News Roundup

News roundup

  • HSRC hosts UNAIDS Collaborating Centre on HIV Prevention and Policy
  • BRICS and the city: key lessons for economic prosperity and social integration
  • Eskom shifts goalposts in electricity pricing
  • New guidelines for counselling and testing children for HIV
  • TIMMS results: Mathematics and science levels improve, but still low

HSRC hosts UNAIDS Collaborating Centre on HIV Prevention and Policy

The Human Sciences Research Council and the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for the HSRC to become a UNAIDS Collaborating Centre on HIV Prevention Research and Policy.

According to the MoU, the Centre will conduct research, training and policy development in the area of HIV prevention and policy.

‘We are pleased that the HSRC’s credibility in HIV research is recognised in this manner and that we are able to make a contribution to this global effort. This is indeed a great honour and opportunity for the HSRC and we look forward to this collaboration,’ said HSRC CEO, Dr Olive Shisana.

The proposed area of global collaboration with the UNAIDS is around strategic information, especially HSRC’s flagship population survey with the possibility of building in some ‘Know Your Epidemic, Know Your Response’ questions into the survey.

UNAIDS is monitoring incidence and behavioural risk and is interested in developing and strengthening this capacity within countries. The use of strategic information in developing regional policies as well as training in writing of policy briefs, and joint convening or co-sponsoring of a regional conference will also form part of the collaboration. At country level, HSRC will work with the UNAIDS Country Office in South Africa to improve monitoring, evaluation and reporting of the epidemic particularly at provincial level.

Signing the MoU, Professor Sheila Tlou, director of the Regional Support Team (RST) for eastern and southern Africa viewed the partnership as a unique opportunity for UNAIDS to strengthen strategic information on the epidemic so that we are able to realise our common vision of zero new HIV infections, zero AIDS-related death and zero discrimination.

The relationship will be managed by the regional support team for eastern and southern Africa.
View the speeches delivered by Shisana and Tlou at the signing ceremony on:

BRICS and the city: key lessons for economic prosperity and social integration

Vital lessons from the BRICS nations for urbanisation considered at a high-level meeting hosted by the HSRC in Pretoria on 5 – 6 December 2012.

Leading experts from BRICS countries and the United Nations met with South African policy-makers and researchers to discuss the findings of a major study that compared the experience of urbanisation and development in the five BRICS – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

The meeting considered the appropriate role for government in relation to the persistent movement of people from the countryside into the towns and cities. For example, should there be an effort to resist and slow down the process, remain broadly neutral, or actively support urbanisation?

The research shows how each of the BRICS nations has encountered difficulties as they have urbanised, especially when they have tried to hold back the tidal shift of population, or when they have inadvertently steered people or enterprises to economically or environmentally unfavourable locations.

The research also provided many positive examples of how to seize the opportunities that urbanisation can present to lift people out of poverty by strengthening national economies through concentration, proximity and efficient infrastructure.

  • China highlighted the benefits of taking urbanisation seriously in national strategies for development. Its radical shift from anti-urban policies in the 1960s and 1970s to the aggressive pursuit of urban growth in selected areas demonstrated the dramatic impact of urbanisation on economic growth and poverty reduction. Planners have been slower to take into account the environmental damage caused by unrestrained industrialisation. About a third of urban dwellers also lacked permanent residence rights to the cities and their amenities.
  • Brazil tried in vain for several decades to resist urbanisation. The result is that social inequalities endure in divided cities, and poor communities are still under-served despite sustained economic growth. Yet, in recent years Brazil’s cities have pioneered important social innovations that are improving livelihoods and security. A new approach to regularising and upgrading informal settlements is creating assets for poor households and improvements in education, health and well-being.
  • Russia showed the importance of how and where urbanisation happens. The demise of the Soviet Union left Russia with poorly located cities that struggle to compete in the global economy, with half of them based on a single industry or employer. The government faces tough decisions about whether to manage their decline and concentrate investment on the obvious potential of Moscow’s dynamism, or to radically restructure the industries and infrastructure of the lagging cities.
  • India has not yet come to terms with its urbanisation. This ambivalence threatened its economic success, particularly for poor people who found it increasingly difficult to secure a place in the cities. But India was at the earliest stage of its urban transition, and could learn from the other BRICS’ experiences. Urban development could help to alleviate rural poverty if more was done to accommodate migrants in thriving cities.
  • South Africa’s apartheid policy suppressed urbanisation for the black majority and forced them to live in dormitory settlements and labour reserves on the periphery. Nearly 20 years on, the cities remain starkly fragmented and polarised. Historical and cultural sensitivities complicate efforts to formulate an urbanisation policy. Yet national prosperity and cohesion depend on a more efficient and integrated approach to planning and managing urban development. Increased investment in urban land and infrastructure could unlock economic opportunities and improve the life chances of poor communities.

Concluded Turok: ‘Most of the BRICS still bear heavy burdens from past failures to absorb urban growth pressures effectively. Their histories highlight the need for planning ahead rather than reacting after the event to proliferating shack settlements. Overcrowded and badly located informal areas have damaging social and environmental effects and reduce the functionality of their cities’.

The synthesis report and briefing papers are available on request from

Eskom shifts goalposts in electricity pricing

Eskom has proposed price increases in its application to the multi-year price determination (MYPD3) process that would raise the real electricity price by three to four times over the decade from 2008 – 2018. Dr Miriam Altman, prominent economist and distinguished research fellow at the HSRC, has submitted a response to that application, voicing her concern that in each application since 2008, Eskom has shifted the goalposts.

‘The electricity price needs to become more cost-reflective to enable future investment. Yet, the costs represented in its current application far exceed those in its last application,’ Altman says.

The report argues that Eskom could achieve its financial goals, albeit over an extended period. Altman proposes that a target price for 2018 be set based on Eskom’s last application, and that an approach be found to ensure this does not undermine Eskom.  This would result in a nominal increase of 10% to 12% pa, instead of the 16%-20% per annum proposed by Eskom.

Altman is also concerned that municipalities have escalated their prices well above those proposed by NERSA, often at double the rate given to Eskom. ‘This especially affects small and medium-sized firms. While there are policies to buffer the poor with free basic electricity and reduced rates, this report finds that many municipalities were not doing so. Continued uncertainty in energy policy and pricing could dramatically reduce potential growth and job creation.’

She said that while industry must adjust to a new energy saving reality, it is unlikely that they can achieve the sort of savings needed to maintain their cost competitiveness over this short period. The pace of achieving financial sustainability in Eskom must be weighed against the competitiveness of the South African economy given its reliance on metals and minerals, which provide half of all exports and many jobs directly and in industries that depend on them.

Download and read Altman’s response and supporting documents at:

New guidelines for counselling and testing children for HIV

A new set of guidelines and training tools dealing with the legal, ethical and counselling issues related to HIV testing of children is now available for HIV/AIDS practitioners working with children.

Dr Heidi van Rooyen, project team leader and research director at the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), explains: ‘These guidelines explore in simple and practical terms the psychosocial implications as well as the legal and policy obligations relating to HIV counselling and testing of children.

‘The tools describe what practitioners can do to ensure that HIV testing of children takes place in a way that protects and promotes their rights and is conducted in their best interests.’

HIV Counselling and Testing (HCT) is the most important entry point for HIV-related treatment, care, support and prevention.

A significant number of children in South Africa live with HIV. According to figures provided by the Department of Health, an estimated 32 940 children under 15 years of age were living with HIV and AIDS but were not on treatment. These facts highlight that every effort must be made to facilitate HIV testing in this population within the framework of applicable legislation and policy. Once tested, children can be placed on treatment, and linked to care and support.

The HSRC, through the SA National AIDS Council (SANAC), was commissioned to provide technical support to the Department of Health to ensure implementation of the goals for voluntary counselling and testing (VCT) as set out in the 2006-2011 National Strategic Plan on HIV, STIs and TB (NSP). The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation provided the funding for this initiative.  

Through an extensive consultative process with key staff from the Department of Health, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), civil society, non-governmental organisations, academics, policy makers and practitioners working with children more generally and in HIV/AIDS specifically, the HSRC led the development of a series of implementation guidelines and training tools, dealing with the legal, ethical and counselling issues related to HIV testing of children.

This package of tools includes a trainers’ manual, participants’ manual, legal guidelines for implementers, and counselling and testing implementation guidelines. A CD containing all these resources is also being made available.

The tool kit is available at: For hard copies, contact

TIMMS 2011 in a nutshell
Mathematics and science levels improve, but still low

The results of an independent international assessment study of the mathematics and science knowledge of grade 9 learners, released by the HSRC on 11 December 2012, showed some improvement for the first time since 1995 in the national average mathematics score of grade 9 learners in public schools.

This finding forms part of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) conducted by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA). In 2011 TIMSS was conducted in 45 countries. Of these, 42 countries participated at the grade 8 level, and three countries, namely Botswana, South Africa and Honduras, participated at the grade 9 level. These three countries were at the lowest level in both mathematics and science.

Key findings of TIMSS 2010, South Africa

  • The best performing South African learners approached the average performance of the top performing countries of Singapore, Chinese Taipei, the Republic of Korea, Japan, Finland, Slovenia and the Russian Federation.
  • When it comes to the quantity and quality of performance at the top level, South Africa is not globally competitive. On average all independent, former House of Assembly and Quintile* five schools performed below the middle score of 500 (also called ‘centre point’), with 24% of learners scoring above 400 points.
  • A total of 256 public schools and
  • 27 independent schools and 12 000 grade 9 learners participated in the study. Comparison with TIMSS 1995, 1999 and 2002 shows that the national average score remained static over the years 1995, 1999 and 2002, but improved in both mathematics and science from 2002 to 2011. This improvement is equivalent to raising the standard by one and half (1.5) grade levels.
  • The distribution range of the scores between the highest and the lowest decreased between 2002 and 2011, which reflects the wide disparities in society and schools and with scores of learners at the lowest end showing an increase.
  • The three top performing provinces in both mathematics and science were the Western Cape, Gauteng and Northern Cape and the three lowest performers were KwaZulu-Natal, Limpopo and the Eastern Cape.
  • The greatest improvement was among learners who can be described as ‘the most disadvantaged’, coinciding with learners and schools that received the highest number of interventions aimed at improving the quality of education, from both public and private sector providers. The results suggest the value of the continued investment in low-income households and in less-resourced schools.
  • The South African curriculum compared favourably with international curricula. The Revised National Curriculum Statements that guided instruction and learning of mathematics and science at schools during 2002 and 2011 covered more than 90% of the TIMSS assessment framework on which the learners were tested.
  • There is growing evidence that the school environment plays an important part in learners’ performance. The self-reported data indicates that 41% of learners attended schools where the principals rated the school discipline and safety as a ‘moderate’ problem, while 21% of learners attended schools where their mathematic teachers rated the schools as ‘safe’ in comparison with the international standard of 45%.
  • The study found that globally there is evidence that bullying in schools is on the rise. This has a negative impact on learners’ educational achievement. In South Africa, 75% of learners indicated that they had experienced some form of bullying, which is far above the international average of 41%.
  • All South African public ordinary schools are categorised into five groups, called quintiles. The grouping is according to the poverty of the surrounding community. Quintile one is the poorest quintile, and Quintile five the most affluent.