“Answering the Call of October 17 to end poverty: A path toward peaceful and inclusive societies”, should, as is suggested by the UN, have given the President pause for thought and reflection on how best to break the back of poverty, inequality and increasing futility gripping the nation. In 1992, the UN adopted this day as World Day for Overcoming Extreme Poverty.

The purity of thought and imperative to be my brother’s/sister’s keeper was the motivation for the basis of eradicating poverty on this day in 1987, when a priest, Father Joseph Wresinski, inspired millions of human rights activists to focus their call to end poverty, hunger and violence. “They reaffirmed a commitment and conviction that human misery is not inevitable. They pledged their solidarity with all people who, throughout the world, strive to eradicate extreme poverty. Wherever men and women are condemned to live in extreme poverty, human rights are violated. To come together to ensure that these rights be respected is our solemn duty.”

For President Zuma, the significance of the day was lost as he engaged in machinations and manipulations for no other reason than to serve self. Consultations, criticism and consequences are at once shrugged off by a President hellbent on raiding the coffers of the state as he braces to leave formal office. President Zuma no longer even pretends to walk the talk but for others who are solemnly committed to meaningful engagement, and still prize the values and word of the Constitution, it behooves us to recall the very recent report of the Statistician-General on Poverty. This 141-page report was best summed up in one paragraph by the Daily Maverick’s Marianne Merten, in a piece published on 23 August 2017, “The figures are blunt: 30.4 million of South Africa’s 55 million citizens in 2015 – three million more than in 2011 – lived in poverty, or below the upper poverty line of R992 per person per month. One in three South Africans lived on less than R797 per month, or half of the country’s 2015 mean annual household income of R19 120, with more women affected than men, and children and the elderly hardest hit, while racial inequalities continue to define poverty as largely a black African problem”.

Instead President Zuma pushes the country to the brink by declaring “his” SABC Board, to fend off litigation by civil society to force his hand to act on a recommendation of Parliament. More gripping for the nation was a unilateral reorganising and shifting of Cabinet Ministers, possibly to enable that vital of prizes, the passage of the nuclear procurement deal, which will endow the President and his cronies with yet more treasures.

The nation is getting poorer as your return on investment in political office has brought you untold riches, Mr President. The UN’s “Answering the Call of October 17 to end poverty: A path toward peaceful and inclusive societies”, has come and gone, and the prospects for poor people remain bleak. The President should hang his head in shame.

By Ms Zohra Dawood, Director

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