October 20, 2003

SOUTH AFRICA: 10-year review shows success of democratic transformation

Government’s 10-year review released last Thursday, Oct 16, amounts to a compelling case against critics who argue that there has been little positive change in the quality of life of South Africans.

The bare statistics show that in the areas of social services – millions more now have access to basic amenities than 10 years ago. Between 1996 and 2001, the number of South Africans with access to clean water increased by nine million. Electricity connections increased from 32 percent to 70 percent in the same period. Almost two million housing subsidies were approved between 1994 and 2003. In total around six million more were given access to housing. Add to that macro-economic stability and a growth rate of just under three percent, Government’s performance appears worthy of applause.

Overall, this has contributed, according to Government’s figures, to reducing social disparities and has impacted directly on poverty levels. It would be difficult to dispute this contention given the figures in its 10-year review.

But these findings will be disputed nevertheless, not because the figures might be inaccurate but largely because South Africans do not have a common statistical departure point. The credibility problems that have dodged Stats SA, the official statistics body, are likely to be used as a launch pad for attacking these numbers and the attendant victory claims. It can be expected that opposition parties will produce an equally compelling set of statistics to demonstrate that poverty has in fact worsened since 1994. In the end, it all boils down to which starting point one uses and how statistics are packaged.

This suggests a glaring need for a common starting point. Government must as a matter of urgency pump more resources into existing agencies and focus on developing a credible statistical base. Unless it does, any attempt at assessing progress and measuring delivery will inevitably culminate in useless party political debate about the accuracy of statistics. And that must detract from the important question – how should the country’s social transformation programme be amended to hasten the improvement in the quality of life for poor South Africans. (Sowetan, Johannesburg)

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