... but it could be a lot better

The government this week released a report that reviews its performance in the past 15 years since the advent of democracy.

The government this week released a report that reviews its performance in the past 15 years since the advent of democracy.

Overall, the report was commended for the scientific and transparent manner in which it deals with the government's success and failure in its drive to improve the lives of all South Africans.

The review's starting point is that post 1994 there has been a need to democratise the state after the fall of apartheid so as to advance the new government's objective of reconstruction and development.

In this regard it paints a picture of a South Africa that has become a well-functioning democracy with institutions that ensure delivery and accountability.

On poverty alleviation and crime fighting, the report says the government has notched some successes. A key finding in this regard is that poverty and crime levels have decreased in the past 15 years.

The review shows that 52,54 percent of the population lived on R332 a month in 1995 [this is taken as the upper level of the poverty datum line]. This was reduced to 20,61 percent in 2005. Those living on less than R174 a month [the lower poverty datum line] decreased from 30,92 percent in 1995 to 71,15 percent in 2005.

"Of social grants, 62 percent of the total went to the poorest 40 percent of households and 82 percent to the poorest 60 percent" says the report.

It also said that the level of reported crimes increased from 1998 and peaked in 2003 - and then began to decrease. But it said that whereas there was an overall decrease in levels of crime, there was an increase in certain types of crime.

"From 1994 to 2007, the murder rate decreased by 42 percent. But the number of robberies increased substantially over that period."

Progress has also been made in combating violent crimes against women and children.

"Conviction rates in dedicated courts increased from 63 percent in 2004-2005 to 70 percent the following years."

While highlighting these successes, the report has also made key findings in challenges the government still faces. Lack of skills and capacity - especially at local government level where the level of vacancy at senior positions is estimated at 22 percent - remains an issue.

Unemployment has decreased from 30 percent in 2003 to 23 percent this year. Despite this and the reported decrease in poverty levels, income inequality persists, especially among Africans. Overall those at the top of the income distribution on average benefitted more than those at the bottom

Those in the low-middle class like teachers and policemen are hard hit by this phenomenon. The violent nature of public service strikes can to a certain extent be ascribed to this phenomenon. This does not augur well for social cohesion. Issues like corruption in the police force can also be ascribed to this phenomenon.

Lack of skills and capacity in government, especially in local government, remains a problem. For example, only a quarter of municipalities received a clean bill from the auditor general when it came to running finances in 2006-2007.

Lack of access to information by the poorest people also remains their blight. This creates a vicious circle wherein because the poor do not have information about opportunities to improve their lot, they remain trapped in poverty.

The government has introduced the ethos of Batho Pele to deal with some of these challenges, but as the report reveals, some public servants are failing to live up to this ideal.

Another major challenge is the poor quality of education. The irony is that the poor need quality education to get out of poverty, but it is in their communities where the worst education is provided.

Another major challenge is how government still follows the old apartheid spatial development patterns - where the poor live far from their places of employment. It is estimated that low-income earners living far from their workplaces spent 40 percent of their income on transport.

The situation is further compounded by the tendency among certain municipalities to chase short-term financial benefits by selling land to individuals at the expense of social development.

A major shortcoming of the report is its failure to delve deeply into how the process of transition has impacted on the ruling ANC and in turn on the government.

Political analyst Somadoda Fikeni agrees that the blurring of the lines between the ANC and government means that whatever happens in the ANC will impact on government

"The fact that an ANC youth can go to a mayor with whom he has political differences and regards to be a member of a particular faction and tell him that he will lose his position has to a large extent paralysed the government," said Fikeni.

The report should have reflected this, he says. It should also have dealt with the issue of patronage and how this impacts on governance and service delivery.

Fikeni correctly points out that the issue of patronage is no more an anecdotal matter which can be dealt with a stock answer like "the government is committed to fighting corruption".

Previous reports by the ANC general secretariat and the presidency have raised concerns about corruption and patronage having eroded the revolutionary spirit of cadres in government, he said.

His other criticism is the scant manner in which the report deals with the issue of rural development and how it can address issues of poverty.

"Currently what the government is telling people is go and wait in the urban squatter areas and you will eventually be housed. No alternative is created whereby the poor can see rural areas as alternative areas for economic self-sustainance."