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South Africa


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Illustration by KAREN DONNELLY Illustration by KAREN DONNELLY [image, unknown]

There’s a long road from liberation to freedom in South Africa: from the overthrow of apartheid to the end of poverty and injustice. The building bricks are on order, in the Government’s Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP). But are they now being put in place? As the anniversary of the April 1994 elections approaches and the South African people begin to look for practical results, the NI assesses the progress so far.

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Problem – A state dedicated to promoting apartheid, in a world dominated by free-market economics, has somehow to be turned around to serve the majority. The Government has a democratic mandate but is required to leave the armed forces, civil service and big business intact.

Promise – The RDP, with its own Cabinet Minister (Jay Naidoo), will promote economic development through ‘reconstruction’ – a concerted assault on poverty, on race and gender discrimination. All the ‘promises’ listed here come from the RDP.

Progress – Between its first idealistic draft and its current third draft, the RDP itself has shifted towards conventional ‘trickledown’ economics – waiting upon ‘export-led’ economic growth to deliver benefits to the poor. The Programme is in danger of becoming detached from the central thrust of government policy and instead using only aid money. But its principles still enjoy widespread support.

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Problem – Apartheid laws denied workers any basic rights. There are high levels of unemployment and the mining industry makes extensive use of migrant labour. Only a quarter as many women as men hold jobs in the formal sector of the economy.

Promise – Creation of 300,000 to 500,000 non-agricultural jobs every year within five years.

Progress – Conventional economic policies leave employment levels at the mercy of a prolonged recession and job losses. ‘Affirmative action’ to give blacks access to the large public sector is hampered by failures in education and guarantees of job security to existing employees. Rumoured privatization plans are unlikely to help.

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Problem – Apartheid pushed millions of black South Africans into overcrowded and impoverished reserves, homelands and townships. Large-scale agriculture led to the eviction of rural workers from their land and homes. The 60,000 white farmers own over 87 per cent of the land and account for more than 90 per cent of its product.

Promise – The redistribution of 30 per cent of agricultural land within five years.

Progress – Restoration of land to those with titles dating back before the Land Act of 1913 is not problematic and is proceeding – but this covers only a very small amount of land. Most of the seizures took place after that date. Only Government-owned land is likely be transferred to the dispossessed in any quantity and most large landowners will survive unscathed. The target already looks ambitious.

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Problem – The urban housing backlog in 1990 was conservatively estimated at 1.3 million homes, to which 200,000 households were being added each year. Just 50,000 houses were built in 1992. There is widespread and increasing non-payment of rents.

Promise – A minimum of one million low-cost houses to be built over five years, intended for low-income households, including rural areas.

Progress – Joe Slovo, the Housing Minister, was widely respected as the most dynamic and effective Cabinet minister before his death in January 1995. He has been replaced by Sankie Nkondo: she was previously Deputy Minister for Welfare. So far much of the effort has gone into devising mechanisms to finance the programme, which still does not meet the needs of the lowest-income groups. Confrontation with non-payers and squatters has been threatened. Compromises on housing quality – ‘site and services’ only – have already been made. But there is general confidence that results will be visible shortly.

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Problem – The curriculum carries the mark of racism, sexism, authoritarianism and outmoded teaching practices.

Promise – A compulsory 10 years of education is to be phased in. No class is to exceed 40 by the end of the decade. All schools are to be connected to the electricity grid.

Progress – A disaster. Teachers are hostile. All impetus has been lost in a bureaucratic mess – partly because local government will not be firmly established on a democratic basis until elections later this year. There has been no agreement and little progress on any of the key objectives, despite mitigating circumstances. Drastic surgery is required.

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Problem – South Africa spends $160 dollars per head per year on health – nearly 10 times what is needed to provide basic public health services and essential clinical care for all – yet millions go without services or care of any kind. The situation in rural areas is particularly bad.

Promise – One model or pilot health district in each province. Primary health care training for 25 per cent of district health personnel by 1995, 50 per cent by the end of 1997.

Progress – The ‘Presidential Project’ to give immediate free health care to all infants and their mothers, though urgently needed, has threatened to overwhelm existing services and distracted attention from longer-term goals. There are no clear plans yet on the future structure of health care or its financing.

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©Copyright: New Internationalist 1995

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