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Articles in Category: PACSA NEWS

A visit to Herzogsägmühle in Munich

On the way back from the Fastenopfer Coordinators Meeting PACSA director Mervyn Abrahams made a short visit to Herzogsägmühle, an institution that provides social service support in the Southern Bavaria region of Germany, and met with the Director, Mr. Wilfried Knorr. 

UK Aid cut will hurt poor South African women

UK’s government justifies the ending of £19m a year aid to South Africa by 2015 on the basis that trade rather than aid is more beneficial to South Africa and that South Africa as a middle income country should fund its own development. Moreover, noting that this ODA contribution to South Africa’s 2013/14 national budget is a mere 0.018%; it appears that the decision to cut aid may have minor implications for South Africa’s efforts to dealt with its health challenges. However looking at the reality of the South Africa context and analyzing this announcement from the perspective of global solidarity, the global common good and the current imbalance in trade relations; the UK’s decision to cut aid to South Africa is questionable.

UK’s ODA was specifically targeted for maternal health and for the reduction of mother to child transmission of HIV. The monies thus were directed to poor women and were used to make a decisive intervention into a critical problem which they faced.

While South Africa has made great strides in dealing with its significant health challenges, it still has a long way to go to eradicate poverty and disease. This entails substantial, predictable and sustainable investment in health-related programmes to ensure that the challenge is addressed and gains achieved are maintained. It is in this very area that the United Kingdom investment was located. The imminent cut could put these programmes under threat. This is particularly worrying since donor agencies typically follow the leads of their governments. If the UK’s decision is not critically contested we may see more agencies reduce aid to South Africa.

The cut in funding will also remove, for the UK, the symbolic solidarity and commitment to contributing to reducing mortality rates among woman in South Africa.

The UK’s trade rather than aid argument, particularly in relation to country ownership and accountability to deal with developmental challenges, whilst appearing sound; is not reflective of the current imbalance in trade relationships. The current trade architecture disadvantages developing countries. The argument will only carry ethical and moral weight if the bilateral trade agreements between South Africa and United Kingdom benefit both countries and if the United Kingdom is prepared to speak out in multilateral forums for a more just trade relationships in the world. The positioning of South Africa as a middle income country is also contested if we look at how society is actually structured. South Africa’s gini coefficient of 0.7 makes it the most unequal society in the world. The poor in South Africa do not experience South Africa as a middle income country. South Africa’s poor struggle to access water, food and health care because these are unaffordable. It is these very same people who are struggling, that will be impacted most severely by the cutting of aid.

Therefore from the perspective of global solidarity and the global common good as well as that of the current unequal global trade relations; the wisdom of the UK’s decision to cut aid to South Africa is questionable. The allocation of ODA funding, albeit small, appears to be making an important contribution to maternal health and the reduction of HIV transmission. In its current form it is located where the poorest find themselves and addresses health problems directly. These programmes appear to be making a significant difference – they require continued funding. Cutting aid sends a message which if unchallenged may see other funders withdrawing and suggesting that South Africa’s health challenges have been obliterated. This is a significant danger and the anger with which South African’s have responded to the lack of consultation leading to the cut may lie in the jeopardy of this broader message as well as a clear cynicism that trade, in its current form, will not eradicate disease and poverty or bridge the inequality gap which we face in South Africa.

Author: PACSA, May 2013

PACSA joins Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance

Earlier this year the PACSA Council, on the recommendation of staff, decided to apply for membership of the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance, a global alliance of faith-based organizations and churches based in Geneva, Switzerland.

PACSA Spirituality group discussion with Professor Gerald West

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Over the past 20 years a small group of PACSA members and friends have been meeting as the PACSA Spirituality group to explore questions emerging from faith in action.  Twelve PACSA staff and members took part in a discussion with Prof Gerald West on the topic of ‘State construction of the role of religion in the public sphere and the return of people’s theology’ on the 16th April. To access Prof West’s paper go to http://ujamaa.ukzn.ac.za

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Beyond the statistics - our city

In this month’s feature article, ‘Beyond the statistics – this is what our city looks like’, Julie Smith, our Research and Advocacy Coordinator, presents the reality of inequality in our city.  She writes, “The city must acknowledge the very difficult socio-economic context in which it and its people exist.  An intervention which can ensure that either food prices remain affordable or if more money can be in the pockets of struggling households so that sufficient, quality and diverse food can be secured – will play a significant role not only in alleviating poverty but also investing in the future economic development of the city.  If the satisfaction of this primary goal means that the state must fully finance or heavily subsidise municipal services and transport to ensure the longer term socio-economic development and social cohesion within the city – then it must.”

As the Msunduzi Municipality readies itself to pass the 2013/14 budget and tariffs, it is useful to reflect on the latest 2011 Census. This data provides the most recent demographics and socio-economic characteristics for our city. It is this data, along with the political vision of the municipality, which should inform budgetary allocation and the structure of tariffs for municipal services.

Msunduzi Municipality presented an overview of these statistics as part of its presentation into the IDP and budget izimbizo. Our city has a population of 618 536 people and 163 993 households. The average household size is 3.6. Our official unemployment rate is 33% (expanded by the way moves this to around 55% unemployment). 45.2% of our households are headed by women. The average household income is R108 926 … etc.

These statistics are interesting as most statistics are. However, in a context of extreme levels of inequality, they don’t tell us much about the people that actually live in our city. We are not average, resources and wealth is not distributed equally in our population, and so averages cannot be used to determine how budgets should be allocated or tariffs structured for affordability and revenue sustainability. Statistics must be broken down and interrogated if they are to mean anything. This article, by focussing on our city’s three major income bands, may assist us to better see our city in the context of municipal service affordability. We will be able to identify who can pay nothing or a little; who can reasonably be expected to pay at proposed prices; and who can be expected to pay more than the proposed tariff increases. So, let’s take a closer look at our city and start with the first income band. Out of our population of 618 536 people 43% or 265 933 people in our municipality have no income. The number of households in this group is 26 358, which means that around 10 people live in each of these households - and no one brings in any income. Widening this scope to calculate the total number of people who earn from zero to R1600; this number increases to 71% of our population (439 649) or 44% of all households (71 604).

PACSA monitors the price of a basic basket of food. In September 2012; the basket cost R1354.34. This means that a significant proportion of households (44%) in our city can barely afford to buy a basic basket of food for their families. Let alone the purchase of anything else. No money for transport, health care, education, non-food items (sanitary, hygiene, domestic) and no money to pay for municipal services.

If we add another R1 600 per month to this group, we can then calculate the total number of people who earn from zero to R3 200 per month; this number increases to 77% of our population (474 656) or 60% of all households (98 680). R3 200 is an important number because this, along with a property value of R100 000, is the threshold to access Msunduzi Municipality’s indigent concessions (free basic services). National government finances the access to basic services to poor households through a grant called the Equitable Share. In the last financial year ended June 2012 Msunduzi Municipality only allocated 3.3% or R10 million out of its R304 million grant to fund free basic water, electricity, refuse and sanitation to poor households. Only 6% or 5 839 households (out of 98 680) received the ‘benefit.’

This means that most of 60% of our households which have very little or no money and live in large families receive no municipal service subsidies. The lucky few that do receive free basic services struggle with the miserly volumes of 6kl water and 50kWh electricity which see no connection to household size, dignity or transformation. Households which exceed these free volumes must pay the full tariff for additional volumes. Any payment however for water or electricity by any family comprising this group, which makes up more than two-thirds of our population, will severely compromise the health, education and economic prospects of members. We therefore have a situation whereby the majority of our population is being pushed outside of the system. Families are forced to use alternative sources of electricity (paraffin, candles, wood) and resort to unsafe or previously undeveloped water sources which put their families’ health, futures and lives in danger. Many families in this group will choose to put their families’ attempts at dignity and transformation above the injustice, inequity and violence of the state. If service infrastructure is in place; they may ‘steal’ water and electricity.

The second income band of households makes up 32% of our households. In this group, 23% earn between R3201 and R12 800 a month and 9% earn R12801 –R25 600 a month. This group, particularly those at the lower level, still earns relatively low incomes; is excluded from indigent policy concessions; receives no subsidisation and must pay the full tariff costs for its services. This is the city’s working class – it is this group of people that typically keep the city’s economy and service apparatus moving. This group is highly regulated and policed. It is targeted by the municipality for service payments and debt collection. This group has no option but to remain within the system. This group has to consume within a normal consumption range if it is to function properly within the system. The problem is that tariffs are not affordable within a normal consumption range. Bills bear absolutely no relation to ability to pay. Households in this group are really starting to struggle to keep up with the costs of everyday expenses including the high cost of municipal services. This is the group that is forced to make terrible decisions around putting food on the table, paying for transport, school fees, health care or paying for municipal bills and thus keeping out of the fangs of the municipal debt collectors and disconnectors. If Msunduzi Municipality passes its proposed 2013/14 tariffs unchanged; the typical total monthly municipal service bill for this group of households will be R1313.22. Add transport costs to this figure which are very expensive since unchanged apartheid geography still sees workers far from their places of work (around R360 to R680 per month), escalating food prices, a high health care burden (we still have one of the highest incidences of HIV in the country) and significant familial pressures on the wage earner, amongst an amalgam of other necessary expenses for everyday life; and we see that an increasing number of households, particularly at the lower end of this band are in big trouble.

Not everyone in our city is being squeezed. Some households in the city are doing very well. Indeed some might say that their incomes are excessive, with others going further to name such wealth as sin, given our city’s make up and history. The third income band comprises households earning from R25 601 to R204 801 and more a month and make up 8% of all households in our city. In case anyone is still unconvinced that there are structural problems with Msunduzi Municipality municipal service tariffs – this group lays bear the inequalities.

This group of consumers receives the best deal. It reaps the benefits of fixed charges and receives leniency for high levels of consumption. What this means is that the luxury consumption of this group is subsidised by less wealthy to very poor households. This group also, receives the highest rates rebates since rebates are calculated by multiplying a fixed reduction against the total property value – the higher your property value; the higher your rebate. Msunduzi municipality categorises rates rebates as ‘free basic services.’ In the last financial year this amounted to R373 million – about R70 million more than the total equitable share. The wealthiest group in Pietermaritzburg via the conversion of rebates to real money in the municipality’s budget and treasury department is responsible for consuming the highest proportion of the equitable share.

The important thing we need to recognise in the run up to the passing of the final municipal tariffs is that a policy decision which knowingly diverts money out of our purses, takes food off our plates and pushes us into debt cannot simply be undone once the mistake has been realised. Nor can it be good public policy or political strategy to deny the masses of our people sufficient volumes of basic services, force people to put their dignity and lives in danger and drive thousands of people out of the system.

The city must acknowledge the very difficult socio-economic context in which it and its people exist. An intervention which can ensure that either food prices remain affordable or if more money can be in the pockets of struggling households so that sufficient, quality and diverse food can be secured – will play a significant role not only in alleviating poverty but also investing in the future economic development of the city. If the satisfaction of this primary goal means that the state must fully finance or heavily subsidise municipal services and transport to ensure the longer term socio-economic development and social cohesion within the city – then it must.

Big business too has a major role to play. Holding the city hostage by its ability to retrench workers at will and thereby forcing the municipality into offering concessions it is in no position to give whilst unabashedly advocating for even greater subsidies must stop. It cannot be that business continues to receive concessions and subsidies from both the city and its residents without investing in the city – without eschewing labour brokers, or providing secure and permanent employment, increasing the wages of its workers and ensuring that more people are employed. It must recognise that its demands on the local state to reproduce labour power and ensure that the local labour force is housed, fed, fit and disciplined for capital; is being actively eroded by its own parochialism and greed. It is wittingly cannibalising its future employee and demand base. Business must stop screaming and crying like a bunch of rambunctious sugar-filled children at a Justin Bieber concert – it can afford to pay for the municipal services that it requires. If this implicates its senior managers and CEOs (who sit in the top 1.5% of our income pyramid) having to take one less ‘safari’ to Hluhluwe before the rhinos disappear or forgo that family golfing weekend or 5-day vacation at fabulous Sun City – then so be it.

Something has to give; and the struggling majority of this city has simply given too much and for too long – it is now up to the municipality, business and wealthier citizens to play their part. The 2013/14 tariff policy must be substantially restructured for affordability, equity, justice and to allow for services to be developmental and transformative. Should Msunduzi Municipality continue with its roll-out of an ineffective indigent policy, its refusal to change the tariff structure and its continual pandering to business and the wealthy – the local state may struggle to manage what appears to be an emerging social fall-out with rising levels of distrust and indeed a situation whereby citizens may increasingly reject state policies of governance. With a national election next year, this cannot be very clever.

Julie Smith
PACSA Research and Advocacy Coordinator
17 May 2013














Sobantu residents tackle high water bills

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Residents in Sobantu village, Pietermaritzburg, have been complaining of high water bills for some time with no response from the municipality. Due to the high costs many residents are rationing their use of water and keeping it to the barest minimum and yet they receive water bills that they cannot afford to pay.

Conversations with women about food - Julie Smith

The Pietermaritzburg Agency for Community Social Action [PACSA] tracks the food prices of a basket of basic food stuffs from four different retail stores in Pietermaritzburg. The basket serves as an index for food price inflation. PACSA in collaboration with UKZN and women living in and around Pietermaritzburg have initiated a project to start a bigger conversation around how increases in food prices affect what we have on our plates, what it means for our bodies and minds, how we are responding to affordability problems and what if anything we can do about it. We are in the process of putting together a picture of food affordability based on conversations with women – about how we speak and think about food and its meaning for us.


The emerging picture below is based on our first round of conversations which we had via way of four focus groups conducted with women in areas around Pietermaritzburg (Gezubuso, KwaDindi, S’nathingi and Mpophomeni) from the 3rd to 8th April 2013. The conversations highlighted very similar experiences and thoughts across geography.


The emerging food price picture

All women said that food prices are becoming more unaffordable. Families are struggling – it is not isolated but becoming increasingly widespread.


Red meat, chicken, beans and dairy products are very expensive. Women indicated that there has been a marked shift in the amounts and types of protein which is eaten. Red meat and bean prices have escalated far beyond the affordability capacity of most families. Cheap cuts of chicken are eaten to secure basic protein albeit women indicated that chicken prices spike and women worry that ‘cheap’ chicken is not like what they remember it to be: it is watery, fatty and the bones are not strong. Much of the dairy products traditionally consumed are far too expensive.


Not being able to secure sufficient quality protein means that our immune systems are vulnerable to infection and illnesses. Our muscles are not being fed; children need protein to grow properly. Deficiencies in iron and the B vitamins are important for our mental functioning. Without them we are easily fatigued, we struggle to think and learn; our bones are not strong, our eyes are not protected and our wounds do not heal properly.


A major worry for many women is that they have noticed that the staples of maize meal, sugar, oil and rice are also becoming increasingly unaffordable. High prices on such staples mean that these must be bought regardless of price. Price increases on staples directly impacts on food diversity – the monies to buy proteins, calcium and micronutrients that our bodies need.


The picture thus is that household diets are severely deficient in energy, protein, calcium, iron and other micronutrients. We are not eating enough and of sufficient variety for our bodies and our brains. This means that we don’t have enough energy, protein or micronutrients to grow and develop: adults don’t have enough energy to work and do ordinary everyday tasks; children don’t have enough energy to develop to their full potential mentally and physically – to study and learn and think at school.


The salticrax effect: food diversity across the month

“At the end of the month sometimes the only thing we have in our fridge is cold water.” (S’nathingi, 05 April 2013).


Struggles to afford a diversity of foods throughout the month are becoming more difficult. Typically women indicated that when money comes in and the monthly shop is done; families eat much better. But as the month draws on meats, eggs, vegetables, dairy products, bread and fruits drop off the plate. Many families are left with only the staples of mealie meal, rice, flour, sugar, salt and oil. Portions sizes shrink. Meals are very carefully planned and measured. Neighbours get approached for help. Mothers go hungry so kids can eat.


Money for food leaves very little left over for anything else

“We really struggle because all our money goes to food. We don’t have money for anything else” (S’nathingi, 05 April 2013).


Most of our household budgets go to paying for food; there is no or very little money left for anything else. Women indicated that food is the priority; everything else is forgone. Domestic hygiene products (soaps, toothpastes, sanitary pads, toilet papers, antiseptics etc.) typically form part of the food budget – these also affect health and dignity – and creates a false- competition between food vs. ensuring that kids are able to bath and put cream on before going to school for example. Transport costs and electricity add to the pressures of keeping families together and healthy. With very little or no money after food; families are pushed into a very tight corner if forced to pay for any other essential requirements or debt such as schooling, health care, transport, municipal services, garnishee orders, burial schemes etc.


The real cost of cheap food

All the women we spoke to said that buying ‘choices’ are based on price. That is not quality, not brand names but if the food is affordable or not. Two additional conditionalities on the price are that the food is “clean” and that it “doesn’t make us sick.”


“If it is cheap and doesn’t make us sick – we buy it” (S’nathing, 05 April 2013).

“We just look at the cost” (Dindi, 04 April 2013).

“If the food is clean and affordable we buy it’” (Gezubuso, 03 April 2013).


Women however said that they have noticed that the cheap food they are forced into buying is not nutritious. Nor is it really necessarily cheap since the quality in many cases is very poor and has longer term affects, which women said is “making us unhealthier and that we are getting sicker more often.” We know, for example, that losses of real protein and micronutrients from cheap foods are replaced with water, soya, fats, sugars and salts.


Women indicated that families tend to cook foods quicker and add soups for flavour and to make up for the loss of real meat; more fats, salt and sugars are added to food for taste. Women indicated that families, particularly children - tend to drink more sugar-sweetened drinks and eat more chips and sweets. People are putting on weight but are not healthy; rather we are getting fatter and having more problems with sugar and ulcers and bone problems. Traditional foods, particularly ones which require long preparation times and consume a lot of energy are not consumed as frequently as before. Electricity prices directly impact on such foods.


Beggar my neighbour?

“We ask from our neighbours. We help one another. We go to one another” (S’nathingi, 05 April 2013).


Capitalism acts to monetarise all relationships. It acts to break down bonds between households and community and replace these bonds with relationships based on money – not humanness, not love, not community, not solidarity. It tells us that we are hungry and cannot support our families because we didn’t study hard enough, we didn’t work hard enough, and we didn’t try hard enough. This system is working on us. We internalise it and increasingly believe that we are responsible for the situation we find ourselves in. Such perceptions and the brutal pressure of capitalism are reflected in the words of an Mpophomeni resident below:


“In the past when our neighbours or friends were with us around supper time, we would all eat together. Now we wait for them to leave before we eat” (Mpophomeni, 08 April 2013).  


It is clear that the struggle against capitalism is also the struggle for dignity and community. Numerous women we spoke to however, refuse to submit to this unjust and brutal burden forced on to them.


Struggling households approach one another for help. Neighbours, families and friends subsidise one another. There is solidarity within households – families share what they have when they have it. Sometimes food or money is borrowed. Sometimes it is paid back, sometimes it is not. Sometimes neighbours’ children share the table at supper time. If food is grown, it is shared. Such resistance speaks to John Holloway’s portrayal of how ordinary people can, by apparently everyday acts of humanity and love, crack capitalism. Myriads of infinitesimal cracks hammered into capitalism – unrelentingly - may one day coalesce and force glacial chunks of capitalism to fall into the sea. Let’s not romanticize it however – the struggle is long and capitalism has long thrived on poor people subsidising other poor people.  


What is emerging that we noticed helps households deal with high food prices?

Typically we see that if a family has a small vegetable garden or is part of a communal garden, if kids can eat at a school feeding scheme, if transport into town is reasonably affordable, and if electricity can be free or requires very small payment – than families are in a better position than those for whom some or all of these variables are absent.