Much better to teach people to fish

I HAVE just been reading Dambisa Moyo's book, Dead Aid, "Why aid is not working and there is another way for Africa". It is amazing how the argument for or against international aid resonates with whether social grants for individually poor citizens are the best way to go.

I HAVE just been reading Dambisa Moyo's book, Dead Aid, "Why aid is not working and there is another way for Africa". It is amazing how the argument for or against international aid resonates with whether social grants for individually poor citizens are the best way to go.

Moyo does not venture into the personal economics, but sticks to how African countries south of the Sahara have been duped into believing that aid is good for them.

As Moyo (a Zambian-born economist who has worked at some of America's most important banks) readily concedes, it is not the first time that anyone has criticised the aid lobby.

As with international aid, social grants tend to jail rather than free recipients.

I expect the usual emotional blackmail about my middle-class status making me insensitive to the needs of people who depend on social grants.

Social grants have become the leash by which the powerful keep the weak in tow.

That is why the giving out of grants and food vouchers was such an emotive issue before the elections.

INSUFFICIENT

Just like apartheid wages, the grant is enough to keep recipients from dropping dead from hunger but insufficient to make any meaningful contribution to their living a better life.

Just like international aid tends to make donors feel better about themselves and their role in impoverishing the developing world, social grants are doled out as acts of guilt by the elite who realise that the promise of a better life for all has been deferred.

We should stop kidding ourselves. Extremely few families will break out of the poverty trap by accessing social grants.

That is because poverty does not only manifest itself through hunger pangs. It ravages one's self-image just as cruelly.

The grants deal with hunger, albeit very temporarily, but do nothing for the pride of parents who cannot fend for their children.

Investment in meaningful education that equips them with skills that frees them from dependence, rather than food parcels, will convince poor people that the state has their interest at heart.

The age-old story about teaching a man to fish rather than giving him fish hold for social grants as it does for international aid.

HUMBLE

We don't even need Moyo's book to prove this. We know of poorly paid domestic and factory workers who have over the years built themselves beautiful homes and sent their children to universities by making huge personal sacrifices, knowing that they could not rely on the state for assistance in either.

These humble people have bridged the dilemma that leftists summarise as man having to eat before he can start making history.

It is a great source of discomfort to the politically schooled, but the fact is that other marginalised South African communities such as Indians and Chinese did not sit on their hands feeling sorry for themselves.

They took matters into their hands and prospered.

Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi recently spoke of communities that had stopped working on their land and relied instead on government grants for their next meal.

For this kind of people, Moyo makes a chilling proposition which I rephrase, "What if, one by one, each person received a letter telling them that in exactly five years the social grant taps would be shut off, permanently?"

Steve Biko's message is as true as the day he said, "black man you are on your own". He practised what he preached.

As Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade says: "I've never seen a country develop itself through aid or credit.

"I am yet to see a community thrive and prosper on social grants."

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