Development organisations are questioning whether the government is serious about improving the lives of its citizens after a human rights commission hearing aimed at interrogating South Africa’s progress with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was cancelled this month.
The MDGs serve as a barometer to determine the nation’s development in areas such as access to water and sanitation, quality health and education. The human rights commission postponed its public hearings on the MDGs and realisation of economic and social rights in South Africa to June, citing a lack “of response from state organs”
“This gives an indication that discussing the goals’ targets with key stakeholders is not a priority,” said Pooven Moodley, Oxfam’s Southern African Essential Services coordinator.
Oxfam believes the hearings were critical to getting the real stories behind the statistics.
“While reporting is important, engagement with civil society and communities to find ways of achieving the goal targets is critical,” Moodley said.
He said the coming elections were critical for citizens to articulate their demands to the government.
Though most governments, including the South African government, are focusing their energies on dealing with the global economic crisis, the poor, who are often most affected, are not being engaged, Moodley said.
“Developed and developing countries are starting to use the global economic crisis as an excuse not to meet their commitments,” he said.
The commission’s hearings want to get the stories behind the statistics often used to prove that South Africa is meeting the goals. Last year’s MDGs country report indicated that South Africa was on course to meeting all its goals.
The commission’s working document on the hearings raised the question of whether the lives of South Africans have improved.
It wants to determine why so many South Africans are trapped in poverty. Research the document sourced indicated that the levels of poverty and inequality have increased in the past decade. It noted that meeting a millennium development target does not necessarily mean that South Africans are better off.
The commission questioned the quality of education as so many learners struggled with basic mathematical and science literacy.
It is also worried about HIV/Aids statistics and that the Human Development Index of 2005 showed that South Africa had fallen to the 120th position.
Christine Jesseman, a senior researcher at the Human Rights Commission, said the idea of the working document was to raise questions the commission had come across in its workings.
“The commission wants public hearings on how the written submissions and statistics play out in the lives of ordinary people.
“We are telling the government we see all these gaps; please tell us how you got to your statistics and how you did your information gathering,” she said.
The commission wanted a submission from Stats SA to interrogate the figures, but it has heard nothing from the state institution.