Vol.2 No.11, 06 May 2002

Transforming the Present - Protecting the Future

Aart Roukens de Lange

This is the title of the Report of the Committee of Enquiry into a Comprehensive System of Social Security for South Africa, chaired by Prof Viviene Taylor and made public on 2 May by Dr Skweyiya, Minister for Social Development.

The report looks comprehensively at the socio-economic context and existing social security provisions in South Africa. It compares these with those of other countries and looks at current trends in income distribution, unemployment, basic needs and social security provisions. It recognises the gaping holes in the safety net of current social security provisions and looks at ways of providing a more comprehensive service. Amongst other recommendations it puts forward the case for providing a Basic Income Grant and how this could be implemented and financed.

The report is comprehensive in terms of current social welfare needs and circumstances. What it does not address effectively is the context and implications of Free Markets and Globalisation in which South Africa operates. These are giving rise to increasing unemployment and income gaps between rich and poor, and it seems inevitable that they will lead to the collapse of market economies.

The Department of Social Welfare cannot unilaterally address these global issues but it also cannot ignore them in their assessment of South African needs. It must structure its policies in the light of these realities. Perhaps it is the role of the South African New Economics Foundation (SANE) to provide this context and offer a wider vision. Comprehensive welfare provisions must be seen not only in terms of what is currently happening in South African economic development and in the globalisation process, but also in the context of the dynamics of the global economy and its inevitabilities for South Africa. Planning for the future must take this into consideration. It is dealt with from many perspectives in earlier SANE Views.

To develop a perspective on what is likely to happen in the global economic future it is valuable to look at a book by David Fleming which is about to be published on the topic of 'THE LEAN ECONOMY' (this book has been sent to SANE for review - it is to be published shortly). In this book Fleming looks at what he considers the inevitable collapse of the global market economy because of the decline in the supply of oil and gas, of a growing deficit in the food supply and of climatic change. This will give rise to hyper-unemployment and social fracture. Fleming posits that the only way out is for dramatic change from a growth orientated economic paradigm to one of a conserving 'lean economy'. He sees the need for lean and local production of primary goods and for local currencies..

A question that must be raised is how metropolitan areas in South Africa can be adapted to providing their own food. This may also require a move back to rural communities appropriately developed to cater for local needs and economic structures (see SANE Views Vol 2 #10 on 'Adapting Urban Industrial Illusions'). Small scale local manufacture and energy generation can reduce waste, costs and unemployment. It will cause the South African economy to develop along the lines sketched in the 'Guinea Fowl' economy.

The subject of how a welfare structure should be adapted under such radically transformed economic realities will not be pursued here, but clearly it is necessary to explore this further, both conceptually and in terms of practical local pilot projects in South Africa. We don't have all the answers but the issues raised here should be addressed in social welfare planning.

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