Social Development on African Population Conference

A panel discussion during the 7th African Population Conference has taken place looking into the question of how the interests of diverse groupings within South African society can be accommodated in our national pursuit for the demographic dividend.

The panellists included Professor Pearl Mpilo Sithole – Associate Professor at the Department of Community Development in the University of KwaZulu-Natal and Public Service Commissioner; Mr Busani Ngcaweni – Head of Deputy President Ramaphosa’s Private Office and former Policy Head in the Presidency; and Professor Monde Makiwane – Chief Researcher at the Human Sciences Research Council.

Professor Sithole tackled the matter from a gender perspective, questioning why the struggle for gender equity in South African society has made little progress despite the issue receiving a lot of attention in policy making and social dialogue.

Sithole defined the gender struggle as a social struggle and suggested that, perhaps, this is where the problem originates. According to Sithole “not only is gender struggle a social struggle, but ‘sociality’ is last in the pecking order” of national priorities, often overshadowed by political and economic struggles.

She argued that the challenges experienced in the areas of social development (which include areas of gender, social cohesion as well as institutional and societal culture) do not just happen because of a lack of political will but because of a ‘stalemate in methodologies’ in analysis and intervention on the matter.

The gender struggle has therefore suffered because of this stalemate and, as a result of the continued exclusion of women, the country is in danger of not achieving the demographic dividend.

Professor Sithole says she will put forward proposals on how this can be corrected in a paper she will release early next year titled “Gender, Diversity and Intervention: At the Crossroads of Methodology”.

Mr Ngcaweni addressed the conference on immigration, demographics and diversity. He argued that because of being Africa’s most advanced economy, South Africa is now home to millions of immigrants. His concern as ‘a policy maker’ lay in the issue of the growing number of languages in the country and their implication for policy making.

Ngcaweni argued, for example, that South African schools have large populations of immigrant children who cannot communicate in any of South Africa’s official languages.

“Now, our educators cannot and are not trained to teach in foreign languages, so how do we ensure that these immigrant children – who will grow up to be South African citizens – are not excluded in development initiatives and are nurtured to become productive and contributing members of our society in spite of the language barrier?” asked Ngcaweni.

He also questioned whether South Africa should begin to provide government services in the foreign languages of the immigrants in the country in order to facilitate their inclusion.

On the other hand, Professor Makiwane was at pains to highlight that, while all of us as a nation wanted to achieve human development and growth, it was important to take into cognisance that different population groups in the country were on different paths.

In order to highlight these ‘different paths’ Makiwane illustrated that major cities in the countries had an exaggerated youth bulge – with the opposite scenario found in rural areas. As a result of this we see a lot of social strife and unrest in cities as younger people – some of whom migrate from rural areas – demand opportunity and support in achieving their aspirations.

Makiwane also pointed out differences in marriage and fertility trends as well as different residential patters among racial or population groups to illustrate the key role they play in the tempo of progress and nature of social priorities.

According to Makiwane, the country’s different population groups have different aspirations, demands and needs based on where their population group is located in the development continuum.

He argued that the different nature and pace of transition of different population groups was less communicated and this had a negative impact on developmental initiatives as well as the achievement of the demographic dividend.

The African Population Conference takes place to review the state of knowledge and gaps on various population and development issues affecting the African continent. Conference participants explore ways for applying the research evidence to improve policy and programmes in their respective countries and regions. It continues until December 4.

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