"Rural does not have to equal poor"

Why abandon the resources of the country for urban squatter camps, asks Albert Thembinkosi Modi

FOR the past two decades or so, I have witnessed what I believe is a deterioration in the quality of life of rural people in South Africa. I observed this particularly in the Eastern Cape, where I was born and bred, and KwaZulu-Natal, where I was later "bred" through tertiary education and very close interaction with rural communities.

As an academic, I decided to do some research on what I had observed, albeit informal research. I started by tracing my personal background, using what I remembered and information gathered from my folks in the rural area of Centane, in the Eastern Cape. I was raised in an agrarian family and.community where my mother and other women were more powerful than men. Almost all the women of my mother's age could not read and write. They had no formal education, but they were highly skilled in building families and.communities. They were highly knowledgeable about providing food security and building homes for their families. Their mission was to make the next generation a better one than theirs. Hence, while they instilled moral values in their children, they also took responsibility to ensure that their children got an education.



WOMEN POWER: Nosamele Fokwane fetches water from a spring in Mvezo, Eastern Cape 

                                                                                                                Picture: ROGAN WARD

That is why many people who were raised by those women are among the highly educated people of South Africa — yet my mother does not understand what I mean when I tell her that I am a professor! These women who lived in bantustan states had a reasonably decent life because they had a positive attitude about who they were. They did not get government grants. Theirs was a largely agrarian and sustainable livelihood in which husbands were mostly absent, working in the towns and big cities of "South Africa". I had three meals a day from food that was produced at the homestead, where my mother kept chickens, goats and pigs. She would also frequently harvest seafood from the Indian Ocean on weekends. I went to government schools until I completed matric, after which I went to Johannesburg and stayed in a hostel near Jeppestown and worked as a labourer. I was arrested in 1987 for being in South Africa illegally. After two days, I was released and had to return home. Fortunately, I had applied for a Transkei government bursary to study at university and it was successful. That was a huge step to my personal freedom, thanks to my excellent matric results and the efforts of my teachers.

So, it never occurred to me that my family and community were "poor". Currently, poverty and hunger are associated with rural communities. I argue that this can change. It is due to an inculcation of a mindset that makes our country dependent on a few taxpayers through government "support". Rural people have largely stopped following a sustainable agrarian livelihood and depend on government grants. Many have migrated to the cities in search of a "better life". The information I have about the migration of people shows that the Western Cape and Gauteng receive the majority of people from other provinces such as the Eastern Cape. People believe that life is better in the cities. The rural population is about 36%, down from 53% in 1960. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation reports that of the 580 million farms in the world, 500 million are family farms, but in South Africa there is a rapid decline in the number of farms. The question is why rural people who have no skills and education to work in the cities leave the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, where homesteads are available for sustainable agrarian livelihoods. Rural people have land and other resources that can contribute to agriculture and ecotourism. Township people live in squatter camps where there are greater health and safety risks and fewer self employment opportunities. We need a rural economic development strategy to empower rural women and youth. At the centre of that strategy should be "agripreneurship". We can improve the economic livelihood of the so called rural poor within the targets of the National Development Plan. Agriculture contributes about 2% of GDP. However, through backward and forward linkages with industry and services it has great potential to provide opportunities for economic growth.

The government, business sector, traditional leaders and the education sector need to collaborate in producing and implementing a strategic leadership that will make people believe in themselves. It is said that in soccer "a goal is scored when all of the ball passes the line between the goalposts". It does not always have to hit the back of the net.

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