Scientists, researchers urged to develop solutions to inequality in South Africa

The government has urged natural and social scientists, engineers and researchers to collaborate across disciplines in order to advance solutions to crippling poverty and inequality in South Africa.

Speaking at the 50th and 90th anniversary celebration of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), Dr Phil Mjwara, the Director-General of the Department of Science and Technology, said the government had high expectations for what the social sciences could contribute to the prosperity, security and well-being of all South Africans.

Dr Mjwara said geopolitical shifts, climate change, health problems, accelerating digitisation and the Fourth Industrial Revolution were among the megatrends that were set to shape South Africa’s future social science research agenda.

“The social sciences have a unique role to play in understanding and seeking to address major challenges, including the way digitisation and automation are changing work and employment, and the data-driven transformation of public services. An important focus for the social sciences must be to continue to innovate in the ways that research findings can successfully inform policy and practice,” said Dr Mjwara.

The event marking the HSRC’s double anniversary took place in Pretoria on 24 April 2019, and formed part of the build-up to Freedom Day. While the HSRC was officially established in 1969 through an Act of Parliament, it started out in 1929 as the Bureau for Educational and Social Research.

The history of the HSRC is complex and closely intertwined with the recent history of the country, providing unique perspectives on developments affecting � and affected by � research in the social and human sciences. Having played a role in social engineering during the apartheid era, the HSRC shifted its focus to social transformation during the post-apartheid period.

An entity of the Department of Science and Technology, the HSRC has grown to become the largest dedicated research institute in the social sciences and humanities on the African continent, doing cutting-edge public research in areas that are crucial to development.

As part of the HSRC’s celebration, a new publication on poverty and inequality in South Africa was launched, titled Poverty and Inequality: Diagnosis, Prognosis and Responses.

The book is the latest in the HSRC’s “State of the Nation” series. Published annually since 2003, the State of the Nation publications have become a vital resource, providing an in-depth, critical analysis of key political and socio-economic issues in South Africa. In each publication, a range of leading scholars contribute their research findings and analyses to create a holistic picture of the complex challenges the country is facing.

Poverty and Inequality tackles issues such as wealth taxation as an instrument to reduce inequality, academic freedom in an unequal society, post-apartheid inequality and the long shadow of history, and the National Development Plan as a response to poverty and inequality.

Speaking at the launch, Prof. Crain Soudien, CEO of the HSRC, said South Africa was now considered the most unequal country in the world. This made it all the more important that the multiple conditions and factors underlying inequality be clearly elucidated.

“These explanations must make clear, firstly, the multiple facets and interrelationships of poverty and inequality, and secondly, how, in their reach into the everyday experience of South Africans, they work,” Prof. Soudien said.

One of the three co-editors of the publication, Prof. Ingrid Woolard, Dean of the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences at Stellenbosch University,stressed that poverty was not just about lack of income but also about lack of access to other indicators of well-being, such as housing, water, sanitation and education.

Prof. Woolard said the book made it clear that urgent responses to poverty and inequality were required, adding: “Such action would best arise as a result of shared responsibilities; indeed, several chapters underline that this would be the most effective way of addressing collective challenges.”

Source: Department: Science and Technology