13 September 2019 / 13 Muharram 1441
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THAT poverty is a huge problem in our country is a dead given. With our visible rich-poor divides and discontent boiling over in poor areas, social stability is without doubt, a massive socio-economic challenge.
In 2017, Stats SA revealed that 30.4 million South Africans lived in poverty. In a population reaching almost 60 million, it means that 55 per cent of our fellow citizens are poor.
According to Oxfam, 13.8 million South Africans live in what is categorised as “extreme poverty”. In other words, they live below the 2015 demarcated line of having to survive on less than R441 per month.
This has been mitigated somewhat by the social grant system, a policy measure designed to alleviate poverty that was introduced in 1998, and primarily aimed at children. Today, South Africa is proudly the only African “welfare state”, and last year nearly 18 million South Africans (nearly 30 per cent of the population) were benefiting from state grants.
However, this is a 27 per cent increase from 2009 when there were 13 million recipients. Government has had to budget R567 billion for grants for the next financial year, and the implications for the fiscus are obvious, especially if jobs and the economy do not pick up in the near future.
This is highlighted by the fact that there are only 7.6 million registered taxpayers in South Africa - about 13 per cent of the total population - with an estimated 1.8 per cent of those taxpayers contributing nearly 80 per cent of the taxable total.
All of the above plays out profoundly in the Gini coefficient, something which measures income inequality with 0 representing perfect equality, and 1 representing perfect inequality. On average, South Africa scores at 0.6 which is dangerously high.
According to Stats SA general, Pali Lehohla, it is the youth that bear the burden of poverty through unemployment, pegged nationally at about 30 per cent, but proportionately higher in sub-economic areas.
“They (the youth) graduate from poverty as children into being unemployed as youth,” he says, adding that poor children are the most vulnerable, being less likely to attend school, and even if they do, doomed to performing poorly.
According to Stats SA, the Western Cape and Gauteng have the least occurrences of extreme poverty, with Limpopo and the Eastern Cape having the most occurrences. However, Gauteng and the Western Cape are experiencing major challenges in dealing with rapid urbanisation and impatiently rising expectations. This places a huge strain on existing infrastructure that is already struggling to keep up with demand.
Tragically, up to 30 per cent of taxable income is ferreted offshore, thus denying South Africa’s citizenship of precious resources and developmental opportunities.
It is into this raging national stream that NGOs such as SANZAF venture in an attempt to build up individuals, families and communities. The ultimate aim is not merely to alleviate poverty, but to offer hope and to eradicate it. Most humanitarian organisations today have moved away from band-aid, which does not resolve the core issues.
And it is against the depressing and daunting background of the above that one’s spirit is lifted by the fact that Islam, through noble Prophetic conduct and the mercy of Sacred Law, militates directly against poverty.
This is something that Islamophobes spectacularly fail to see; the compassion that is demanded of Muslims in the sense that if one stomach is hungry, all stomachs must feel it, and that two per cent of one’s residual wealth has to be redistributed to the poor as an act of worship.
Of course, we have to be conscious of social reality, but that does not mean to say we can’t be positive about change. We should not be put off by adversity. That was certainly the Prophetic example - where in a single generation - a nation was created and transformed through divine love into a principled power.
And as Ramadan, the month of heightened awareness and peace approaches, we have to embrace the tests. There can no place for doom and despair. Towering trees have grown from a single, tiny seed into six metre giants. It is, indeed, time for us to create a forest by planting hope in the hearts of the needy.
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Photo by Shafiq Morton