Proof of how much we have done — and must still do
THE results of Census 2011 were published on Tuesday. While the results are an enumeration of who we are, as a society, and where we live and work, the data set that undergirds these results are the cold hard facts of what we have achieved over the past 18 years and the evidence on which future policy-making should be based.
The achievements are significant and show the important gains we have made in rolling back some of the worst effects of our past. We can and should use the statistical data set to build on our gains in more inclusive ways. In this sense, the statistics can bring together policy makers and communities, as well as our international partners, in partnerships and relationships that are based on evidence — and not narrow, sectoral interests based on opinion.
The data set produced by Statistics South Africa is vast and comprehensive. The data was produced with highly advanced and reliable methodologies and presented in forms that are at the cutting edge of technology across electronic platforms and in print. Census 2011 is the third under democratic rule. It provides us with the evidence against which we can measure how far we have come as a country and what still needs to be done.
If we look at some of the key indices, notably education and access to utilities — especially water and electricity — we have made gains over the past decade or more.
In 1996, 57.6% of South Africans had access to electricity. By last year, this figure rose to 84.7%. In the same period, household access to piped water increased from 80% to 91%. In education, there has been a marked increase in the percentage of individuals aged five to 24 attending an educational institution between 1996 (70.1%) and last year (73.5%). The percentage of people aged 20 years or older who have no schooling decreased from 19.1% in 1996 to 8.7% last year. Most of the individuals without schooling were black Africans; the number decreased by more than half, from 24% to 10.5%. With respect to household income, there has been an increase from R48,385 in 2001 to R130,204 last year. This is an increase of 113%.
What the evidence also shows is that there remains a lot of work to be done.
For instance, household income remains unevenly based on population group and on location. The average income for the white population continues to be significantly higher than that of other groups. The average household income for whites is R365,134; for Indians/Asians it is R251,541; coloured income is R112,172 and black Africans’ income is R60,613.
Limpopo remains the province with the lowest average annual household income of R56,844, followed by the Eastern Cape at R64,539. Gauteng has the highest average household income (R156,844) followed by the Western Cape at R143,460. What we see, then, is continued disproportional gains from the growth we have achieved over the past decade. While the data records these overall gains, it also provides us with the evidentiary basis for policy-making.
Without reliable statistics, the development process is blind. The statistics published on Tuesday must help us identify our needs, set and shape our goals and monitor our progress. Without these statistics policy makers cannot learn from their mistakes and the public cannot hold them accountable.
To move towards the vision for 2030, set out in the National Development Plan, several things must fall into place. We need government departments to start embedding the core objectives of the plan into their line functions and we need to start engaging with transformation and empowerment on the basis of the evidence before us — and not in narrow, exclusive terms. The objectives of development are to increase and expand the measurable wellbeing and the capabilities of more and more people across society. It is about inclusivity and not about personal enrichment or get-rich-quick schemes. It is important, therefore, to achieve this broad-based development and inclusivity and for policy-making to start with understanding the significance of the evidence.
Evidence-based policy-making can help planners make better informed decisions by putting the best available evidence at the centre of the policy process. We cannot make policies based on opinions that rely on the selective use of evidence or on the untested views of individuals or vested interests with deeply embedded ideological views, prejudices, preferences, and who rely on speculative conjecture and are comfortable with the status quo.
It is a fact that policy-making is an inherently political process, but we cannot let narrow sectarian politics interfere with the quality of policies. Policies have to be shaped by evidence that is reliable and durable and that meets the highest standards of quality. The census results, and larger data set, are not just for use by technocrats and decision-makers in the state. They should also facilitate discussion among communities that feed into policy-making. Public policy-making and implementation are generally considered to be the remit of the government or the administrative system. As a result, the public tends to be lulled into accepting its fate. In other words, policy is often seen as something delivered to the public rather than emanating from the public.
To be sure, policy-making and implementation are part of the core functions of the state and are exercised through combinations of power, authority and knowledge or evidence. There must, therefore, be a continuance between evidence, policy-making, implementation, monitoring and evaluation and accountability. The data set produced by Statistics SA must empower all South Africans to make better, more informed decisions about our future.
The data is available throughout the country across municipalities. It is also accessible online for tablet computers and on the "mobi" platform for cellphones. This will improve and enhance the capabilities of South Africans and help our communities set realistic, evidence-based benchmarks for implantation of policies and hold the government to account. Making the data available and accessible across communities will also help harmonise our monitoring by promoting agreement on the facts among different stakeholders. The national priorities of the state and those of society as a whole can, therefore, be brought into a more coherent framework and implementation becomes more measurable.
There’s a canard among global public policy makers that measuring development, progress and implementation in Africa is difficult, if not impossible, because of a lack of data. Democratic SA has shown, again, that we can break the mould. With Census 2011, we have produced a reliable, thorough and sophisticated data set. There can be no excuses; not on the part of policy makers, nor among South Africans, now, about what we have achieved and what we have yet to achieve in the country.
The evidence shows that we have made progress in key social sectors; from education and access to utilities and in terms of household income and communications.
We completed the collection and statistical processing in 12 months and with detail that is laudable by any standards. By using the most sophisticated methods and technology, we have made the data more accessible and usable. We must now take it out to our communities so they can set the benchmarks for policy-making and implementation on the basis of the evidence before us.
• Manuel is Planning Minister.
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