Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Online Letter
My dear friends and fellow South Africans,
The violent earthquake that devastated Chile and ignited the threat of another deadly tsunami was but one in a series of natural disasters, closely followed by a mudslide in Uganda that claimed the lives of 86 people, displacing hundreds more.
It is little wonder that we felt a sense of relief earlier this month as we celebrated the tenth birthday of Rosita Mabuiango, the little girl who was born in a tree during a deluge of flooding in Mozambique. Rosita symbolises the triumph of life in the face of unthinkable disaster.
But for each Rosita, there are thousands of children, women and men whose lives have been snuffed out in the past decade by floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, mudslides and tornadoes. Worldwide, there is a growing awareness of dangers beyond our control.
As South Africa prepares for the Soccer World Cup, the threat of potential disaster looms large here too and our attention has been focussed on how we would deal with a possible plane crash or terrorist attack. Simulations of foreseeable disasters are informing us of the state of readiness of our emergency services and infrastructure.
God forbid that South Africa should suffer anything untoward during June and July this year. But 2010 has proved an effective catalyst to making Government more aware of the potential for disaster, whether manmade or natural, and of the need to be prepared.
A few years back, the province of KwaZulu Natal was beset by outbreaks of Foot and Mouth and Mad Cow Disease which threatened the agricultural industry and the subsistence farmer alike. The IFP-led provincial government provided an effective response, setting up structures and curtailing the outbreak. Unfortunately these structures have been neglected for years and are now in a poor state of readiness to face similar calamities.
It is a sad fact that many natural disasters could be prevented, but are not, because of government inertia and focus on after-the-fact action. The emphasis needs to be shifted from disaster management to disaster prevention, as the former Premier of KwaZulu Natal Dr LPHM Mtshali began doing when he brought this function directly under his own portfolio.
The intention was to compile a full inventory of potential risks, ranging from foreseeable mudslides to rivers overflowing and flooding. This task has been sorely neglected by the current provincial administration.
National Government has also repeatedly promised to redress and eliminate the most easily controllable, largest recurring South African disaster; which is shack fires. Programmes have been launched, but never implemented.
In the simplest sense, the problem comes down to the fact that national government is not best suited to design or implement policy on managing disasters that happen locally. This is an area of provincial competence and provincial government should be empowered to develop tailor-made policies on disaster management designed to meet the specific geographic, climatic and social circumstances in the varied corners of our country.
In order to have the best of what governance can offer, provinces need to have a critical approach to policies developed nationally, to use what is beneficial while adopting provincial laws where reasonable and necessary grounds exist to differentiate a policy to better suit a province.
The Constitution bestows on provinces the power to develop policy in a variety of fields, including disaster management, consumer protection, health services, agriculture, basic education, public transport and tourism.
There are many more. But these few areas spark the imagination when one considers what could be done at a provincial level to mitigate the problems or inertia at national level.
The IFP has always found it strange that provinces have not taken up this valuable tool offered by the Constitution, rather blindly accepting the policies manufactured at national level and sent down the line to provinces without adapting anything to on-the-ground realities. The analytical and policy-making capacity of provincial government and its legislatures have stagnated, at the cost of giving South Africans a better product, faster, with better results.
We need to accommodate the differences between provinces that necessitate different policies; Gauteng need not worry about Tsunamis, while the Western Cape has little use for trade policies in the sugarcane industry. But provincial policy-making is not only about recognising the differences, but about finding a better way by diversifying the options.
One need only think of how education policies could be tweaked from province to province to realise the potential for healthy competition, which would ultimately enable us to find the best model of education for our country as a whole.
Then there are areas which national policy has simply neglected, that provinces could take the lead in developing. Foremost among these is consumer protection, particularly in light of the added burden the economic recession has placed on South African consumers.
Consumers in South Africa, especially amongst the poorest of the poor, are the most vexed, abused and unprotected among countries in the developed world. We pay outrageously disproportionate banking fees and telephone bills. We pay excessive amounts for basic products. And all without any organ of State questioning how the large monopolies and cartels are abusing the individual consumer.
There are also very limited remedies for consumers when purchasing defective or substandard products or services. The individual is often without hope when dealing with powerful manufactures, distributors and retailers. The IFP has had a long-standing proposal for a Consumer Protection Agency, to come to the rescue of ordinary citizens.
When a sudden calamity claims lives and leaves people destitute, governments instantly recognise the tragedy and express their sympathies. But government is slower to recognise and react to the gradual day-to-day chipping away of dignity, security and quality of life that happens when ordinary people face an extraordinary cost of living, high unemployment, high levels of crime and inadequate delivery of services.
Rosita was born in a tree and the world noticed. How many babies are born into squalor each day, and die for lack of adequate medical attention, for lack of adequate shelter, for lack of adequate nourishment? May the big disasters remind us of all the small tragedies that abound, and may they throw us into action.
Yours in the service of our nation,
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP
President: Inkatha Freedom Party
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