Without underestimating the challenges that African people go through on a daily basis as a result of poverty, I am always reminded of a visit to the Eastern Cape province of South Africa a few years ago. After a long drive in the most rural of areas in between small towns, I had occasion to stop at a small and dingy shop to buy refreshments. Having selected all the desired goodies, I headed for the till to pay. Between myself and the man behind the counter stood an elderly woman on whose face was sculptured the narrative of poverty and suffering.
Ma Khumalo, for purposes of this article, was carrying in one hand a loaf of bread, and in the other a carton of milk. The man behind the counter rang the till and told Ma Khumalo the price. Having pulled her piece of cloth from her chest Ma Khumalo untied its knot, opened it and laid it on the counter and began, in a torturing manner, to count her coins, all copper. After completing the count, she painfully looked up at the man behind the counter. Staring straight into her eyes, with what appeared to be a standard emotionless answer, he told her, “It’s not enough, do you want the milk or do you want the bread?”
Regardless of the intervention I made at that time, I walked away with an enormous void, not only because people have to choose between bread and milk, but more so because I was certain that Ma Khumalo would be standing in front of that same counter, under the same circumstances again in the very near future; and that neither her, nor any other person dependant on her had any reasonable prospect of altering their destiny for the good.
Without food in their stomachs, how dare we preach GDP growth, democracy, and macro-economic fundamentals to our fellow citizens? For this reason, I argue that our generation must dedicate itself to planting the seeds that will ensure that more than just a select few move up the economic ladder, but that all Africans achieve access to education, gainful employment and the liberty of living in an environment of prosperity.
This generation’s calling
As a generation, we must set off from a place where our efforts continue to push back the ills brought on by many centuries of colonialism and the attempted permanent domination of our peoples and nations. I say this not only in the political sense but, considering today’s global challenges, more so in the economic sense.
Earlier generations of African leaders focused on resistance against oppression and succeeded; later generations focused on liberation struggles and the fight for independence and succeeded; and subsequent post-independence generations worked to deliver peace, equitable systems of governance and to establishing the rule of law; and they too succeeded. Today we must continue the quest for self-determination against the backdrop of enormous challenges in the economic sphere.
Many nations on the African continent continue to face difficulties in designing and establishing functional economic structures that deliver viable and permanent livelihoods to people like Ma Khumalo.
Considering the abundance of natural wealth, it is extremely difficult to comprehend the continent’s gap between natural wealth and actual poverty. Quoting history extensively, many have argued that the scales are tipped against countries endowed with natural resources becoming wealthy.
They call it ‘the curse of natural resources.’
This is an argument that I personally do not subscribe to. In my mind, the gap is the issue of leadership. Recognising the desperate and urgent need to uplift our peoples and nations from minus ten to plus ten, in economic terms, Africa’s leaders must in the immediate term find the courage to take very difficult decisions and develop the strategies and economic architecture that will ensure that their countries turn away from the burden of aid.
Africa’s leaders must work to ensure that they have viable, disciplined and self-sustaining treasuries and that their populations do not survive only as a result of grants from the state or elsewhere, but rather from viable enterprises that employ people at all levels, especially that of Ma Khumalo who can then ensure that even if she is unable to pursue her own dreams, she has the confidence that if she invests in the education of her dependents, they will certainly have an opportunity to realise theirs.
On a medium term basis, the single most important matter for resolution by Africa’s leadership is the issue of sustainable livelihoods for the citizens of the continent.
As young Africans, we must insist on a future beyond poverty alleviation, and strive for a future of prosperity. This is the calling, the purpose and the task for our generation, and in its pursuit we dare not fail.
By Ronnie Ntuli
This is an excerpt of an article that appears in the Nelson Mandela Foundation’s Promise of Leadership book.
Original Article here.