South Africa: the going is good, but for whom? Amongst the great historical challenges of our time, none seems as difficult as getting blacks out of poverty. In South Africa, the government is doing its best, however there is a big 'but' hanging over its efforts. Pusch Commey reports from Johannesburg.

Author:Commey, Pusch

South Africa reported a budget surplus of R5bn (US$700m) in February this year. Now the big question is: Who has been feasting on the nation's harvest? "Not us," says some 90% of the country's population. "Not us," says 80% of blacks. "Not us," say other racial groups who point fingers at affirmative action, perceived corruption and droplets of anointed black multimillionaires. "Not us," say the token millionaires, check the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE). So who is, or are?

When reading the budget in late February, Finance Minister Trevor Manuel clearly sounded worried about the future implications of a South Africa where there are massive numbers of the poor and unemployed in the midst of plenty.

The effect on crime has been far reaching, affecting the weak and the mighty. Victims even included the minister in charge of safety and security in the Gauteng province incorporating Johannesburg, Ahmed Cachalia and the Johannesburg area director of public prosecutions, Charin De-Beer, who had a gun pointed at her head in the driveway of her home and was robbed of her wedding ring as well as other valuables.

President Mbeki himself has not been spared as one of his official residences was-broken into. On 8 March, it was the turn of David Bullard, a well-known columnist of the Sunday Times newspaper. He took a shot in the stomach and survived to tell the tale.

In the absence of a more egalitarian non-racial society, the vengeance of the underclass is becoming inevitable. It has not been lost on the government.

Last year, South Africa was in the top three countries in the world that created new dollar millionaires. Conversely, the expanded definition of unemployment figures stood at 39%, with the official figures hovering around 26%. In other economies, this would have passed for a national crisis.

South Africa is second after Brazil in the league of the most unequal countries in the world. Where these inequalities are defined along the poisonous issue of race, it takes on dangerous proportions, especially when seen within a historical context.

South Africa's gross domestic product has been growing steadily since 1994, reaching a record 5.1% increase in 2005. However, half of the country's black population is still defined as living below the international poverty level of one American dollar a day. The proportion of black poor has risen from 50.3% in 1996 to 62.4% in 2002, dipping to 57.2% in 2006.

On the plus side, welfare spending alone...

To continue reading

Request your trial