Poverty war: DVC Prof Crain Soudien is leading a planning group that strives to help fight poverty and inequality. .
It's probably among South Africa's most burning questions: why, in a country of rich resources, are poverty and inequality persisting and even deepening? With countless groups and individuals striving to address the matter, it remains at the centre of national debate.
UCT plans to tackle the issues through the newly-established Poverty and Inequality Planning Group (PIPG), which hopes to get to the core issues and define poverty and inequality more broadly than merely meeting people's basic needs.
"We are trying to generate an understanding of poverty that is not just about economic survival,' explained group chair, Professor Crain Soudien. "We are talking about citizenship, about why people are not able to flourish and realise their talents." This view, Soudien believes, makes the project stand out from other poverty alleviation initiatives.
Vice-chancellor Dr Max Price committed himself to appointing experts to lead and co-ordinate intellectual projects to enhance the university's impact in addressing problems of public schooling, climate change and sustainable development, crime, poverty and unemployment. Initiatives have been launched in other areas, but the university has been struggling to conceptualise a focus on poverty, Soudien noted.
After Price met with the university's Social Responsiveness Committee and several other academics late last year, it was decided that a planning group could address the issue. The PIPG comprises high-profile members from diverse disciplines. It aims to identify all major role players inside and outside the university, including academics, research groups and NGOs who are doing poverty alleviation-related work, be it in policy or at intervention levels. Then they will be invited to a forum, planned for the end of 2012, to present their work and discuss underlying factors for the persisting poverty and inequality.
"We don't want to simply present the information, we need to get to the core of what these issues are all about," said Soudien (pictured left).
The group's work could have a profound effect on the university, particularly on teaching. "Hopefully, this will precipitate a university-wide awareness of how crucial it is to be clear about how central is poverty to the nature of our society," added Soudien, "and how the kind of leaders that we should be producing ought to be deeply aware of this context. Our teaching, therefore, should be directly relevant and pertinent to this, and be more emphatic than it may have been in the past."
The group recently met Minister Trevor Manuel of the National Planning Commission to present its ideas, and to discuss possible synergies with government. (One of the members of Soudien's team, Associate Professor Vivien Taylor, is also a member of the commission).
In the meeting, Manuel pointed out that there are linkages between the government's work and that of universities. He challenged the university to mobilise its resources and to engage urgently with the pressing social issues, and to make their research socially relevant.
Currently, the group is designing a web-based tool that will be used to invite UCT members to provide information on how they were engaging with the challenge of poverty and inequality through their research, teaching and social responsiveness initiatives. The purpose, according to Soudien, is three-fold: to compile information on poverty and inequality-related activities at UCT to share among colleagues also working in this area, and to promote collaborative opportunities; to facilitate opportunities for engaging with the commission and, thus, enabling the translation of research into the development of key national policies; and to provide the basis for invitations to the main forum.
Anyone who would like to receive the survey instrument should contact Sonwabo Ngcelwane at 021 650 2103.
The due date for submissions of responses is 30 June.
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