The Presidential Years

The 1994 ANC Election Manifesto had made specific commitments to what would be done over the next five years to advance socio-economic development: build a million houses; provide running water and flush toilets to over a million families; and to electrify 2,5 million homes. Mandela’s continuous scorecard of progress towards these and other goals served two purposes: to promote public appreciation of the changes; and to focus government’s attention on the goals. Opening Parliament for the last time, Mandela summarised how people’s lives had changed over the five years.

Census '96, whose result was made public last year, has for the first time given South Africa a detailed and comprehensive portrait of itself. And it is against its dimensions that we must measure our progress.

In 1994, some 30% of South Africans lacked access to a safe supply of water near their homes. Today, after 3 million people have benefited from the Government's water supply programme, that has been reduced to 20%,

In 1994, less than 40% of South African households had electricity. Today, after more than 2 million connections, 63% of households are connected to the electricity grid.

In 1994, about a quarter of homes had telephones. Today, after 1,3 million homes have been connected, 35% are linked to the telephone system.

This means, on average, that every day since our democratic elections has meant another 1 300 homes electrified, another 750 telephones installed and another 1 700 people gaining access to clean water. Every day!

With the primary school nutrition programme, reaching over 5 million children, and the benefit of free health care, millions of children are growing healthy and unstunted.

Today, within the framework of our Integrated National Disability Strategy, we have a Government whose concern for the needs of the disabled is unprecedented in the history of South Africa.

This means more than the dry rhyme of statistics. The words of Ms Gladys Nzilane of Evaton, who received keys to her new house last year, ring true from the heart: ‘I hear people on radio and television saying the Government has failed, but I do not believe that. The Government has given us life.’

In this, she was echoing the feelings of millions, including Mama Lenah Ntsweni of Mpumalanga who, a few weeks ago, was the three millionth person to receive safe and accessible water.

Before we lose ourselves in detail, important though it may be, let us come back to the trends.

The critical question is about a machinery which is improving its capacity to meet the needs of South Africans.

Even where we might not have met our targets, this is the question that we need to probe.

Such is the experience in the provision of subsidised housing. With 700 000 houses either built or under construction, we do acknowledge that we shall not reach the target of 1 million that we set ourselves. But, after the initial hiccups of the first two years, we have now developed the capacity to build 15 000 houses every month.

From the jobs summit new initiatives have emerged, in a splendid partnership between business and Government, to start major projects that will put more roofs over the heads of those in want. As this project starts unlocking the problem of limited public resources, so will its beneficiaries multiply - from the supplier of building material to the small building contractor; from the new employees to those who will occupy those dwellings.

The construction of sports facilities reached new levels in 1998 and the establishment of community arts centres exceeded the target. New ways of facilitating land restitution and redistribution are being implemented. The Adult Basic Education and Training Programme has reached more people than was originally planned.

In the area of welfare, after the pain of restructuring, the reach and the efficiency of delivery has improved, and R350 million a year is being saved through better management and by eliminating corruption.543

This scorecard – like his response to the Census results – set achievements against the burden of what was not yet done and alluded without detail to unforeseen problems in a process that had been neither smooth nor continuous.

The five years of social change had been enormous (see the table below) – though less than had been hoped. Change was still greatest where action depended least on the national partnership that Mandela continually sought, greater where it concerned public services to families and households rather than economic advancement and opportunity; greater in alleviation of poverty rather than reduction of inequality.

Change in households’ access to services* 1995 1999
Formal Dwellings 65.80% 69.90%
Access to clean water 78.50% 83.40%
Electricity for lighting 63.50% 69.80%
Telephones (line/cell) in dwelling 29.10% 34.90%