EASTERN Cape poverty levels have reached “national disaster” status and require urgent intervention from national government.

The findings are contained in a shocking report by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), released yesterday.

The council insists Pretoria immediately intervene to drag the province out of its lagging cycle of impoverishment.

This was one of several recommendations contained in the scathing research report.

The HSRC said that from poor education to high child mortality rates, the province is in “complete crisis” and local government is failing to meet the needs of residents.

“Extraordinary measures by government and its partners are required in order to break the shackles of structural poverty,” the 266-page report reads.

Titled The People Matter: The State of the Population in the Eastern Cape, it details how almost two decades after apartheid the Eastern Cape still remains trapped in “structural poverty”.

Speaking to the Dispatch yesterday, HSRC chief research specialist Dr Monde Makiwane said: “It will take much longer than 20 years to rectify the situation in the Eastern Cape.”

It was “ironic” that the province had produced some of the country’s first African intellectuals, and yet was now “dragging behind” on its matric pass rate, he added. “There were no clear attempts made in many years to make sure the Eastern Cape is on par in terms of developments as compared to other provinces. We should be alarmed by this.”

Among the major challenges that Makiwane highlighted yesterday were:

The high number of skilled people who left the province;

Low matric pass rates compared to other provinces;

Migration patterns that were not conducive to the development of the province; A high child mortality rate; and A significant number of babies growing up without biological fathers.

DA leader in the Bhisho Legislature Bobby Stevenson said the call for national intervention by the HSRC was not enough to rescue the province, and that the Eastern Cape was sinking under the provincial ANC-led government. “We need fundamental changes at all levels and the ANC is failing dismally in this,” he said.

ANC provincial spokesperson Mlibo Qoboshiyane disagreed with the findings of the report.

“Pockets” of the province were severely affected by poverty, he conceded, but it was not “blanketed” across the province.

“The province is showing growth, which … [makes it] clear that we are managing the situation,” he said.

The party’s call for a leadership change was just “political blackmail”, he added.

In its findings, the report reveals that the province lags behind other parts of the country in a number of critical indicators in health, employment and education. The findings come from investigating, among other things, the age, sex and gender of residents in the province, marriage and childbearing figures, health and mortality rates, and migration patterns.

While local government battles with growing poverty levels and putting feasible plans in motion, NGOs are left to pick up the pieces.

Masonwabisane Women Support Centre (MWSC) in Butterworth helps over 1 000 women who have been left to take care of their families while their husbands seek greener pastures outside the province.

MWSC co-ordinator Bongi Mokoena said: “Poverty is a big thing in this province, especially for women that are uneducated and unemployed.”

Many husbands start new families outside of the Eastern Cape, leaving their wives to look after the family.

The HSRC report says migration has negatively affected the socio-economic development of the province and caused the “breakdown of the social fabric” of its population.

East Londoner Iris Mqotsi said poverty was everywhere. Mqotsi is a well-known gogo (grandmother) figure who has been feeding hundreds of poor around East London’s townships for the past nine years.

She agreed that migration was the root of the problem.

“It brings tears to my eyes when I see how bad the province has become.”

In its list of recommendations, the report states: “Areas that should be efficiently managed … to achieve long-term environmental sustainability … include practical programmes … efficient use of land and other natural resources, rural development and rural industrialisation.”

Examples of measures to improve conditions include:

Concerted efforts to reduce infant and child mortality, chronic illnesses, and HIV and Aids;

Better support to families by encouraging co-operation across generations through media campaigns, intergenerational investment schemes and encouraging the middle generation to send regular remittances to aging parents;

Strengthening efforts to improve education and human capital development; and

Measures to retain skilled people in the province and devise schemes to foster partnerships between institutions in the province and those situated outside.

The study provides a general description of the region’s basic demographic characteristics during the first half of 2010 and highlights issues relevant to the development and implementation of policies aimed at fighting poverty.

The report was first discussed by a panel of experts at an HSRC seminar on Tuesday before being released. — michaelk@dispatch. / lindiles@dispatch.co.za