Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Weekly Newsletter to the Nation
My dear friends and fellow South Africans,
Sky News on Tuesday evening led with the story of the flood of Zimbabwean refugees fleeing over the border into South Africa.
The number of refugees crossing the border has increased from 4,000 a month in 2004, to nearly 20,000 a month now. At the Messina border crossing, the police believe that illegal immigrants are crossing at a rate of 3000 a day (or a night). They manage to intercept less than 200 of them.
The flood of refugees is also having an impact on South Africa's economic and social stability. Economists believe we have shed 3 percent of our annual GDP because of the cost of taking care of the refugees. I, for one, believe we have a moral obligation to assist fleeing Zimbabweans despite the economic costs. Our hearts are with them. The Zimbabwean crisis should not avert our attention from our strategic fight to eradicate poverty at home.
According to the South African Institute of Race Relations, the number of people living on less than US$1 a day increased by 122.6% between 1996 and 2005. Acute poverty peaked in 2002, and has since declined marginally, largely because of social grants and job growth.
In previous newsletters I have argued that poverty cannot be simply addressed by the state-centred approach of classical European social democracy (we don't have the money) or by building a "new black elite" wedded to a neo-liberal policy framework. I have made the case supporting the introduction of a Basic Income Grant, and accelerated economic liberalisation to create the wealth to lift the poor out of poverty.
The third strand I would like to address here is the role of local government and the related philosophical argument whether municipal services are a human right or purely an economic good: the moral dimension.
As a believer in localism, I believe in strong and properly resourced local government to lead the fight against poverty. I fear that at the present time the higher tiers of government are balancing their budgets, but, in a certain sense, it is a false saving because they are simply passing on the financial, health, equity costs and everything else to the lowest tier of government. The result is that the broad social safety nets are being dropped in the name of fiscal responsibility.
As I have said before, where national government is prone to setting up committees and establishing policy units, local government contemplates and delivers action. It is action that makes a material difference to an isolated, troubled or hungry community, not words. Municipalities bring hope to the remotest shack. Local government is closer to the hopes, needs and aspirations of the people. It is also closer to practical solutions. The current relationship between central government, local services and citizens, characterised by a confusion of responsibilities and accountabilities, will have to change if we are to deal with the roots of poverty. Given the obvious limitations imposed by the existing system, we can only instil reform from below.
Our public services are heaving under the weight of neglect, fragmentation and shortage of resources. The government's response has been a plethora of service targets, inspection regimes and national standards. These work best when they are properly focused around clearly defined outcomes. They work least when there are too many of them and when they inhibit the ability of local services to innovate in meeting local needs. We must opt for the latter approach.
In the situation where our local government finds itself today, it is not easy to even determine whether the prevailing "culture of non-payment" for essential services is a cause or a consequence of the system that is grinding on the lowest gear. This is best illustrated by the following statement taken from a recent newspaper article: "Residents are refusing to pay until an effort is made to clean up while authorities are refusing to remove refuse until residents pay".
The "culture of non-payment" is indeed a social phenomenon, the result of the collective resistance of township residents in protest of the appalling municipal services of the apartheid regime. Non-payment was accomplished by the boycotting of rents and services in the townships.
Withholding payment was seen as an effective political weapon. It had the intent of crippling the daily functioning of the local authority in the township as a show of civil defiance. In the South African folklore, the "culture of non-payment" is part of the long history of the struggle against apartheid. This culture still persists today and can be seen, in part, as the state's failure to combat poverty fast enough.
On balance, I believe it is immoral to cut essential services, not least because residents, many of whom are unemployed, often cannot afford to pay for them. The IFP believes, as we did in the struggle, that people who can afford to pay should.
It is for these reasons that it is important that local government is properly resourced befitting its coalface role in the much lauded developmental state. In so doing, residents will want to pay for essential services because of their pride in their community and because they will not want to lose the tangible gains they have made.
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP