5 September 2012

South Africa: Dialogue On Rural Development

Cape Town — This mini-plenary saw the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform (DRDLR) presenting its Comprehensive Rural Development Programme (CRDP), and explaining its approach to implementation.

Responsibility for rural development was moved in 2009 from the Presidency to the DRDLR, this is now a cross-cutting mandate that requires coordination of government functions, and the CRDP is ranked 3rd among government's top five priorities. CRDP is focused on pilot sites, with a plan to roll out to 160 sites by 2014. Although there was little time for discussion, responses were very critical, focusing not on the detail but of the whole approach.

The session ended without anything like a resolution on what a better approach would look like, but comments suggested that it would have to be driven by a national strategy to deal with structural problems and not a village-level project-by-project approach.

Moshe Swartz explained the approach taken to rural development through the Comprehensive Sustainable Rural Development Programme (CRDP adopted since 2009. Phase 1 focuses on meeting basic human needs; phase 2 sees investment in large-scale infrastructure as a driver of entrepreneurial development; and phase 3 involves promoting SMMEs and village markets with the aim of enabling the emergence of entrepreneurs. 'We are not trying to industrialise the rural areas; we are trying to stimulate the emergence of rural industries, driven by SMMEs and village markets', said Swartz.

The rural development pilots in specific villages start with a visit to the chief, the Minister and department officials do a walkabout to get the facts firsthand and, having scoped the multi-dimensional nature of poverty and oppression, the department conducts detailed household surveys, followed by consultations with community elders, and participatory ranking of development priorities.

Beyond the pilot village, the CRDP also includes establishing the National Rural Youth Service Corps (NARYSEC) which sends young people from rural areas to life skills training in FET colleges, and training in 'discipline and orderliness' by the SANDF. Through the NARYSEC, says Swartz, 'our aim is to put a job in every home.' The department is 'convinced that, despite the poverty and navel-gazing, there must still linger the remnants of innovation' and hopes that 'provocative' and 'collaborative' research will help it to refine its approach.

Wilfred Wentzel asked how the principle of participatory empowering community-based development can be translated into real life developmental engagements. In the CRDP pilot sites, people are mostly dependent on social grants, yet this doesn't circulate within the area, rather it is 'haemorraghed' through debt and purchases that take money immediately out of the area. Village economies 'bleed an outflow of money'.

Speaking as a consultant employed by the DRDLR to facilitate CRDP work, he shared experiences of working with rural youth and the planning towards setting up a comprehensive rural youth development centre. He argued there is 'an Ubuntu calculus' that enables 1 + 1 + 1 to add up to 111, not 3, if there is adequate facilitation of these processes. Qualitative social profiling is much under-appreciated as a method, compared to quantitative profiling. Participatory methods included drawing village maps, and ranking and prioritising what forms of development were most important to people. Wentzel emphasised that the CRDP is an exploratory journey - but begs the question of how to scale up from specific experiences and what this means for a national rollout of a rural development strategy.

Xoliswa Jozana, also of the DRDLR, shared experiences of using participatory rural appraisal (PRA) methods in the rollout of the CRDP.

She explained how rural youth who had been trained by the department's consultants used their skills to conduct PRAs in their villages. At Thomo Village in Limpopo, youth formed teams to do ranking, scoring and problem analysis, and interviewed community members, to develop timelines of what had happened in communities, including changes in land use, water and climate. Jozana argued that 'The culture of agricultural production is not embedded in youth today. It is incumbent on us [presumably meaning government] to restore that culture in our youth.

The young people did not prioritise access to land in our participatory processes.'

Question time was short and the criticisms of the approach being taken to rural development quite devastating. How can the current approach of village-level pilots possibly be rolled out at the macro-level? It seems to be a matter of government parachuting in, parachuting out, and not addressing the institutional and structural problems. Rural development requires a massive national strategy to keep money circulating in rural areas, rather than the current situation in which money (and skills) leave for urban centres.

There was a debate about whether young people want access to land as part of their livelihoods, and under what conditions they might prioritise farming - the exclusion of young rural people from agriculture (or other economic activities) is the result of there being no attractive opportunities to do so profitably - it's a policy challenge and shouldn't be understood as a fixed reality.

Most devastatingly, several contributors to the discussion argued that the DRDLR is interpreting its mandate of rural development not as being one of driving a national strategy, but rather becoming a 'parallel government' for the former Bantustans. It was also disturbing that the department doesn't address land issues as part of rural development - since land reform is part of this department's mandate as well! And one would think that land reform is rather central to rural development.

There is a sense of déjà vu, in that the CRDP puts structural issues to the side, and tries to ameliorate people's poverty without addressing the big structural problems. While land reform is redistributing commercial farms to a small number and creating something of an elite, we are creating welfarist projects in the former homelands.

Isn't this just replicating dualism in policy? Isn't the role of government to be looking at a higher level, taking existing knowledge and applying it on a massive scale? Why is our rural development strategy so totally divorced from the NDP? What is the future of rural areas in SA? Unless these core questions are addressed, government is operating on a micro-level like an NGO but with a lot more money. What is lacking is a clear national strategy for intervention in economic underdevelopment in rural areas. What are the barriers to developing a more programmatic approach? Why isn't government doing so? What is the politics that explains why this is not being done?

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