August 1, 2003

SOUTH AFRICA: Cabinet Lekgotla sees massive progress in South Africa's development

Massive progress has been made in building a democratic state, tackling poverty and neglect, setting the economy on a sustainable growth path, entrenching safety and security, and placing South Africa at the forefront of Africa's development and equitable global relations, cabinet said at its mid-year lekgotla, held last week.

Briefing the media after the lekgotla, President Thabo Mbeki said the overwhelming evidence is that government has met most its immediate objectives as set out in the Reconstruction and Development Programme, the ANC's policy for transformation adopted in 1994.

Many challenges remain, however. Some reflect the legacy of apartheid, others are a consequence of the very freedom and development that the new state has introduced. These include changing demographic patterns, the massive increase in the economically-active population compared to the number of jobs the economy is creating, changes in the structure of the economy and migration trends.

The lekgotla considered progress and shortcomings in a number of medium-term projects aimed at further improving the quality of life of South Africans as quickly as possible. One of these programmes is widening access to social grants. The number of children registered for Child Support Grants had, for example, reached 3.4 million, with 264,000 children registered since the beginning of April. The total number of recipients of social grants has now passed the six million mark. The lekgotla agreed the registration campaign should be further intensified, and the partnership with communities and non-governmental organisations strengthened.

In working to meet its commitment that by the end of 2004, "no child should study under a tree", government has managed to reduce the backlog of classes from over 755 in 2000 to 18 in 2003.

Preparatory work has been done in identifying projects for an extended Public Works Programme, both as an instrument of poverty alleviation and a basis for skills development. This programme, cabinet said, is critical for the inclusion of a great number of South Africans - many of whom have little possibility for immediate absorption into the formal economy - in income-generating activity from which they are also able to acquire skills. It will focus on the building of social infrastructure including housing, municipal services, roads, government facilities, coastal care and land care. It is also aimed at providing skills and services in areas of AIDS awareness, home-based care and adult literacy.

As part of the improvement of the integrated criminal justice system, high and district courts have improved their conviction rates from about 76 to 83 percent in the past three to four years. Additional courts and Saturday courts have reduced the cases backlog by 55,000. A sample of court centres shows the average case preparation period has been reduced from 110 to 71 days.

These medium-term programmes which have the potential to make a speedy impact on people's quality of life, and which in some instances have already started to do so, form only a small part of the broader programmes of government in the various sectors. The Cabinet lekgotla examined all these sectors comprehensively; and below we outline some of the major issues.

The country's macroeconomic balances remain sound, despite the effect of the global economic slowdown on South Africa's export performance. While this slowed the growth rate in the first quarter of 2003, indicated are that this is starting to reverse.

The lekgotla agreed it was necessary to "stay the course" in building on export success, expanding service sectors, providing critical economic infrastructure, expanding economic opportunities for SMMEs, strengthening regulation and management of parastatals, boosting investor confidence and implementing projects aimed at immediate job creation.

The meeting agreed on a number of interventions to ensure the country's roads, rail, ports, air transport and border post infrastructure was capable of meeting the demands of a growing economy. Among other things, government would provide additional resources to improve the rail network, ease congestion at the Durban, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth container terminals, and improve the road programme. and along with the Spoornet upgrade, there will be a phased reduction in axle mass limits on the roads.

To help meet the country's need for scarce skills, government's interventions will include recruitment from outside South Africa; setting aside a portion of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme and National Skills Fund to pursue training in priority areas; firm measures to ensure efficiency in the Sector Education and Training (SETA) system; and possibilities of extending some of the financial benefits accruing to learnerships into the internship programme.

The lekgotla welcomed the start of free health services for certain categories of disabled people. The fight against tuberculosis, prevention and containment of cholera, and rolling back malaria are proceeding well; and the task team report on an enhanced treatment programme against AIDS will be presented to Cabinet soon.

The lekgotla decided to extend the distribution of food parcels as part of the immediate temporary measures to deal with the impact of high food prices to the original 244,000 beneficiaries for a further three months, with better follow-up on sustainable self-help projects.

Preliminary indications from crime statistics for 2002, which will be released by the South African Police Service next month, is that the trend of reduction and stabilisation in priority crimes continues. Together with improved conviction rates in many courts, the number of prisoner escapes has been reduced from 1,244 in 1996 to 325 in 2002.

Cabinet accepted a proposal on the immediate implementation of the programme to employ Community Development Workers who will help to improve contact between government and citizens especially in poor communities. It was agreed that these "generalist, multi-skilled" workers would be introduced in a phased manner and training will start as soon as possible. (ANC today)

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