Building vibrant and tolerant democracies
The country case studies presented in this book have demonstrated that the Southern African region is still characterised by unacceptable levels of inequality. In many cases, poverty and inequality are on the increase, particularly in countries in crisis such as Zimbabwe and Swaziland, but even agricultural economies such as Malawi and resource-rich countries such as Namibia, South Africa and Angola have not been able to significantly reduce wealth gaps. Most countries managed to achieve some progress in the period immediately after independence. This usually took the form of expanded social services to reach the majority of the population which had been deliberately neglected under colonial rule. However, there was no systematic transformation of economic structures, and the typical African enclave economy persisted until today: a relatively small and well-resourced formal sector that operates in isolation from a large, growing and poverty-stricken informal economy and the communal subsistence economy.
The case studies demonstrate that social mobility and equal opportunity remain alien concepts for far too many people in the region. Evidently there is a close and direct relationship between inequality and poverty and thus any attempt to deal with poverty has to address the question of inequality as well. It is essential that the issues of poverty and inequality are mainstreamed in all aspects of social and economic policy. Furthermore, resources set aside for poverty reduction, social protection, and job creation cannot be left to the vagaries of corrupt officials or bureaucracies that usurp scarce resources needed to improve livelihoods.
Persistent gender inequalities in virtually all spheres of life – from customary practices and labour-market discrimination to unequal access to social services and economic resources such as land – are still a defining feature of Southern Africa. This is reflected in the gendered impact of HIV/AIDS, which is still a major scourge in the region. Given the interlink between poverty, gender and HIV, it is hardly surprising that the epidemic has hit black working class women and female peasants the hardest. This can only be altered through structural interventions that will empower women to change their socio-economic status. HIV/AIDS cannot be treated as a medical problem but requires social and economic changes.
The case studies further demonstrate that widening disparities have increased the sense of injustice and deprivation for far too many people in the region as neither resource-rich countries nor agricultural societies managed to substantially reduce inequality after independence. Likewise, neither the bureaucratic, state centred socialist form of government in Angola nor the market-driven approaches of countries like South Africa and Namibia were able to redress the colonial legacies of inequality and exclusion. There is thus no doubt that Southern Africa needs a fresh and different approach to solving the current socio-economic challenges.
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