The political economy of poverty in Sekhukhuneland

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In this chapter the three issues mentioned above are elaborated as research concepts which will help to identify connections and the relationships essential to the understanding of the links between the various energy systems, the environmental impacts of the energy sector and their relations with the broader development processes in the Study region (Goldblatt,1996).
It is to these concepts which we now turn.

Concepts underlying the first research objective

With regards to the first research objective, realist theory indicates that people always take decisions in the context of structures or mechanisms. Such mechanisms predispose people to act in certain ways.
Fig.4.1 below is a feedback loop model which outlines how one such mechanism poverty for example, can force poor rural households to continue to remove their vital tree resources for firewood to address their needs with the attendant environmental and economic problems.
Poverty has many dimensions. From the production perspective, it implies lack of resources such as capital and land to produce. From the consumption perspective, it implies lack of accessibility to food, shelter, education, and health. From the social exclusion perspective, it means denial of opportunities, entitlements, deprivation and dependency. From the security perspective, poverty will also imply lack of basic security and safety. Much of these issues boil down to the question of having less than an objectively defined absolute standard and quantity. Poverty thus has various manifestations including lack of income and productive resources sufficient to ensure sustainable livelihoods, hunger and malnutrition, ill health, limited access to education and other basic services, increased mortality from illness, unacceptable hardships such as homelessness and inadequate housing, unsafe environments, social discrimination and exclusion. Poverty is also characterised by a lack of participation in decision making, and in civil, social, and cultural life (Spicker,1999).
There are various types of poverty such as absolute poverty defined by experts, such as the United Nations definition of < $1 or <R7.20 a day (World Bank,1990); relative or subjective poverty defined by communities themselves; integrated poverty, which affects people who are in salaried employment or whose poverty is concealed because they are otherwise part of existing social networks; transient/periodic/short term/sporadic/traumatic/ poverty; and chronic/structural/endemic/long term poverty.
The absolute poverty concept is one popular definition which cuts across different nations, localities and communities. The World Bank’s “universal poverty line” permits cross-country comparisons and aggregations (World Bank 1990). The $1 a day yardstick is the bank’s threshold of low income or resources marking a change in the capacity of people to meet the needs (material and social) enjoyed by society. This yardstick has its South African equivalent in rand terms, whereby current daily incomes below R7,20 implies poverty.
Appendix 2 provides some information about the different definitions and measures of poverty.
Appendix 5 provides some information concerning the measurement of The Human Poverty Index.
Poverty is a key issue in this research project because it has causal powers to produce certain outcomes such as reduced life expectancy, stress, starvation, consumption of unsafe water, limited access to education, and withdrawal symptoms, among others. For this research, poverty is commonly cited as the reason why poor rural families are forced to use firewood as fuel leading to major deforestation problems (Martinez- Allier,1990).
Fig. 4.2 is a realist stratification model illustrating how the real, actual, and empirical levels can interact to influence adversely the rural energy systems. Fig 4.1 and Fig 4.2 indicate that the poverty mechanisms behind concrete actions can be real and can have major implications for long term development processes.
Consumption then becomes a critical factor in this study. Almost all human activities tend to put pressure on the natural environment through food consumption, housing construction, clothing demands, water consumption, and above all, energy consumption. In the study region, energy consumption or demand is thus a key issue whose impact needs to be unpacked.
The information in Fig. 4.1 above is very much rooted in the fact that rural poverty has causal powers to force poor households to engage in consumption activities which tend to have detrimental effects in their long term rural development process. Although quite aware of such negative consequences, such poor households often find themselves in a dilemma when forced to deplete some of their vital natural resources such as trees for their building materials and firewood to address their energy needs. Yirenkyi-Boateng, (2001), used the term “the poor man’s dilemma” to describe such situations.

Concepts underlying the second research objective

With regards to the second research objective, the critical realist theory indicates that people in their various environments always simplify their world by making a few familiar choices to achieve certain goals, aspirations, and interests (Habermas 1978; Chambers,1983 ; Sayer 1992, p.88).Thus, with regards to the current electrification programme , one expects the poor rural households to make choices/rankings regarding which of the sources of energy would be paramount in their lives (Warren, Slikkerveer & Brokensha,1995).
This would thus take the decision makers into the realm of choices in which their perceptions concerning “rationalism” would be paramount. The rural households would interpret “rationalism” from their own lenses/interests. The communities would have their own epistemologies of the solutions to poverty and its related energy system. This is what is known as designative perception which is a measure of the amount of information or knowledge which people may have about a phenomenon. From their experience, the community would learn that the energy sector selected, (eg, the firewood sector, or electricity) will have its distinct causal powers or impacts in the broader community by virtue of its nature (Boscovitch, 1966; Harre & Madden,1975; Eberhard 1992). The abstracted elements associated with the particular energy choice will therefore represent a totality of internally related parts of causes and effects, the nature of each being understood only in terms of its relationship to the other elements in the overall system.
The realist research paradigm thus requires that researchers endeavour to understand people by giving them the freedoms to explain the reasons behind their choices or actions. The approach indicates that the causes of social phenomena are related to the meanings behind the actions of individuals and groups. The paradigm shows that the empirical world is a created world of meanings and interpretations and that therefore researchers need to go beyond the empirical world and seek explanations and understanding in the intentions behind the actions of people (Johnston, 1997). This requires that researchers get close to the subjects of research, ie, the people involved in their research by immersing themselves in interaction with them, not as mere research “objects”, however. Rather, researchers need to call the research objects of study as the subjects, ie as the actors. Realist researchers thus need to describe social realities from the perspectives of such subjects and not from the perspectives of the researchers.
Since actors operate in the context of certain mechanisms, realist theory requires that a distinction is made between agency (the actors), and structure, (the mechanisms). Fig 4.3 below indicates how poverty, under certain circumstances, could constitute one mechanism providing a context for the rural households (the actors) to take energy-related decisions. The model indicates that from the structuration perspective the energy system can be ineluctably shaped by poverty which can generate unintended outcomes in the form of firewood-induced deforestation which, in turn, can form the context for future reproduction. It is this intimate connection between production and reproduction which Giddens (1984) terms the recursive character of social life.
Fig 4.4 below, is a further elaboration of the feedback loop concept illustrating how communities can be controlled by the routines they are used to or forced to use. The model indicates that the firewood sector can, under certain circumstances, define what issues should be considered, what questions should be asked, and what solutions should be provided (World Bank, 1986; 1989). Under such circumstances, the communities concerned can find themselves in a dilemma, operating with a routine, sector or rules which may continue to frustrate them (Claval, 1980; Boudon,1982; Lukacks,1978 ; Blaikie,1985; Toye, 1987; Martinez-Allier 1990; Stein,1990).
The model indicates that poverty, the firewood sector and deforestation can operate jointly to worsen the prevailing situation. The illustration depicts a situation in which poverty and the firewood sector can be the cause and effect of the deforestation crisis, ie the two can produce the deforestation problem which in turn can also constitute the enabling medium via which the firewood sector can be reproduced (Giddens, 1984). Under such circumstances, the world can appear as a “closed “ or “reified” system or a structured group with little prospects for getting out of the situation or circle.
Realist and structuration theories indicate however that within the apparent 31 constraints set by the mechanisms at the real level, agents always have some freedoms to make choices. Thus, the same mechanism (such as the current electrification programme) can elicit different responses from the people or agents concerned thereby producing different outcomes or impacts.

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 Concepts underlying the third research objective

Critical theory illustrates that the symmetry between objects and their concrete outcomes applies only in closed deterministic systems where constant conjunction of events occurs. This is however rare in social systems. Critical theory indicates that the concrete social activities of communities tend to occur in the context of some degrees of freedom (Toye, 1987; Halbach,1988; Todaro,1994; Brookfield, 1975). Within the constraints set by current realities or the status quo, critical theory therefore tells us that communities must always be given ample opportunities and the confidence to make new beginnings all the time (Habermas,1978; World Bank, 1983; UNDP & World Bank 2003).
Good social research must therefore incorporate the critical and action-oriented perspectives. These perspectives must be capable of providing communities with new knowledge capable of getting rid of their development problems to improve their situations (Kuhn, 1970). Education is one of the tools required to introduce such positive changes (Coetzee,1992).
Fig 4.4 : A causal modelling of the problems associated with the rural firewood sector
Running through the works of critical theorists such as Bhaskar (1991), and Habermas (1978) are their treatment of how to overcome the problem of reification or routinization. In the animistic sense, reification refers to situations where social relations are attributed with personified characteristics such as the concept of “fetishism of commodities”. Reification also applies to situations in which social phenomena, such as the problems of government/institutional controls in the lives of rural communities, or the dominant position of the fuelwood sector in a rural economy, are endowed with natural properties to the extent that communities find it difficult to change the situation. By becoming obsessed with their present situation, people may therefore attribute undue causal or “natural” powers to their existing systems as will be discussed below in chapter six . Under such circumstances, social structures can exert dominating influences over people. In so far as “natural” is understood as referring to conditions in which empirical reality appears to have fixed and immutable character of natural laws, it can be regarded as the principal ways in which the naturalization of the present and the empirical can be effected (Harre & Madden, 1975).
The works of Balassa (1971), Little & Mirrlees (1974), and Lal (1983), among other contemporary development theorists , indicate however, that it is possible to provide new knowledge (education) and other forms of assistance to communities to enable them to free themselves from their obsession with what they consider to be natural. For illustration purposes, one could cite the research works of some South Africans who are convinced that the leucaena tree for example, is an excellent source of firewood which needs to be introduced to the public ( Munnik, 1994) From another perspective, Lumby (1996) has also identified landfill gas as a renewable energy option for the urban poor. The United Nations Report (UNEP, 1996 ) also illustrates how specialists from various disciplines could be brought together to work as teams to introduce new and simple forms of energy systems to accelerate the rural development process. These examples indicate that there are various forms of innovations (new knowledge) that need to be disseminated to the rural communities to expand their perceptions regarding alternative energy sources as will be illustrated in chapter seven below Opening up communication channels is therefore one mechanism that needs to be employed to assist the development of underdeveloped communities (Erskine, 1985; ANC, 1992; Matlala,1992).
Undue centralization of political power and development policies in the hands of a few outside-based powerful public officials has long been a major problem in the sustained development of the rural areas of the former homeland regions. Rural development programmes were over-centralized and insensitive to local needs during the apartheid period. The poverty problems, the dominance of the informal sector and the related underdevelopment problems are all social constructions. It is ironic that the majority of the people of Sekhukhuneland can be consciously marginalized and subsequently given the labels “poor”, “unproductive” and “informal”. Instead of encouraging the rural sector to grow, the authorities almost without exception did their best to frustrate this sector by acts of omission and commission. Apartheid planning was also antithetical to external participation in the development of the former homeland regions such as former Lebowa. The rural development planning programmes operated under international sanctions thereby reducing the number of potential external stakeholders whio could have assisted in the rural transformation processes.
Since the on set of the new political dispensation in 1994 however, new positive partnerships are emerging between the state, civil society and the business sectors of South Africa (The Advisory Committee,1997). The provincial and local governments in the underdeveloped rural regions of the former homelands in particular need to be encouraged to strengthen their bonds with the rural poor with a view to accelerating their development. Individual households and communities need to be shown numerous doors of opportunity to take key decisions in their local development planning processes . This therefore translates to that of changing the nature of interactions so that all potential stakeholders can come in to make maximum contributions towards the rural community development processes. More opportunities must therefore emerge in the direction of greater interactions (bonding) to counter the previous policies of separation, reductionism and top-down development planning (See Appendix 8).
Fig 4.5 and Fig.4.6 below are integrative normative models illustrating how poor rural communities could be assisted to relate their energy systems to their long term development in a sustained way.
Critical theory is implied in the two models below. Critical theory is emancipatory because it seeks to free agents from the dominance of any exclusive paradigm of development. It is an ontological stance which recognises the need for opening new development planning opportunities to people all the time to integrate and to get rid of distorted development structures to improve upon their existing development situations (Mercer,1991).
In the former Transkei homeland region, for example, the Eastern Cape Appropriate Technology Centre, with the support of the Eastern Cape government has been able to successfully introduce stoves and solar energy plants to several rural communities thereby relieving the pressures on their forestry sector (ECATU, 2000). The changes have been made through years of constant dialogue between the rural communities and post-apartheid reconstruction institutions such as ECATU (van Arkadie,1989; Yirenkyi-Boateng, 2001).
There are numerous such examples from other parts of rural South Africa and other Third World countries in general which indicate that opportunities exist for establishing positive relations between local and outside institutions such as non-government organizations for promoting sustainable


1.1 Energy as a basic need
1.2 Poverty, energy and underdevelopment
1.3 The causal powers of poverty
1.4 The role of the public institutions
1.5 Critical research issues
1.6 Objectives of the research
2.1 Introduction
2.2 Climate and vegetation
2.3 Why this region is a suitable case study
2.4 Some current basic statistics on Sekhukhuneland
2.5 Poverty issues and the electrification programme
3.1 Introduction
3.2 Energy studies
3.3 The Environmental Impact assessment studies
3.4 The provincial government development publications
3.5 Three prominent development issues for investigation
4.1 Introduction
4.2 Concepts underlying the first research objective
4.3 Concepts relevant to the second research objective
4.4 Concepts of relevance to the third research objective
4.5 The regional concept
4.6 Research hypotheses
5.1 Introduction
5.2 The 20 villages sampled for the research
5.3 Getting internal access to the minds of the respondents
5.4 Data analysis
5.5 The critical dimension of the research methodology
6.1 Introduction
6.2 The political economy of poverty in Sekhukhuneland
6.3 The electrification programme : A strategy ostensibly to replace firewood
6.4 Reconceptualizing the research problem
6.5 Electrification for providing lights only
6.6 Energy combinations, not replacements
6.7 The energy system in a broader context
7.1 Introduction
7.2 The need for the strategic planning process: A tool for positive change
7.3 The different applications of the strategic planning process
7.4 Planning by the municipalities
7.5 The Sekhukhune District Rural Poverty Eradication programme and the Integrated Development Plan
7.6 Monetising the rural economy and raising the per capita incomes of the informal and micro enterprises
7.7 The Sekhukhune District Rural Energy Programme
7.8 The role of the forests in the development process
7.9 The firewood sector must decline whilst the electricity sector grows in importance
7.10 Building capacity for decentralization and local governance in the Sekhukhune District Municipality
7.11 Not by electricity alone : On the Opinion Surveys
7.12 Need for Energy Summits and workshops
7.13 The Energy City concept
7.14 Concluding remarks

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