It’s Not Just About Poverty

I leave for South Africa in a week. *taking 3 deep breaths to calm myself down*

I decided to search for current news stories about South Africa. One article I found really interesting was published earlier this week and incorporated reports from The World Bank. Essentially, the World Banks’ findings were that South Africa’s policies regarding poverty were not only progressive but effective as well. The World Bank reports that 3.6 million people were raised up from below the poverty line in South Africa in the 2010-2011 year. When comparing South Africa to other middle-income countries in this study, the findings suggested that South Africa is doing a more effective job of dealing with poverty issues compared to countries including Bolivia, Ethiopia, and Mexico. An economist for the World Bank even commended South Africa stating, “You [South Africa] have lifted them above the poverty line thanks to your effective use of fiscal policy.” While it is important to acknowledge and affirm the progress South Africa has made in addressing issues of poverty, it is equally important to acknowledge that this is by no means an indication that poverty is a resolved issue for the country. In fact, the same economist who commended South Africa’s progress followed-up his affirmation with this statement, “Even though South Africa has a very effective use of its fiscal tools, the original problems in income inequality are so high that South Africa is going to need other things to help it address the problem of inequality.”

That last phrase is what I would like to focus on.

Solving the problem of economic inequality does not occur by solely addressing the issue of poverty. Education, racism, health care, sanitation, HIV, violence… all these factors have the capacity to fuel cycles of poverty when they are not addressed, and help resolve inequality when they are prioritized. This summer I read probably one of the best (if not the best) books I have ever read about this very issue. The book is called The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence. It is written by the President of one of my favorite NGOs, International Justice Mission (IJM). The point The Locust Effect makes, through using countless case studies/examples of real people with whom IJM has served, is that the “plague of hidden, everyday violence like rape, trafficking, and police brutality, is undermining the efforts to address issues of poverty.” This book completely reframed my entire understanding of community and economic development. I could easily go into detail about the countless ways in which this book has changed my life and the endless examples they used in proving their argument, but if I did that this blog post would be 100 pages.

I am excited to see (first-hand) the ways in which progress has been made in South Africa, as described by the news article, in addressing issues of poverty. However, I am even more excited to see the various agencies (with whom DU has paired our students up with) that are focusing their efforts on addressing issues like HIV, education, and violence prevention. Not only are these social justice issues just as important as poverty, but they have the capacity to “make or break” any progress South Africa, or any other nation, makes in addressing economic inequality and poverty. My hope for this trip is that I gain a more comprehensive lens to address each of these issues in a more holistic manner. I want to learn how to address HIV/AIDS without disregarding the impact that violence has on spreading the disease; I want to learn the ways to effectively support economic development without ignoring the fact that this development is only sustainable if all children (boys AND girls) have access to quality education. If I focus solely on increasing job development without acknowledging the fact that certain jobs are only being filled by particular ethnic and racial groups, then racism will continue to be a pervasive issue and economic equality will not be an attainable goal. There is a cycle that we are indisputably stuck in. Just as these other issues can disrupt efforts to alleviate poverty, poverty can equally disrupt the efforts to alleviate these other injustices.

It is all connected. We are all connected.

I can’t wait to learn more about what comprehensive social action and effective development looks like in this incredible country.

Thanks for reading,

Meredith Buschart

For more information:
South African Policies Help Reduce Poverty, World Bank Says: http://www.bdlive.co.za/economy/2014/11/04/south-african-policies-help-reduce-poverty-says-world-bank-report

The Locust Effect: http://www.thelocusteffect.com/

One thought on “It’s Not Just About Poverty

  1. jstmary

    A great use of critical analysis and thinking, Meredith! Everyone has an agenda, despite expressed good intentions, covert mechanisms of control are very real. And, I agree, everything is in connection…

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