Community (Part 2: Bolsa Família for South Africa?)

Bolsa Família for South Africa?

Building done on the calls made in Community Part 1: Build
Calling out for investment in the development of communities. And encouraging community-centered and driven economies in order to fight back against the Apartheid-legacy-impacted local economies of the South African Major cities. Creating conditions for Ubuntu-type philosophies to take root once again, but in a new form. On reclaimed African soil.

Now, the use of social grant schemes (social welfare systems). Which will be the topic of this discussion. I will be engaging with you in a conversation on the potential of these systems for reconstructing our deteriorating family units and communities in our increasingly Modernized world.

Admittedly the use of social grant schemes in themselves in South Africa (or to my knowledge anywhere where they are applied) a relatively contentious topic. But in this conversation let’s consider these grants under the following conditions:

  •  Considering we already have a fairly extensive grant scheme in active use, it is unlikely to be repealed in the foreseeable future particularly under the present economic landscape of the country – battling with Inequality, and Job Scarcity the Social Grants seem to be offering many a much needed respite. Respite that the market is failing to provide.
  • Already in the context of our present use of the Social Grants we are experiencing some pretty tangible benefits (see some discussed here), not to say that there aren’t vast improvements to be made but it’s important to acknowledge the gains we are already making.
  • Given the widespread international use of social grants and our specific incarnation of this strategy we owe it onto ourselves to leverage these programs to meeting an ever expanding array of achievable outcomes through learning and sharing lessons with other nations all over the world.

So given you accept that these points are agreeable enough. I’d like to further introduce into this discussion the example of Bolsa Família.

From my reading (see this useful resource). Bolsa Família is described as an arm of a Zero Hunger strategy being employed by Brazil’s Fedral Government, introduced by the administration of the much celebrated President Lula. The programme includes, among other things, direct income support and complementary support programmes to assist families in targeted income groups.

The Bolsa Família strategy is known as an example of what is termed a “conditional grant”.  The two pillars of this system are the participation in  primary and secondary Education systems and up to date participation with certain public health care programmes.

Now for me, one of the most compelling lessons coming out of reading about this strategy can be drawn from looking at the effects of the angle of approach with Bolsa Família. The focus on “the family”.

I wonder.
What could this mean in application with South Africa?
What could a strategy mean for the so called African Family?

I wonder if we could extend the angle of approach, and implement a national programme of social welfare grants that operate one level higher. That operate at the level of the Community.

I wonder if we could employ a Bolsa Família-like strategy to provide incentives for intra-community engagements.
In my preliminary vision for a strategy like this. I see us being able to immediately target the following aspects of the Community:

  • Community level safety and security: Providing Income, and complementary support to provide incentives for organic community level organisations that work towards ensuring their space is both safe and secure. This could be as simple as providing incentives for local neighborhood-watches, focusing specifically on high crime ridden areas.
  • Local Business Environment and Local Business forums: Very much like work already conducted by the Department of Trade and Industry (see here) providing support for local business, but really creating forums and spaces for Communities to engage with one another about their difficulties, ambitions, and opportunities in relation to business development in the specific context of participation in community-centered economies.
  • Education and Higher Learning: Providing grants for community led coalitions (perhaps partnerships of residents, schools and grass-roots civil society organisations) for creating safe after school work spaces, and consistent access to internet. Providing incentives for family members to participate in their children’s School Governing Body – especially given that the public school system Governance model in South Africa is heavily dependent on the effectiveness of the School Governing body, and by consequence dependent on the participation of the parents and the broader community. Now, there are pretty obvious reasons why it might be more difficult for parents in lower income situations to participate in structures like these.. so we need to develop ways (and perhaps introduce incentives) that reduce the barriers to entry.

Given all that is tugging us apart. One of the things we’re really going to need to do here. Is pull each other closer together.

We need to create conditions for a more supportive and inclusive community environment to happen. Instead of just wishing it into existence.

In the most poverty stricken, disfranchised communities in the country, and in and around the major cities, we need to make every effort to ensure that we give them back the time that is stolen from them each day through inefficient transport and minimum-wage jobs that barely cover their basic costs – let alone the task of supporting multiple family members that need to be supported.

We need to invest back into the family. Employ trust, capital and support to bring people together. Instead of attempting to create growth and prosperity through single-minded dogma of success through competition.

By now it is well known to us.
That Poverty is cyclic.
So it would seem.
That to disrupt this, under the pressures and constraints that bind us. That one of the most important gestures we could make for our future. Is one of trust and support offered to the family. Offered to struggling families, that are fighting everyday for a brighter future.
Trying to carve out a space.
In this hostile place.

Bolsa Família-like strategies.
I wonder.
If they can provide for us a means to incite a Reunion of the Community.
In battling against the continued effects of Migrant Labour systems that haunt us from our past.
Let’s maybe think about what we can do.
To leverage the position we find ourselves in.
To reform the Family unit. And strengthen the Community.
Leverage whatever we can. Be relentless. In our pursuit. Of achieving Unity.


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