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Thuli Madonsela’s ‘M Plan’ – could it be South Africa’s answer to eradicating poverty and inequality?

Former public protector Thuli Madonsela. (Photo by Gallo Images / Esa Alexander)

On Wednesday 3 November, former public protector Thuli Madonsela convened her annual social justice summit titled ‘All hands on deck to leave no one behind in the post-Covid-19 recovery agenda’. The event brought together a cross-section of people from business, faith-based organisations, civil society activists, academics, government and the media.

Thuli Madonsela, who, as public protector, famously found that Jacob Zuma had benefited improperly from the R246-million spent by the state on upgrades to his Nkandla homestead, launched the Musa Plan for Social Justice (M Plan) at the inaugural social justice summit in 2019.

The plan aims to:

  • Empower policymakers with data analytics;
  • Foster social accountability and social cohesion through legal, human rights and democracy awareness and empowerment initiatives;
  • Mobilise societal, corporate and international support and resources towards the accelerated reduction of poverty and inequality; and
  • Encourage leadership so as to contribute to a capable state.

Madonsela announced that the Musa Plan was launching a crowdfunding vehicle called the M Fund, through which they hoped to galvanise South Africans to support it with donations of R5 and above.

Executive director of UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, raised the alarm at the social justice summit, saying poverty was deepening and that it was predicted that 47 million people would fall into poverty as a result of the effects of Covid-19.

She said young women aged 24-35 are the most affected as they are unable to go to work because of unpaid home-based care responsibilities.

Mlambo-Ngcuka said in terms of global gender equality, young, black, indigenous and rural women in both developed and developing countries experience the most inequality.

Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Dr Thabo Makgoba, said we should be working towards a society that is organised for the common good, is stable and safe, accords everyone respect materially, emotionally and intellectually and is just.

Makgoba stressed it was incumbent on us to mobilise efforts to end poverty and inequality and fight climate change while ensuring that no one is left behind.

He said faith communities had the capacity to harness resources in order to help overcome poverty, inequality and conflict in society.

“We need to ask ourselves to what extent we can plug the gap between the rich and the poor; how we can work hard towards equality among all people,” said Makgoba.

Madonsela said she wanted to create an understanding among students in her faculty that social justice lawyering is not only for young people who don’t have a serious outlook on law: “These lawyers are going to be the foundation of the country we’re building,” she said.

She added that the initiative aims to assist the government to plan and implement inclusive interventions in communities: “As they plan, they must ask where are the women, children and people of foreign origins, and use mechanisms that meet people where they are so that no one is left behind.”

Sustainable development is about making sure we find out why people are poor and come up with ways to help lift them out of poverty, said Madonsela.

In her submissions to the summit, Kate Robertson, co-founder of One Young World, said she supported the M Plan; however, it would have to overcome anti-business rhetoric and people would need to know what is in it for them.

Robertson said the idea of social justice is hugely ambitious, and that it is only possible when leaders also buy into it in order for its value to be communicated.

She said that if the M Plan and its ambitious goals were successful, then the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) would be closer to being reached.

Clare Shine, vice president and chief programme officer at Salzburg Global Seminar, said the SDGs require a renegotiated social contract in order to see change.

There needed to be a paradigm shift between people and power in order for the voice of the citizens to have new reach.

Asking “how can we win minds for social change?”, Shine said one aspect is to know your audience, change messaging accordingly, ensure its accessibility and use different storytelling mechanisms.

Shine said the challenge was to be observant of where unexpected champions for change might come from.

Using the example of climate justice activist Greta Thunberg, she asked, “Who would have thought a pig-tailed schoolgirl would have the impact she had?” Shine said champions for social justice were not always obvious.

Addressing the summit from a business perspective, Busisiwe Mavuso, CEO  of Business Leadership SA, said business needed to clarify its role in a post-pandemic society, while still pursuing the SDGs.

She said societies that would quickly bounce back from the pandemic were those with a diamond-shaped structure comprising 10% wealthy citizens, 80% middle class and 10% poor. In South Africa, however, we had a structure of 10% wealthy, 40% middle class and 50% poor – which did not work.

Mavuso said the fact that only seven million people in this country paid PAYE tax was unacceptable since this undermined social stability. She said having more people earning salaries meant that tax revenues would increase.

“If we get this right as business, it will be self-serving for us because we will be investing in our future markets.”

Mavuso said only business could do something to change the income distribution in the country, and that there was a need to shift to “conscious capitalism”.

According to Dr Adrian Enthoven, executive chairman of Yellowwoods Investment Group, all businesses needed to work towards paying a fair and living wage to employees.

Enthoven said that in their commitment to social justice, they had partnered with the government on school nutrition programmes to the benefit of 4.5 million learners.

He also said they were working on Early Childhood Development (ECD) to build a nationwide programme called “Smart Start”, the goal being that by 2025, all four- and five-year-old children in South Africa would be in an ECD programme.

Pastor At Boshoff, founder of Christian Revival Church (CRC), challenged people to eradicate inequality and poverty, saying the church needed to offer a middle ground where people could come together.

“The country needs a vision from its leaders that includes all South Africans,” said Boshoff.

Reflecting on the work of the Solidarity Fund, Gloria Serobe, chairperson of the fund and founder of Women Investment Portfolio Holdings Limited (WIPHOLD), said if there was a legacy the Solidarity Fund could leave behind, it would be that its work allowed South Africa to weather the Covid-19 storm and create a sense of solidarity and unity in alignment with what the social justice summit was trying to achieve

In closing, Madonsela said the Musa Plan was committed to reversing the injustices of the past and to ensuring that everyone could equally enjoy human rights. DM

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All Comments 13

  • Great idea and I so admire Ms Madonsela. Sadly, however,I think that ALL South Africans are suffering “Donation Fatigue” and this plan just won’t take flight.
    Charity begins at home and the spirit of Ubantu needs to be resuscitated…the poor old tax and rate payer has had enough of paying with no benefits in return. It’s time for communities to look after their own, organise what is necessary in their communities and make it happen. Stop relying on donations and help from others who have their own communal problems. Repatriate the billions that have been stolen from the people of South Africa over the last decade or two…..that will go some way to supporting the previous and currently disadvantaged communities. Just my opinion.

    • Agreed. Too much has been stolen to expect citizens to contribute towards another fund which might also be plundered. Conscious Capitalism is a powerful concept for good that should be adopted by all corporations and companies, but the policy framework needs to be changed (BEE and Expropriation) to encourage participation by local and global players and corruption must be dealt with decisively.

  • I believe one of the reasons the World (not just South Africa) is suffering from “Donation Fatigue” is because of a lack of Transparency. If this M Plan is to attract the sort of support that it will clearly need, I suggest that they make their Financials 100% transparent. Not only will this allow donors to see their money arrive into the account of the M Plan, but also see where it is being spent. If the M Plan were honest/brave enough to do this, it would also encourage all the other Charities and NGOs to do the same, to the great benefit of Civil Society. I wish Daily Maverick would do the same. Bruce Danckwerts CHOMA Zambia

  • I have great admiration for Thuli Madonsela but don’t believe the M Plan is a viable solution, but rather a plaster on a septic wound. I concur with her observation regarding the economic ratio of wealthy 10%, middle class 80%, poor 10% (10:80:10) Ideally we should strive to move the wealth ratio “upward” to something like 25:70:05 but we are moving in the opposite direction. Our current government policies tend to regard the wealthy as the enemy of the state – to be targeted, resulting in emigration of many wealthy people. If they don’t leave, their money does. The wealthy create employment and skills transfer, by investing their wealth in business. This results in reduced poverty, improved lives and greater tax revenues, but is not the OBJECTIVE of the investor! They are merely very positive by-products of their investments. Imagine you have a great business idea and the US$50m necessary for the project that will provide employment to about 5,000 people. You are not sure where to set up the business so compare various jurisdictions including South Africa. These are some considerations: We have massive unemployment so a labour intensive business should be ideal, but unions and labour laws make this unattractive. Electricity supply is unreliable. As the size of government grows and the tax base declines, so taxation must rise (Investments are decided on net after-tax return on investment). There are BBBEE regulations regarding who must own the business you are thinking of creating. (It’s your money and you have no intention of giving part of it away) Finally, there is talk that the state may at some point expropriate the whole investment without paying you. (This may or may not happen, but the fact that they are considering it is concerning.) It is a combination of these factors that tilt the decision in favour of more investor-friendly destinations. Because of decisions like this our manufacturing sector has shrunk significantly in the last 20 years. This downward spiral of the wealth ratio is already well developed and will continue until the government realises that the economic cycle does not start with government spending, but with entrepreneurial investment.

  • I love this plan and will encourage my domestic staff to contribute amd match their contributions. Is the fund open for donations?

  • Why dont we address the elephant in the room and encourage the nuclear family structure and move away from patriarchy and polygamy which has resulted in so many children being born with no fathers in the house ie 60%. Thats the problem right there. This plan of Thulis is like putting ones fingers in the dyke!

  • Her heart is in the right place here, hope it works. Encourage young girls to matriculate, they will then make better life decisions; through career choices, partner choices, reproduction and how they raise their children.

  • We need to overhaul education and teacher training. How else can we expect even the most intelligent to understand Thuli (and Peter Dexter – (his valid comment is below) = and to become effective citizens?

  • Firstly a question about Pumzile’s claim about 47 million falling into poverty – is that in S.A. or globally? Then there is the unaddressed issue of why some ‘executives’ are taking home ‘pay’ that could feed a ‘province’ literally? If they have ‘earned’ it as some would claim, why should they not pay a ‘super tax’ on it ? Bill Gates has stated that he is prepared to pay more tax, rather than the tax cuts Trump has introduced. It makes the Bizos’ and Zuckerbergs’ etc even richer than they are now, while the working classes continue getting ‘minimum’ (a clever way of avoiding the word starvation) wages, while corporates and ‘connected’ politicians live in luxury and lavish style. Just ask the elites of the EFF.

  • People would be so much more willing to give and share, if what they give and share is not looted by people like the Minister of Health! I gave as generously as possible to , but hearing about Mkhize’s son getting a Landrover makes me furious. I gave because Adrian Enthoven was there, but even he could not control the looting at the top. There is no difference between the food and fridges and what Mkhize did.