From my perspective as a development practitioner, it is good to see that the budget addresses what I think are the critical challenges facing the country – poverty, the electricity crisis, unemployment, health, education, skills shortage and of course, crime. It is particularly encouraging to see the effort put into addressing the needs of the most vulnerable groupings within our society - it appears a genuine attempt has been made to make allocations that would, to some extent, enable government to provide some protection and a safety net for the most vulnerable members of society.
Having said this, I remain aware that changes in the lives of poor and vulnerable people will only come about when budget allocations translate into implementation - it is through effective implementation of programmes and improving access to services and resources that we will truly make a difference in the lives of those people who find themselves on the margins of society. Effective implementation, we should bear in mind, requires more than just budget allocations - it also demands commitment, care, conscience, capacity and courage!
I am particularly pleased about the commitment to extend social security in the period ahead. As a society we will always be judged by the manner in which we take care of our elderly people, vulnerable children, those directly affected by HIV and AIDS and people living with disabilities - how we care for, support and protect the rights of these vulnerable groupings remains an important measure. Although the increases indicated in the budget will make a difference, one can only imagine how many of the elderly struggle to make ends meet in light of exorbitant food prices. I am concerned that by extending the child support grants to include children up to their 15th birthday with effect from January 2009 might still be missing the mark - there might be validity in extending it to their 18th birthday. This will see them through completion of their schooling.
It is encouraging to hear that social reforms will be introduced to give practical content to the commitment to extend social security over the long term - the eradication of poverty that many of our organisations are committed to can only be achieved through long-term intervention strategies and processes. It will certainly require boldness on the part of government to provide support that will help lift substantial numbers of our people from the degrading poverty into which their lives have been plunged. However, in our endeavours we have to remain wary of those actions that could lead to dysfunctional dependency.
For me, the allocations to education and skills development are commendable - this reflects recognition of the centrality of education and skills development to broadening opportunity, fighting poverty and building an informed and conscious society. While the allocations to early childhood development, primary, secondary and tertiary education, nutrition programmes, books and educator remuneration are encouraging, it is of concern that mention is seldom made of adult education/learning. Others might argue that adults, particularly those who have been excluded from access to education, stand to benefit from skills development programmes. Most skills development and further education programmes target younger people - while this is in line with our obligation to ensure that we invest in the development of their capabilities, I, as an adult learning practitioner, am worried that we do not sufficiently invest in developing an adult population that is informed, aware and has access to knowledge and information. To achieve a democratic society we have to invest in the development of those adults who have not enjoyed access to education to ensure that they can exercise their political and other freedoms and contribute towards social transformation.
In my view, the focus on skills development poses a challenge to those of us in the NGO sector. While government is exploring ways through which the skills levy fund could be used to support FET colleges, I think it is legitimate for NGOs to engage government in the allocation of resources from the skills levy fund to support our skills development initiatives. I often feel that the contribution of NGOs towards skills development is not recognised, acknowledged and appreciated. Maybe it is time for the NGO sector to stand up and be counted - it is not only about a share of the skills levy fund, but we need to be bold about our contributions towards skills development. We should be able to articulate our contributions very clearly and push for recognition of these!
Community Development Resource Association (CDRA)