Raven Klaasen, Kgothatso Montjane and Kevin Anderson played glorious tennis. Their tenacity, whether in a wheelchair, playing doubles or the men’s final, had many rooting for them to hold the flag high and bring home the proverbial gold.

Another event that will get South Africans thinking and talking again will be the Mandela Centenery celebrations. Mandela at 100 years is a momentous time for reflection and for giving and sharing, as people do far more than the 67-minute recommendation. It is a time for people to reflect on their better fortunes and give to schools, hospitals and an array of causes that help make life a little warmer, a little less painful.

However, once these come and go, life resumes and for an ever-growing number of South Africans, economic pain has escalated over the last while. Conversations are becoming largely predictable, centring around the high cost of living, fuelled by the recent VAT increase and the high cost of fuel, with spillover effects on every facet of life.

For especially the poor, many of whom are dependent on some form of social security from both State and non-State actors, the Latin phrase ad ubi or ‘where to’ comes to mind. Perhaps another one of President Ramaphosa’s expert panels might offer some respite for the poor.

The Independent Panel of Experts for the Review of Current List of VAT Zero Rated Food Items, or the Woolard Commission as it is being referred to, has the task to “evaluate whether the current list of 19 zero rated food items achieves the objective for which it was implemented, including examining the consumption patterns of low income households as opposed to higher income households and the benefits derived from the zero-rating by these households respectively as well as the negative impact on poor households of removing zero rating on any of these items”. Furthermore, the terms of reference confer on the Commission the task of ascertaining the following factors too:

The weighty task assigned the Woolard Commission has a decided sting in the tail. Its “review process will be conducted within the confines of the current Fiscal Framework as proposed in the 2018 Annual National Budget for the 2018/19 financial year, including for revenue and expenditure. The review process can allow for potential adjustments to the Fiscal Framework for later financial years”. In an amendment to the terms of reference, the scope of the Commission was broadened to include non-food items, presumably the effects of the fuel increase and to make proposals that may alter the Fiscal Framework 2019/20.

The terms of reference were issued on 25 April 2018 and a report is due to be submitted to the Minister of Finance by 31 July 2018. The mammoth task, together with an unrealistic timeframe, begs the question of just how serious government is in addressing the issue of increasingly high levels of poverty in the country. There is no shortage of magisterial texts and policy frameworks on the causes and effects of poverty in South Africa. The knowledge and information are available. Yet another task team – one of many in a short presidential term to date – will not miraculously present sets of solutions, notwithstanding the very able people appointed to serve on these.

Poverty, inequality, corruption, poor service delivery and collapsing infrastructure are part of a toxic mix that fuels anger and fells opportunity for millions in South Africa. It misdirects anger and hate and racialises the substance of what ails all South Africans, irrespective of class, colour and creed. There is no ambivalence about the impact of robust economic growth and a responsive government.

Commissions and task teams may offer impeccable sets of recommendations, but the task of government is to take bold action to stem corruption, rejuvenate or sell off non-performing assets, and demand accountability and a bang for its wage buck from civil servants. Further, and crucially, not to keep poor people poor and dependent but create the pathways for upward mobility and success of the current pool of the people at the bottom of the economic pyramid. This is the aspiration of most South Africans. The recommendations of the Woolard Commission may offer short-term benefit by potentially zero-rating a few more goods but it will not direct the way to lift people out of poverty. That is the crucial challenge facing the country.

There needs to be more frequent and consistent opportunity to celebrate meanings of a South Africa (ness), when aspirations are met and the future looks brighter for all, when our players excelling at Wimbledon bring out the flags and bunting or when we celebrate Mandela Day. These opportunities must be sought so that the country pulls in a common direction forward, as opposed to being riven by hurt and hate.

By Ms Zohra Dawood, Director

{phocadownload view=file|id=70|text=Download the PDF|target=s}