South Africans need to reclaim their development – Manuel

South Africans need to take an active role in the country’s development, Minister in the Presidency Trevor Manuel has said.

“We need to reclaim this term ‘development’,” he told a conference today on the state of South Africa’s social economy.

Previously, development was “all premised on mineral wealth and not on people. We need to go back and realise our deficiency in investing in people.”

South Africans often tended to define empowerment in “rather narrow” terms, Manuel said.

Rather, the focus needed to be on getting everybody working, “even if it’s not narrowly for gain”.

The disempowered were often disengaged and discouraged because of lack of access to information and resources.

“People no longer build their own houses,” he said.

Cooperatives formed through people working together and pooling their resources could achieve much more than individuals.

This collective power could be harnessed to promote social economic development.

Manuel related a story of when his wife was injured in a car crash in Nairobi and was admitted to a not-for-profit trust hospital.

“She said she never experienced such good health care in South Africa. They (the staff at the not-for-profit hospital) do it as a national service.

“What is wrong with us? Why have we not found more innovative ways of building houses in the face of such need?” he asked.

Cooperatives were often started to meet basic needs.

“But what starts out as a survival mechanism … becomes something much bigger.”

There remained a vast gap between the education received by children from wealthy families and those from poor families.

“That investment in people is at the epicentre of that transformation.”

Innovative solutions, between the poles of private enterprise and nonprofit organisations, had the potential to help achieve many of South Africa’s development goals, Manuel said.

The National Development Plan, as a broad strategy for improving the standards of living of ordinary South Africans, needed input from the public to fill in additional details to achieve its goals.

“We can’t for a moment presume to have covered the entire (spectrum) of life.”

Manuel said that when the international community saw strike action in the country, in the context of the vast divide between South Africa’s rich and poor, they “wonder how we can hope to have a stable country”.

Ensuring the health and wellbeing of workers now would help secure better levels of productivity.

“If we neglect workers today, we sow the seeds of future instability. It is happening now.”

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