7 September 2011
Simply adopting a tick-box approach to tackling development will not solve South Africa’s many problems, chief among them the state of its education system, says National Planning Minister Trevor Manuel.
Addressing Members of Parliament (MPs) and Members of Provincial Legislatures (MPLs) at the start of a two-day consultative seminar in Parliament on the Millennium Development Goals on Tuesday, Manuel urged them to get more deeply involved in their respective constituencies and monitor the government’s work more effectively.
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were signed by 189 countries in 2000 and contain a pledge to meet 21 targets in human development by 2015.
Access to education – of what quality?
Manuel cautioned against officials who simply “ticked boxes”, as this would lead to superficial development. He singled out MDG goal two – access to primary education – which the country was doing very well at.
He said though 99.7% of South African children were in school, this said nothing about the quality of teaching, whether teachers were in class teaching or how many days they were in class teaching.
“We’ve ticked the MDG … goal two, but the outcomes in education are abysmal,” he said.
He said of the 1.4-million pupils that started school in 1999, 600 000 sat for matric last year, of which 67.8% passed, yet only 15% of those that passed obtained matric marks higher than 40%.
“[I]f you pass like that, there is very little you can do in society.”
Manuel pointed out that South Africa ranked 137 out of 150 countries in maths and science, and that although it spent 6% of its GDP on education, it was one of the bottom 25 performers on the African continent in education.
‘This is apartheid still in existence’
“We must understand the hardship that we are imposing on the poor, because this is apartheid still in existence,” he said.
Manuel said there were 18 schools last year where no pupils passed. He then asked those members who knew they had schools in their constituencies that had a zero pass rate to raise their hands – only two members did so.
“So there are still 16 schools that we don’t know about we have constituencies. How does this happen? Because if we don’t know what is happening amongst the people we service, how are we, members that represent them, [to help]?”
He said the education system was to blame for most ills in South Africa – from unemployment, to crime, corruption and the state of the health care system.
“The reason so few South Africans work is because people leave school without elementary skills. The reasons we have such problems in the healthcare [system] is that the education system appears not to equip people to deal with choices about their conduct, whether this be their alcohol consumption or their sexual conduct.
“The reason people are so tolerant of corruption in this country is that the education system does not empower people to rise up and say ‘what is happening is wrong’.
“So if we want transformation, then [transformation in] education is going to have to be fundamental. Perhaps the most abused word in South Africa is empowerment, but education is the genesis of empowerment. Unless you deal with this issue, the other issues are not going to fall into place.”
‘Let us not look for excuses’
He said South Africa might have the world’s best documentation available when it came to transparency of its budget and budgeting processes, but the question remained whether the country was using the budget adequately or not.
He also questioned why it was that South Africa, with its limited available budget, had such a “slack oversight” function, with provincial parliamentary officials often coming up with findings that were completely different from those of Parliament’s oversight visits.
Responding to a question from one member on whether the influx of foreign migrants would not put a strain on South Africa achieving the MDGs, Manuel said he didn’t believe migrants would be a problem for the country, and added that South Africa should never turn away fellow Africans.
“Let’s not try to find a reason for poor performance, because we are African.”
The UN Development Programme (UNDP) resident co-ordinator, Agostinho Zacarias, said looking across the world, progress – largely owing to the recent growth of India and China – had been made to lower the poverty level.
Quoting the 2011 MDG report, Zacarias said the overall proportion of those living in poverty, defined as those living on $1 or less a day, had fallen from 45% to 27% (against a target of 23% by 2015) between 1990 and 2005.
However, the decline was less dramatic for sub-Saharan countries, he said, where poverty fell from 58% to 51% (against a target of 29% by 2015) over the same time period.
Mixed results on MDGs
South Africa had experienced mixed results with the MDGs, with extreme poverty falling from 11.3% in 2000 to 5.7% in 2006 and so exceeding the MDG aim of halving poverty by 2015.
Zacarias said South Africa had done well on water and sanitation – with those who have access to clean water moving from 88.7% in 2002 to 92.4% in 2009 and those with access to sanitation, from 61.9% to 70%.
However, of particular importance for South Africa was meeting MDG goals 4, 5 and 6, which pertain to the areas of child welfare, maternal welfare and HIV/Aids and other related diseases, he said.
In South Africa, the number of children who die before their fifth birthday had risen from 59 per 1 000 births to 140 per 1 000 by 2007 (against a target of 20 per 1 000).
He said similarly, the maternal mortality rate had risen from 150 per 100 000 live births to 625 per 100 000 live births.
HIV/Aids accounts for just over 40% of maternal deaths, he said.
A national task team on the acceleration framework, made up of officials including MPs, was already working on removing bottlenecks, while the UNDP is also helping to assist provinces to tackle shortfalls.
He said the UNDP was particularly targeting MDG goal five – the reduction of maternal deaths – as bringing down the number of maternal deaths would also enhance the number of children living beyond their fifth birthday and reduce the number of mothers that die from HIV/Aids.
Nii Mai Thompson, a senior economist at the UNDP, said it was key for parliaments across the world to hold respective governments to account.
For example, he said when it came to reducing child mortality, Parliament could help pass a law on child vaccination, get the involvement of civil society and provide budgetary oversight as well as oversight on the law itself.
Thompson said in monitoring the progress of MDG goals, Parliament could ensure that annual MDG workplans were carried out, conduct field visits, investigations and reports, hold debates, conferences and workshops on key issues and ensure questions were made to ministers.
The MDGs’ 21 targets are structured under eight goals, namely: eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; achieve universal primary education; promote gender equality and empower women; reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV/Aids, malaria and other diseases; ensure environmental sustainability; development a global partnership for development.