New priorities

Print edition : September 06, 1997

The Government's post-1996 economic programme emphasises economic growth; but many South Africans feel that the Government has not done enough for the poor.

SPEAK to any South African, black or white, and he will either talk about the surging crime wave or the drama surrounding the hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) going on in the country. Some of the bitter wounds of the recent past are being reopened. In the process, a national debate is on about the rationale for the much-publicised TRC, which was supposed to be part of a healing process. The rise in incidents of violent crime is front-page news in many South African papers. The Government is concerned that the crime wave could act as a disincentive to foreign investors. Many in the African National Congress (ANC) and the South African Communist Party (SACP) have been openly alleging that a secret "third force" that was active during the apartheid era is behind the spiralling violence. This is viewed as part of the efforts of unreconciled racists to discredit the ANC-led government. But many South Africans also feel that the Government has not done enough for the poor.

Fifty-three per cent of black South Africans continue to live below the poverty line, compared to two per cent of the South African white population. The South African Indian community is better off as many of them managed to give their children education and thus were in a better position to cash in on the opportunities that post-apartheid South Africa provided. Many black youth spent their formative years organising school boycotts and fighting apartheid. Today, they find that they do not have the qualifications to land jobs in a country where employment opportunities are scarce anyway. It is not very surprising that some of these youth have taken to a life of mindless violence.

THE South African Government's decision to give up formally the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) in 1996 and replace it with an IMF/World Bank-inspired programme showed that the new priority was economic growth. The RDP was launched with great fanfare when the ANC took office and was meant to provide much-needed housing and other social amenities for the poorest of the poor. All the same, before the RDP was wound up, certain schemes were put in place. Free lunch is given to three million school children. Potable water has been provided to 700,000 people. Doctors from Cuba, who have come at the South African Government's request, have been deployed in rural areas, where medical facilities were either non-existent or beyond the reach of the poor. The presence of the Cuban doctors in the country has caused some heartburning in the South African medical fraternity.

The Government, after winding up the RDP, has formalised its commitment to a growth strategy, which is described in a document called "Growth, Employment and Redistribution: A Macroeconomic Strategy" (Frontline, June 28, 1997). It has set a target of an annual growth rate of six per cent. The Confederation of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), the powerful trade union federation that played a key role in the liberation struggle, has termed the new economic policy "Thatcherite". Trade unions affiliated to COSATU have launched a number of industrial actions in the last few months. The sugar and mining industries have been affected by labour disputes.

An interesting phenomenon is the growing tendency of formerly radical ANC leaders joining big business. Cyril Ramaphosa, who was once tipped to succeed Nelson Mandela, is one of the leading black businessmen in South Africa today. After it became clear that Thabo Mbeki was Mandela's political heir, Rampahosa joined the board of directors of Anglo-American. There has been a virtual exodus of politicians and administrators to private enterprise. Parliament has lost one-fourth of the people it elected in 1994; many of those who quit are from the ANC. Three provincial premiers have left their posts, the latest being the popular Premier of Gauteng province, Tokyo Sexwale. Many members of provincial legislatures too have resigned to go into business or to "pursue other interests". These resignations do not necessitate byelections in South Africa as the system of proportional representation allows parties to reshuffle their lists.

Sexwale, when he declared his intention to resign, said that by going into business he would be in a better position to serve the people. Many South African politicians justify their move into private business by arguing that it will help to transform the business structures in South Africa. Some influential South Africans seem to be impressed by Malaysia's "bumiputra" (sons of the soil) policy, which has given the indigenous Malays control of important segments of the economy along with a monopoly on political power. But, as of now, the South African economy continues to be dominated by the traditional white establishment.

THE South African Foreign Minister, Alfred Nzo, talking to a small group of visiting Indian journalists in his office in Pretoria, said that the Government's efforts were focussed on the "vital task of rejuvenating" the economy. He added that the foreign policy had to play an important role in the Government's attempts at redressing economic disparities.

The South African Government is also focussing on economic diplomacy. The entire country seemed to be geared to bringing the 2004 Olympics to Cape Town (the final decision, however, went in favour of Athens). Sport, whether it be rugby, cricket or football, is a national pastime and is one area in which the country seems united on. The Government attaches considerable importance to the Olympic games. Countries such as South Korea had hosted the Olympics before taking off as economic powers.

Nzo hastened to add that Africa, especially southern Africa, remained a top priority. One of the first acts of his Government was to attend the 1994 summit of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in Addis Ababa. He said that a lot needed to be done in southern Africa where the South African military had inflicted considerable damage to the economic infrastructure and the environment under the pretext of looking for ANC activists. Nzo said: "We have now arrived as a peaceful neighbour, determined to pursue a policy of peaceful coexistence and to do everything possible for the development of the region."

South Africa today is the driving force in the Southern African Development Conference (SADC), the grouping of southern African nations. Nzo revealed that he would like the Democratic Republic of Congo (the former Zaire) also to be a member of the SADC. Nzo said that the coming of the new Government in South Africa coincided with the end of superpower rivalry and the advent of a unipolar world. This, he said, gave countries such as South Africa the opportunity to concentrate on the economic regeneration.

ON South Africa's relations with India, Nzo was effusive. He was nostalgic about his days in Delhi in the 1960s when he was the first chief representative of the ANC in India. He said that from the very first days of the liberation struggle, India had supported the South African people consistently and sincerely.

Joint Commission meetings between India and South Africa are held regularly. Pointing out that South African Deputy President Thabo Mbeki had described the relationship between the two countries as "strategic", Nzo said the partnership went beyond just joint military exercises and arms sales. "The sky is the limit as far ties between the two countries are concerned," he said.

The South African side was "absolutely satisfied" about the state of bilateral relations, according to Nzo. He said that he was eagerly looking forward to the visit of Prime Minister I.K. Gujral, which is expected to take place later this year. Gujral was a personal friend of his, said Nzo, since his days in India in the late 1960s.

"Meetings at the top level will clear whatever obstacles, if any, that may exist between the two countries," Nzo said. India and South Africa attached considerable importance to the Indian Ocean Rim (IOR) initiative. Nzo felt that the IOR had immense potential. He was of the opinion that in the near future, the IOR would be catering to one-thirds of humanity. The take-off could take some time as the "baby was still young".

Referring to recent events in Central Africa, Nzo welcomed the happenings in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The big country, which shared borders with nine countries, was strategically important for the development of the African continent. The new developments would provide stability for the region. The country, which was virtually destroyed economically during the 30-year dictatorship of Mobutu, should be helped to stand on its feet, Nzo said. He was of the opinion that the new leadership should be given time to consolidate and prepare the ground for democracy.

Responding to a question on the bloodletting in other Central African countries, Nzo expressed his country's strong objection to ethnic cleansing and the forcible repatriation of ethnic groups. He was alluding to the recent events in Rwanda and the Republic of Congo (Brazzaville).

Turning to the issue of the democratisation of the U.N., the Minister said that the OAU had taken a decision that Africa should get two seats in the U.N. Security Council. Once this demand was acceded, the OAU would decide on the two countries to be represented, he added. It was natural that every country would want to be represented in this prestigious position. There were more than 50 states in the African continent and so a consensus had to emerge, Nzo said.

In Asia too, a decision should be democratically reached. If not, South Africa would have to take its own individual decision on which country to support. The African solution was the best possible solution and Asia too should arrive at a consensus on the two candidates for the U.N. Security Council seats, said Nzo.

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