A decade of democracy: South Africa in review part 4
David Everatt reviews the 10 years since the democratic general election of 1994. The conclusion to this 4 part series.
Social transfers are seriously inadequate: some 60% of the poor, or
11 million people, are without any social security transfers. Uptake of
existing measures is also poor, dropping from 85% for the state old age
pension to just 20% for the child support grant, while average uptake
across all social grants is 43%. The 2003 budget widened the scope of
grants (such as extending child support to cover 14 year olds) but the
central challenge remains access and uptake. The recent Committee of
Inquiry into a Comprehensive System of Social Security noted that the
existing social security system "has the capacity to close 36.6% of the
poverty gap" if all benefits were distributed to those entitled to
them. But even with full uptake, still there would be some five million
people living in poor households but ineligible for existing benefits.
Report of the Committee of Inquiry into a
Comprehensive System of Social Security for South Africa (2002).
Transforming the present - protecting the future. (Department of Social
Development, Pretoria ).
There is often disagreement regarding what government has and
has not delivered. The ANC was elected in 1994 on the basis of a basic
needs programme as set out in the RDP. Measured in these terms,
government has performed well, despite the high media profile given to
the incidence of roll-overs, corruption and the like. A few examples
will suffice: since 1994,
- 1.4 million housing subsidies have been
- 1.3 million houses have been
- 2.8 million telephones have been
- over 3 million homes have been
Basic services are steadily being extended to South Africans
including the rural poor, labelled ‘surplus people' by the apartheid
The problem government faces is not lack of resources - rather
it is lack of capacity to spend those resources appropriately.
Moving to the programme design sphere, however, government put
‘poverty experts' to shame by producing an articulate, hard-hitting
analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of its own post-1994 poverty
eradication efforts in the Integrated Sustainable Rural Development
Strategy (ISRDS). The ISRDS naturally operated within government's
neo-liberal framework and avoided deeper political issues, but offered
a robust critique of government's attempt to make local government the
driving force in bottom-up (i.e. demand-driven) development. According
to the ISRDS, development was "beset by problems of co-ordination and
communication", with the result that assets "rained apparently randomly
from above, with little internal coherence or responsiveness to
community priorities." 1
The ISRDS is a mechanism for aligning all three spheres of
government behind local development priorities, but does have telling
weaknesses that reflect some of the issues discussed above:
The ISRDS has not one but many goals, and it is unclear
whether government sees the ISRDS spearheading a rural economic growth
strategy or forming part of its existing rural anti-poverty strategy
(heavily reliant on infrastructure provision).
The ISRDS failed to articulate an unambiguous rural economic
growth strategy; rather, it mixed economic and social goals, blurring
both in the process. This seemed to result from attitudes prevalent
among many in the public and private sectors, which regard rural areas
as inherently and uniformly unviable in economic terms. In this
perspective, rural areas need basic infrastructure and their denizens
need welfare support and basic survivalist skills - development as
charity, with the purpose of eradicating infrastructural inequalities
and assisting survivalist economic enterprises; no more ambitious
economic goal is regarded as feasible.
(Source: 1996/1998 October Household Surveys; 2000
Labour Force Survey)
South Africa is a very young democracy, not yet ten years
old. The growing pains of democracy are reflected in the intense
debates that attend virtually every aspect of transforming society from
apartheid to democracy. It is important to retain the capacity to see
beneath posturing and disputation and identify the real issues at
stake. This is often more difficult among South Africans than
international visitors or observers - but it is precisely among South
Africans that the capacity to focus on what really matters is most
1 Independent Development Trust (2001)
"The Integrated Sustainable Rural Development Strategy" ( Pretoria ).
2 Everatt D. (2002) "The nature and
purpose of the ISRDP" (Independent Development Trust, Pretoria ,
This concludes our series taken from the special edition of Development Update ‘The real state of the nation'.
Copies of the journal can be obtained from Interfund Tel: 403 2966.