service. Rapid redistribution of land and dealing with legacy issues in a creative and comprehensive manner.

  1. What can be done by all sectors of society to ensure that the NDP is implemented effectively and efficiently with the ultimate goal of bridging the poverty and inequality gap? And what role can development NGOs play?

The first assignment should be mobilization of business, government, Labour and civil society into common purpose of rebuilding society and consciously reduce mutual distrust and antagonisms among these role-players into appreciating their interdependencies and strength of collaborative effort. A new consciousness that does not allow any of the role-players to abdicate from their responsibilities and disabuse the society of the notion that government alone can ever transform society. NGOs can play an important role in community development. NGOs must also be conscious of possibilities that donor funding may come with conditions that may take them away from prioritizing their communities. Much of the country’s wealth and GDP is in the hands of the business sector and yet this sector is not playing a prominent role commensurate with their power beyond profit maximization. Corporate social responsibility would be one avenue where business could play a prominent role in development.


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