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South Africa, listen and learn

Since 1979 about 700 million people have been lifted out of poverty in the People’s Republic of China, more recently at a rate of more 130 million people every year since 2013.

Okay, China is a very big country, with a disproportionate percentage of the world’s population, but contributing to about 70% of global poverty alleviation counts for something.

What did Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs make of the model presented by the People’s Republic of China (PRC) during a study tour of that country held at the end of last year?

And what must China, with a poverty rate today of less than 4%, make of the almost 50% poverty rate in their visitors’ country.

Delegation leader and Chairperson of the Committee Richard Mdakane expressed admiration for the Chinese model and noted that our government’s efforts appear to have had little impact on poverty alleviation thus far.

In an address by Beijing’s Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development of China (LGOP), Vice-Minister Chen Zhigang, attributed his country’s success to what he called “socialism with Chinese characteristics”.

At this rate, the Vice-Minister estimated, socialism with Chinese characteristics would eliminate extreme poverty throughout his vast country by 2020. This would be ten years ahead of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal of 2030.

While South Africa’s multi-party state was unlikely to agree on “socialism with Chinese characteristics” as a policy guide, Vice-Minister Chen had other sound advice to offer.

This may not go down so well in the world’s most unequal society, but the Vice-Minister said his country’s poverty alleviation success story was built on the principle of building a “moderately prosperous society”.

The notion of moderate prosperity is probably not the solution that South Africa’s powerful and obscenely wealthy have in mind, implying as it does a degree of egalitarianism, but many others may agree that’s an idea worth thinking about.

A moderately prosperous society was the basis of the 2012 political report of the Chinese Communist Party (CPC). It includes achieving an average per capita monthly income of RMB 4000 (approximately R8000 rand) by the centenary of the CPC in 2021. Unfortunately, this would be quite unattainable by those earning South Africa’s proposed minimum wage.

But the Chinese had some other suggestions that had obviously worked well for them. For example, its policy of providing quality training to at least one individual in every household. That is a worthy idea which may be within South Africa’s reach.

What might prove a sticking point, though, could be finding a job for each household’s qualified individual.

The Vice-Minister emphasised self-reliance as necessary for poverty alleviation. He warned that it is easy for people to regress to poverty if they rely solely on government assistance. This suggests that South Africa’s “socialist” model of a welfare state where 17 million people rely on state grants would probably be frowned upon by the Chinese.

Another useful tip from the Vice-Minister is that the Chinese government makes sure there are “consequences” for officials, at all levels of government, who fail to meet its poverty alleviation targets. This includes dismissals and demotions. The Committee report states, “Central government would continue to supervise local government and apply appropriate sanctions where performance fails to meet expected standards”.

Mdakane also wanted to know how China ensures that its local governments implement the central government’s directives. A few Chinese eyebrows would have been raised at the state of South African local governance, and its unique governance style that can only be reigned in by a section 100 intervention. South Africa’s version of democratic centralism, where municipalities, and provinces, tend to go it alone clearly would not meet Chinese standards.

The Cogta Committee was the guest of the State Ethnic Affairs Commission of China’s National People’s Congress (NPC), which had visited the Parliament of the Republic of South Africa and the Portfolio Committee in August 2017. The NPC is the highest organ of state power in China, serving a similar role to the South African Parliament.

The Portfolio Committee’s visit was a follow up on the key themes emerging from the meeting of the Committee and the Commission, particularly those concerning poverty alleviation and economic development in the context of cooperative government and traditional affairs.

The LGOP is responsible for surveys, research and drafting guidelines, policies and plans for economic development in poor areas as well as coordinating poverty-alleviation development.

In this regard, the Chinese government strives to ensure that at least one person from every household is trained and equipped to be self-reliant.

Farming is one example where government offers training and then assists the emerging farmers to find a market for their produce. A focus of China’s poverty mitigation policies, said the Vice-Minister, was promoting agriculture in the rural areas.

By 2021, the Chinese government plans to have in place a scheme where corporate councils rent farmland on poor farmers’ behalf. This would be alongside free health care for the indigent and subsidised health care for 85% of provincial populations.

China has 13 policy documents to guide poverty alleviation work in China, and local governments have developed over 200 plans based on these documents, with funds amounting to RMB 270 billion over the last five years.

Contributions come from provinces, prefectures and local governments, and banks provide interest-free loans. The Committee was told that more than 34,000 companies, including public enterprises, have assisted more than 30,000 poor villages.

The delegation was also told that a database of all the poverty-stricken areas in China has been compiled and government send officials to visit these places. At the time of writing there were still 335 million poverty-stricken people.

Apart from the problem of poverty, the two countries both have a heterogeneous population. China has 56 ethnic minority groups whose affairs fall under State Ethnic Affairs Commission (SEAC) within the NPC. It was formed in 1949.

The Vice-Chairman of the Ethnic Affairs Commission, Wu Shimin, expressed his high regard for the concept of the ‘rainbow nation.’ The Committee was told China’s ethnic policy rests on four pillars:

  • Treating all ethnic groups equally, regardless of history, population size or level of development. This entails non-discrimination and respect for all ethnic groups, their costumes, languages and ways of living.
  • Fostering solidarity among the Han (the majority ethnic group) and the minority ethnic groups, as well as solidarity among the 56 ethnic minority
  • Encouraging regional ethnic autonomy and balancing this autonomy against the ideals of co-existence and solidarity, and
  • Creating prosperity for all ethnic

The visitors were invited to describe how South Africa managed its issue of national diversity. Mdakane highlighted the country’s diversity in terms of the official and ‘unofficial’ languages spoken, as well as government’s policy initiatives in respect of Khoi and San minorities. He also cited the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa whose founding principles of human dignity, non-racialism, non-sexism, and the rule of law guaranteed the protection of ethnic minority rights.

Moira Levy

Sourced from Parliament’s Annoucements, Tablings and Committee Reports.

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  • Author: Moira Levy
Last modified on Tuesday, 05 June 2018 02:59

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