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Date: Thu, 9 Jul 98 09:07:55 CDT
From: rich@pencil.math.missouri.edu (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: SOUTH AFRICA: Civic Society Wants A Pro-Poor Budget
Article: 38653
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.28159.19980711121546@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

/** headlines: 117.0 **/
** Topic: SOUTH AFRICA: Civic Society Wants A Pro-Poor Budget **
** Written 7:47 AM Jul 8, 1998 by newsdesk in cdp:headlines **
/* Written 4:09 PM Jul 2, 1998 by newsdesk@igc.org in africa.news */
/* ---------- "IPS: ECONOMY-SOUTH AFRICA: Civic So" ---------- */

Copyright 1998 InterPress Service, all rights reserved.
Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.

Civic Society Wants A Pro-Poor Budget

By Farah Khan, IPS
29 June 1998

JOHANNESBURG, Jun 29 (IPS) - In what promises to be a showdown with the government, South African churches and non-governmental organisations said the government must reverse its macro-economic policies and draw up a new pro-poor budget.

"Time is against us. The time is coming when no eloquent political rhetoric will quench the anger of the poor," said Rams Ramashia, the president of the South Africa NGO Coalition.

"Let us not push the poor to the point where they will wage a class struggle which may tear apart the very fabric of the democracy for which so many tears, sweat and blood was shed," Ramashia added.

These were strong words from civil society groups, which together with the churches, is increasingly picking up the mantle of the poor. The anti-poverty summit held at the weekend is the latest volley in their arsenal of weaponry to force government into action.

Although the South African government spends a sizeable chunk of its budget on poverty alleviation measures, its initiatives have not made a dent in the problem.

Poverty threatens to tear apart the fabric of the continent's newest democracy, and it could also delay the African Renaissance which Deputy President Thabo Mbeki has made his clarion call. In South Africa, almost one in two Blacks -- the majority of the population -- live below the poverty line, and 40 percent of the economically active population is unemployed.

Ramashia released at the weekend summit, the first report on the countrywide 'Speak Out On Poverty'. The poverty hearings, held during the past two months, were modeled on South Africa's Truth Commission hearings and provided an opportunity for the nation's poor to speak out. More than 500 representatives of the poor presented testimony.

Joblessness and a lack of access to land and resources emerged as the biggest issues. The NGO Coalition says many of the problems it heard remain the legacy of apartheid and the skewed economy it spawned.

But it concluded that the new government could do more to address the needs of the poor by extending better services and monitoring whether budget allocations were reaching those who needed them most. The most important message to emerge from the hearings was that poor people did not want hand outs.

"The expectations of the poor of our land are so modest that we should be ashamed that these expectations are not met," Ramashia said.

"People are not expecting highly-paid jobs, company cars, flushing toilets, tarred roads and street lights. They were hoping for the opportunity to send their children to school, to be able to have a few containers of water a day without having to walk many miles, to get their 470 Rands pensions to feed their grandchildren and to get a piece of land to work on," he added.

The poverty summit attracted representatives of government and business; it is hoped that a broad front of interests can be built to work on better ways of battling poverty.

But that battle needs resources and government's immediate attention has been turned to an economic crisis which has mushroomed -- the impact of the Asian crisis on South Africa's economy.

Its currency (the Rand) is under attack from speculators who this weekend sent it to new lows against the American dollar. There are fears that consumer interest rates - already at their highest ever - will climb even higher. This could prompt an economic meltdown where an obvious repercussion will be less public spending on the services needed to alleviate, if not eradicate, poverty.

But the African National Congress-led government is also approaching its second election and the need to secure the vote of its traditional constituency could be the opportunity for the anti- poverty coalition to push for a change in economic thinking.

They want government to invest more in the "social wage", a package of pro-poor measures which includes easier access to credit, training, job creation and social welfare. The churches are also pushing government to reschedule its debt repayments in order to free more from the public purse for poverty programmes.

"Debt repayment is the second largest item on the (national) budget. I have held meetings with government to consider this," said Anglican Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane.



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