Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

All Talk, Few Results Leave S. African Lawmakers Defensive


IN the new South African Parliament, former black liberation fighters have packed away their camouflage fatigues and have adapted quickly to the role of be-suited parliamentarians debating legislature.

White rightwingers have settled down, too. Gen. Constand Viljoen, the former Department of Defense chief who threatened civil war for a separate Afrikaner homeland before the April democratic elections, is now a gentlemanly legislator preaching dialogue rather than conflict.

About these ads

''I'm quite amazed that within a week everyone was pitching as though they had been doing it during their entire lives,'' said Frene Ginwala, speaker of Parliament. ''The level of debate in general has been good. At least an A if not an A plus.''

But nine months into power and after a lot of talk, South Africa's first black majority government has seen little progress in overhauling old institutions. As briefings with Cabinet ministers last week showed, a lack of funds and chaos in local and provincial administration mean the African National Congress (ANC) has little to show in meeting campaign promises to redress the social ills of apartheid for the five-to-one black majority.

Policymakers say more time is needed to narrow the gap between disadvantaged blacks and whites. Jobs and houses for the dispossessed cannot be created overnight. The new nine provinces are struggling to incorporate the bureaucracies of the 10 former black homelands. So far the main results of reforms are in the form of draft or recently approved bills.

''We are moving from a situation of conflict and mistrust -- these are problems holding us up,'' said Housing Minister Sankie Nkondo, expressing a common view. ''The resources are very limited. We need a generation, not just one session of government. What we need to redress is a backlog more than 40 years old.''

During apartheid, township residents protested against the system by non-payment of utility rates, rendering local government virtually ungovernable. Now the ANC-led government is trying to mobilize the same grassroots network to convince them to start paying.

The so-called Masakhane (''Let's Build Together,'' in the local Nguni language) campaign launched on Feb. 24 is vague. But Western diplomats say that if it works it will provide much-needed revenue for the Reconstruction and Development Program, which ambitiously sets out to improve social conditions for the poor over the first five years of majority rule.

''One of the biggest breaks in the RDP has been the crisis in local government -- financial and administrative,'' said Mohammed Valli Moosa, deputy provincial affairs and constitutional development minister. ''The tactics used to combat apartheid are now being used in this campaign.''

About these ads

He said that currently only about 33 percent of blacks were paying utilities, and some 27 billion rand (US$8 billion) were needed to upgrade primitive services in most townships -- no indoor plumbing, no electricity, and no proper sewage and garbage collection.

But the new campaign alone will not solve the problems, as even its organizers admit.

Prisons Minister Sipho Mzimela complained that lack of funds prevented him from building rehabilitation centers to relieve overcrowding and assign only hard-core criminals to jails. Housing Minister Nkondo said only 878 homes of the 1 million planned over the next five years had been built -- due in part to lack of cooperation from the financial and construction industries. Public Service and Administration Minister Zola Skweyiya has had difficulties unifying 11 diverse structures into one central one, and said affirmative action for women was progressing too slowly.

Education Minister Sibusiso Bengu said thousands of illiterate youths were returning to schools, but painted a gloomy scenario of increased workloads for teachers, over-extended school facilities, and a slowdown in building schools. Finance Minister Chris Liebenberg, while describing a growing economy, said a long-expected abolition of the dual-currency system would wait until political stability was assured. Land Affairs Minister Derek Hanekom said some 3,000 claims for restitution of land had still to be addressed.

The most progress had been perhaps in the Defense Department and Parliament, where former foes are for the most part working together. White-uniformed Army commanders and former ANC guerrillas joked at the briefing about the days they were at war. Deputy Defense Minister Ronnie Kasrils said despite some hiccups, integration of former guerrillas into the new defense force was going well.

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.