The Presidential Years

Dealing with the inherited economic crisis was just one prerequisite to dealing with poverty and exclusion. There were other huge undertakings: transformation of the state (chapter 10); securing stability (Chapter 11); policy development and planning to turn aspirations into reality; and turning the emotion of a new dawn into practical commitments.

By the end of the first Parliament over 500 new laws had been passed 87 of them of a socioeconomic character,534 creating a framework for the transformation of South African society. Constructing the policy and legislative architecture for change got off to a quick start. The first full Cabinet meeting had some twenty policy memoranda on the table - a result of the cabinet secretariat having had the foresight at the first informal cabinet meeting to indicate that memoranda from ministries and departments were the staple raw materials of cabinet meetings. But these were early starts to often protracted processes – some memoranda took up to two years to emerge as White Papers and then needed more time to find operational authority in legislation.

In other words the changes deferred so long by oppression would not come immediately with the achievement of democracy. The first years were of necessity devoted to creating the legislative framework for those changes and changing the character of the state so that it could more effectively implement the changes.

Although opinion research pointed to a predominant understanding amongst the poor that change would take time, the spectre of volatile impatience was never far from the national conversation, and Mandela himself alternated between reminders – over-optimistic it transpired – that time, ‘at least five years’, would be needed to fulfil the manifesto commitments - and a sense of urgency, driven as much by an acute awareness of the extent of deprivation as by a felt need to demonstrate visible change.

In this context priority was given to action to deal with urgent basic needs where little preparation was needed, and where the state could act on its own without depending on others. The programmes which Mandela announced in first address to Parliament in May 1994, to take effect in the next 100 days, focused on ‘major areas of desperate need’ and to some extent built on pre-existing activities. They soon made visible impact and the numbers indicating the progress became a staple of the President’s communication.

Other programmes needed more policy and institutional preparation and so took longer to get under way. In particular the housing programme and land reform had to grapple with obstacles deeply entrenched in the South African state and society at large.

The plundering of indigenous land, exploitation of its mineral wealth and other raw materials, confinement of its people to specific areas, and the restriction of their movement have, with notable exceptions, been the cornerstone of Colonialism throughout the land.

This was the form British Colonialism took in South Africa, so much so, that after the passing of the Land Act of 1913 by the South African government a white minority of barely 15 percent of the country’s population owned about 87 percent of the land, while the black majority – Africans, Coloureds and Indians – occupied less than 13 percent. They were forced to live in squalor and poverty or to see employment on white farms, in the mines and urban areas.

When their Nationalist Party came to power in 1948 Afrikaners acted with unbelievable cruelty and sought to rob blacks even of these meagre rights to land they still possessed.

Communities large and small, who had occupied areas from time immemorial, where their ancestors and beloved ones were buried, were mercilessly uprooted and thrown into the open veld, there to find themselves. And this was done by a white community led by an educated but infamous clergy and his successors who used their skills and religion to commit various atrocities against the black majority which God forbade. Yet they hypocritically claimed that their evil schemes were inspired by God.

Quote Sol Plaatje on The Land Act of 1913

It was against this background that the African National Congress Reconstruction and Development Programme highlighted the importance of land reform by calling for the abolition of the Land Act, and by guaranteeing residential and productive land to the rural and urban poor, labour tenants, farm workers and previously disadvantaged farmers.

By the end of September 1999, 436 land redistribution projects involving 55,507 households had received ministerial approval. These projects involved 1,378,040.4463 hectares of land which totals 1.6 percent of the total rural land in the country.

Legislation also seeks to restore land and provides other remedies to people dispossessed by racially discriminatory laws and practice. By 31 December 1998 a total of 13,931 households had land restored to them involving 264,615 hectares of land. R13 million has been paid to a further 782 households as compensation.

Legislation to protect labour tenants from eviction was passed. It also provided a mechanism to labour tenants to buy land on which they were staying. At the end of September 1999, 349 labour tenant projects involving 434 households and 7,181 hectares have been approved by the Department of Land Affairs.

Another piece of legislation increases the security of tenure of farm workers and protects them from unfair eviction.

Much progress has been made since 1994, notwithstanding certain challenges some of which are matters of common knowledge.535

Housing, like land, mirrored spatially the consequences of South Africa’s history. As with land reform, planning the housing programme and creating the enabling legislation had to undo multiple restrictions and barriers created by apartheid. The ANC election manifesto had made a commitment to build one million houses over the next five years.

Segregation was the bedrock of the apartheid government with overcrowded and poorly policed black townships situated far away from white areas.

The primary object of the democratic government was to introduce a uniform and non-discriminatory national housing policy, and to replace the more than 17 administrations managed by Bantustan, Coloured and Indian officials.

We were faced with the formidable challenge of providing accommodation for the multitude of people who never enjoyed the most elementary privilege of having a shelter, and with a backlog of between two and three million. It was the top priority of the new government to reduce that backlog.

Apart from the new government building houses, we also provided finance to enable emerging building contractors, some of whom are women, to participate in the industry. We also devised a scheme to enable poor people to have loans to extend their houses. Low income earners are provided with alternative finance packages. People had to have houses irrespective of their circumstances.

For some time the pace of delivery was hampered by lack oflack of capacity to implement it across the three levels of government.

Notwithstanding formidable problems such as the existence of slums throughout the country we were able to make progress.

From 1994 up to March 1999 a total of R10,7 billion was spent on housing delivery and we approved subsidies to over 800000 unites providing shelter to three million people.

Through Operation Mayibuye in the Gauteng Province we restored ownership of property to those who left their properties because of unrest.

We launched a pilot project on hostels redevelopment and converted 32 single sex hostels into family homes, while 25 are currently being upgraded.

Our programme has supported the involvement of women in an industry that was hitherto the monopoly of males.

We have also housing subsidies for the disabled and for people in the rural areas.

A pilot project on energy saving houses, concentrating on the low income market, is gaining popularity, and has reduced the incidence of carbon monoxide poisoning among these groups.

The low cost housing delivery has contributed directly and indirectly to economic growth as well as to a marked increase in the Gross Domestic Product.

It is estimated that for every house built one permanent and three temporary jobs are created. Since the beginning of our programme we have created 681203 permanent jobs and two million temporary ones.

Furthermore the housing sector has an influence on the balance of payment through imports used directly in housing construction.

By concentrating on the disabled, pensioners and a wide range of homeless people we have put the poor at the centre of our housing policy delivery agenda.

We are steadily improving the capacity to deliver more houses at the average of 200 000 houses per year. We have also passed legislation bringing security of tenure to labour. Tenants on farms, one of the most oppressed and exploited section of our people.

To sum up, through the various schemes sketched above, we have managed to house three million people in the last five years, approved over a million subsidies, and restored a people’s human dignity by turning single sex hostels into family units.

We have for the first time in the history of our country introduced a non-discriminatory policy which saw the most vulnerable members of our society getting access to affordable homes – widows, pensioners, the unemployed and the disabled.536

The target of one million houses in the first five years, wasn’t achieved, but progress that was made had little precedent elsewhere in the world. Millions of people gained the dignity and comfort of decent shelter. And yet the backlog hardly diminished as the end of apartheid restrictions on the movement of Africans led to massive internal migration and spurred social change which saw families unbundle into smaller units. By 1999 the proportion of households in informal areas had grown from 7.5 per cent to 12.3 per cent.537

Mandela also had a worry about the size of the houses that was an effect of government’s limited resources. He said that they would be a feature of the landscape for a long time to come, and questioned Joe Slovo, the Minister of Housing, whether there was an alternative approach, such as serviced sites on which people could build houses with the help of a subsidy. On seeing the first houses he joked that people’s feet would stick out of the front door.538

Mandela took a special – and personal – interest in aspects of health and education that had the most immediate impact on the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable, in particular children: the school nutrition scheme; access to primary health care for pregnant mothers and children under six; the building and upgrading of clinics and schools both by government and through the partnerships he personally forged with private sector corporations.

Alongside the formal programmes of government directed at these needs, Mandela had his own personal mission, sensitive to the inequalities ravaging South African society. From the time he came out of prison, he sought to get business better to appreciate the conditions of the majority, and to encourage them to undertake targeted social investment initiatives. Reflecting this state of mind – but also stung by the criticism of what senior people such as Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu and ANC Deputy Secretary-General Cheryl Carolus referred to as the ‘gravy-train’ onto which the new politicians had hitched – he had, during his first months in government decided to donate part of his salary - it became one-third - to the cause of promoting children’s rights.

I am consulting with relevant individuals and bodies, for me to set up a Presidential Trust Fund representative of people beyond the ANC and the mass democratic movement, to specifically deal with the problems of street children and detainees. I intend to make a contribution of R150 000 a year to this fund - irrespective of the decision that parliament will make about the salaries of elected representatives. Further details will be announced in due course.

The Fund I have referred to will assist in alleviating these problems. But I do recognise, as all of you do, that a lasting solution lies in comprehensive socio-economic upliftment programmes. At the same time, the youth, especially from disadvantaged communities, need to realise that we cannot rely only on governmental programmes and charity. We also have to take initiatives in our communities to pool our meagre resources for projects such as bursaries and skills upgrading.539

This was to form the basis of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, which became a vehicle not only for helping build partnership with business leaders – in what some muttered amount to an informal tax on corporate profits. What also mattered was that these partnerships did not depend on the machinery of state and could produce results quickly in areas of great need. The results were visible and impressive, although, as he acknowledged, they were no substitute for the mass provision of services by the state.

This personal focus was informed by recognition of the importance of education for the future of the country.

Education had always been dear to my heart. The emancipation of people from poverty and deprivation is most centrally linked to the provision of education of quality.

While the poor and suffering masses of our people bore the weight of our liberation struggle, we acknowledge that we would not have advanced in the manner we did if it was not for the education that so many of our leaders and cadres obtained. We recognised that emancipation from illiteracy and ignorance was an important part of our liberation struggle, and that education was key to that.

It was for that same reason, for example, that one of the first things we set out to do when we were incarcerated on Robben Island prison, was to prepare for the education and further education of ourselves as inmates. Many political prisoners learnt to read and write for the first time on Robben Island. Many obtained degrees and further degrees on the Island. And the informal education through reading and discussion was probably the most significant part of our stay in that prison.

One of the cruellest ways in which the apartheid system hit at our people was through the deliberate undermining of the quality of public education and the destruction of non-state education through, for example, the churches that sought to provide quality education. Today as we seek to reconstruct and develop our country we have to battle that legacy of inferior education deliberately provided to the masses of our people.

Had it not [been] for the missionaries I probably would not have been here today. They are the people who introduced education to blacks in South Africa. And by blacks I mean Africans, coloureds and Indians. They bought the land, built the schools, equipped them, employed teachers who taught us right from primary school to the University of Fort Hare I was at missionary schools. The Presbyterian Church, the Methodist Church, the Anglican Churchand the Catholics. And that is why religion is in our blood because we are the product of missionary education.

We place education and training at the centre of the developmental policies of our democratic government. We realise that without a broad corps of educated, highly skilled and well-trained people we cannot become the winning nation we wish to be in order to provide better lives for all our people.540

Programmes to expand access to primary health care were among the very first to be started, as noted above. The government’s programme of building and upgrading clinics also lent itself to his efforts to persuade the private sector to partner in practical projects with the government. He also used his standing in government’s efforts to change attitudes that hindered health care.

When I was President of South Africa I went round the country together with the then minister of Social Welfare, Geraldine Moleketi. Every city or rural area we went to, we told parents bring the children who are suffering from terminal diseases, like HIV/AIDS, cancer, tuberculosis, malaria. We also want you to bring children who are disabled – either physically or mentally. And the fact that the President of a country is seen sitting at table with children with HIV/AIDS and suffering from terminal diseases, children who are disabled makes the parents less ashamed of their children and parents will say, ‘If the President of a country and the Minister of Welfare can sit at table and enjoy a meal with our children who suffer from terminal diseases, who are disabled, why must we be ashamed of them? We want them to come out and be seen and to enjoy life like ordinary individuals.’541

Altitudes surrounding AIDS proved especially difficult, as Mandela explained to journalists at his last media briefing as President.

Now the question of AIDS of course is a very difficult problem, because we are faced with a conservative community. You will have seen that a lady in KwaZulu-Natal who confessed that she had [sic] HIV-positive was murdered, was stoned to death. And this is not an isolated case. As far back as 1991 I went to Mpumalanga and I called a meeting of parents and I then addressed them on the question of AIDS and I said to them, ‘In our community you don’t talk about sex, no matter what you want to say about it. Sex is taboo.’ And I said, ‘But we are facing this threat which might develop into an epidemic. No single government has got resources to deal with it. It is something that must be dealt with by the government and the community.’ And I say, ‘The time has come for you to teach your children about safe sex; that a person should have one partner, must have contraceptives and so on. I could see as I was addressing them that I was saying something, you know, which was revolting to them. After the meeting they came to me and said, ‘How can you talk like this? How can you talk about this? You want to encourage prostitution amongst our children? You think that there is a parent you see who can actually tell his or her child that you must have safe sex, you must have contraceptives and so on?’ And my explanation was just meaningless.

And I went to Bloemfontein. This time I was warned; now, I had to be careful and I asked the principal of the school that, ‘Look I want to talk about AIDS.’ And she said to me, now this is the principal with a degree, a university degree, she says, ‘Please don’t. If you continue like this you will lose an election.’ And of course I was keen not to lose an election. I had to abandon [it].

So a massive campaign of education is absolutely necessary to convince the public that they must now abandon old traditions and taboos because this is a disease that attacks the economically active section of the population. It can destroy the economy of the country. But it’s not very easy because we are faced with this problem of the conservativism of the community as well as the churches. There are still some churches that feel that we are not handling the matter correctly by talking to parents and children and urging them to have safe sex, who say that nobody should have sex until that person is married. You still have churches with that point of view today.

But nevertheless this is something that is being dealt with. It has to be, there must be a number of initiatives educating the public and, of course, making sure that this drug [AZT] is available, but not at an expensive rate as it still is. It must be affordable and we haven’t got resources to be able to give it free of charge, we just don’t have the resources. And we will acquire and distribute in accordance with our resources.542