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By Tebogo Tshwane

Moneyweb: Journalist

Only Gauteng and the Western Cape have above-average living conditions – report

The first subnational Social Progress Index in Africa measures a country’s performance on three dimensions: basic human needs, foundations of wellbeing, and opportunity.

Gauteng and the Western Cape are the only provinces in South Africa with an above-average rating in terms of being able to cater for the social and environmental needs of the people who live there.

These are the findings of the first subnational Social Progress Index in Africa by IQbusiness and international non-profit Social Progress Imperative, which focuses on SA’s nine provinces. The index measures a country’s performance on three dimensions: basic human needs, foundations of wellbeing, and opportunity.

Within these it uses 12 components that ask questions such as whether people feel safe, if they drink water and keep themselves clean without falling ill, are their rights protected and are they free to make their own decisions, and do they have access to foundational education and adequate housing with basic utilities?

Beyond GDP

The index aims to move away from using just GDP or unemployment figures as a measure of economic progress, choosing instead to look at the quality of life of a country’s citizens and how wealth is distributed.

“We know that stimulating GDP growth and reducing unemployment will scarcely be satisfying if the lived experience of all people who live in South Africa is not enhanced as a result of such growth,” Risenga Maluleke, statistician-general at Statistics South Africa, writes.

“Experience has taught us that economic growth does not always translate into improvements in society and the quality of people’s lives.”

Through these metrics, Gauteng is ranked at number one, with an overall score of 68.01. The province scored highly on eight of the 12 components, with access to water and sanitation, inclusiveness and basic education at the top. The Western Cape is not far behind with a score of 66.7, mainly due to environmental quality, access to basic knowledge and nutritional and basic medical care.

Provincial results by component

Source: 2019 South Africa SPI Index

But the ratings of the remaining seven provinces range from only 41.86 to 48.18.

Other provinces

The closest contender to Gauteng and the Western Cape is Limpopo, with a rating of 48.18. Limpopo achieved the highest score for shelter, personal safety and personal rights – which refers to the freedom of religion and trust in the justice system. However, the province performed the worst on access to information and communications in a highly digitising world.

Only about 4% of schools in Mpumalanga and Limpopo have access to the internet for teaching and learning purposes, while only 43.6% of households in Limpopo have access to at least one person who has access to the internet.

“Communication plays an important role in the fundamental operation of a society, and its lack can have devastating effects,” the document states.

Limpopo and the Eastern Cape also had the lowest scores in terms of access to basic education.

The index uses adult literacy rates, matric pass rates, the percentage of children who are not at school due to disability and the percentage of people still schooling at 18 to 29 years of age to measure this component.

For instance, Gauteng (7.51%) and the Western Cape (5.04%) have the lowest percentage of 18- to 29-year-olds who are still in school, “suggesting that these provinces are more efficient than the others at graduating learners through the basic education system”.

In comparison, 24.36% of the 18 to 29-year-old population in Limpopo is still in school.

On the positive end, the index says the country has made great progress in increasing access to education for citizens.

Almost all adults between the ages of 16 and 84 are literate, compared with only 82% in the mid-1990s.

Overall the country’s scores on access to advanced education were on the lower end, with only three provinces having ratings over 30%, “which is discouraging in the context of the role that advanced education must play for social and economic progress”.

Environmental quality

As the globe begins to create greater awareness on moving towards greener energy and the climate crisis, the lowest score on the index and the only single-digit outcome is Mpumalanga, with an 8.61 rating on this component.

“It appears that the biggest issues facing Mpumalanga are around land degradation and littering … 71.84% and 56.29% of households reported [these] concerns respectively”.

Another serious concern in Mpumalanga is related to air pollution.

A Greenpeace study recently found that the town of Kriel was the second-worst hotspot for sulphur dioxide emissions in the world, due to the coal power stations.

Targeted solutions 

IQbusiness chief executive Adam Craker stated that the SPI’s objective is to change the way the country measures its progress and does business.

In deepening the analysis and transparency of national performance, beyond merely looking at economic indicators, the SPI gives a bird’s-eye view on the impact of government policies like the National Development Plan on people’s lives.

“It allows us to measure the progress that will enable better decision-making, especially when determining priorities and budgets which can help advance the lives of South Africans,” said Craker.

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