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This article is taken from the December 2004 Phatlalatsa newsletter

 

A decade of democracy: South Africa in review part 4

A decade of democracy: South Africa in review part 4 imageDavid Everatt reviews the 10 years since the democratic general election of 1994. The conclusion to this 4 part series.

Social grants

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 ).

Delivery

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 awarded;
  • 1.3 million houses have been built;
  • 2.8 million telephones have been installed;
  • over 3 million homes have been electrified.

Basic services are steadily being extended to South Africans including the rural poor, labelled ‘surplus people' by the apartheid government.

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). 2

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)

Conclusion

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 needed.

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 , mimeo), p.2.

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.

 

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