A monthly column on purpose, passion and power in Jesus.
What a whirlwind few weeks we’ve undergone as a country!
For the first time in a very long while, last week, South Africa seemed united: First in what seemed like an overwhelming majority of the country being ecstatic that former President Jacob Zuma was no longer South Africa’s head of state, and then at what many believed to be a good and solid State of the Nation Address by our new president Cyril Ramaphosa.
While I thought it fantastic that President Ramaphosa addressed the realities of the deep divisions that still plague us and called for unity among all South Africans, I was not as blown away by the rest of his SONA. It sounded very much like what I’d heard plenty times before in previous years.
Country deserved an apology
Call me naïve and completely idealistic but I felt the country deserved an apology for the mess that had taken place under the watch and leadership of the ruling party.
The government, with the ruling party at the helm, is remarkable at praising itself for what it deems great strides and achievements — especially for the poor. However various reports tell us that the reality is quite different.
Just last week, independent fact-checking organisation, Africa Check, reported that: “The percentage of people living in poverty increased in eight provinces between 2011 and 2015.”
In August last year Stats SA published a report titled: Poverty on the rise in South Africa.
The numbers show that government has been losing the battle against poverty. While there may be various factors at play, government itself has played a significant role in being its own obstacle at effectively decreasing poverty in South Africa. This begs the question if government is truly sincere about eradicating poverty?
It is not what we say but what we do that matters.
Every year, including in this week’s Budget Speech, we hear of government’s “commitment” to tackle poverty.
The same government that Auditor-General Kimi Makwetu revealed in November last year to be responsible for an increase in what he described as irregular expenditure of government’s departments and state-owned entities to just over R45-billion in the 2016/17 financial year. That’s according to an enca.com article that went on to state that this irregular expenditure was up a whopping 55% from the previous year.
The Auditor-General is also quoted to have said that the figure of irregular expenditure could be higher as some entities did not submit financial statements.
Yet when this year’s Budget was tabled we heard very little detail regarding how this kind of irregular spending would be curbed.
What we did hear, though, was how, yet again, taxpayers would be called upon to foot the bill for what is arguably the direct result of poor management of state funds.
The irregular expenditure alone, reported by the Auditor-General last year, could fund much of government’s free higher education bill.
While on one hand there are reports that reveal irregular expenditure of government departments and state-owned enterprises — there are far too many instances when there is underspending where it’s needed most.
Here, I think of 5-year-old Michael Komape who drowned in a toilet pit at Mahlodumela Primary School in Chebeng Village, outside Polokwane, on January 20 2014.
What is most infuriating about what happened to Michael was how preventable his death was. No one, especially a child, should ever have to die the shameful death Michael did — especially when people close to the incident tell us how easily avoidable his death was.
According to a News24 report, 10 years before Michael drowned, the Department of Basic Education had been warned about “sinking toilets” at his school.
Media reports further show that there were records of letters sent to the department in 2004, 2008 and 2009 stating the dangerous state of the toilets at the school Michael attended.
Michael’s story received widespread coverage. Within a week of his death the school is reported to have received state-of-the-art toilet facilities.
This could’ve been done years earlier. And Michael would not have died.
At the time of Michael’s death his school was not the only one that required urgent installation of safe toilet facilities.
A 2017 media report cited “at least 404 schools that required urgent intervention because their sanitation was on the verge of collapse”.
Public interest law centre, Section 27, is quoted to have said that at the time of Michael’s death “the department (of Basic Education) had failed to spend more than R90-million, while dozens of schools had no toilets.”
It’s very hard to hear stories like Michael’s, hear statements from organisations like Section 27 who argue that the government could’ve easily prevented Michael’s death, hear Auditor-General reports that speak of massive amounts of irregular spending and then, after all that, truly believe it when government tells us how much it cares for the poor.
Child hunger deaths
Michael is not the only casualty. How is it possible that more than four children die of hunger every single day in South Africa?
In an Africa Check article titled: SA billboard likely understates child ‘hunger’ deaths” the organisation explained why it believed that the number of children who died of hunger in South Africa was grossly underestimated.
Africa Check was referring to figures provided by parliament that stated that four children died of hunger every day in the country.
Africa Check called this death toll “unacceptably high for a middle income country like South Africa”.
A lot of what has happened under the ruling party has been unacceptable.
I was candid on social media about my sentiments about SONA last week and received some criticism for my stance.
I’m all for unity and working together to do all we can to tackle the various challenges we face as a nation- but I will not fall into the trap of praising speeches until I see real and meaningful change.
I will not be moved by mere words until our government becomes synonymous with integrity and true evidence that it cares for the people it swears to serve.
As a nation, our biggest challenge still lies ahead: ensuring we have a system that truly holds our government accountable to the people of this country and not only to political alliance. It has been proven repeatedly that our country cannot afford that.
Our greatest challenges are yet to be overcome — by no means are we even close to where we should be.
Let’s continue to pray for South Africa. I pray we’d all honour our president’s call to work together. But let’s not allow words and repeated yet-to-be-fulfilled promises fool us into thinking all is well. It’s not- at least not yet.