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  • The politics of economic policy-making:substantive uncertainty, political leverage, and human development
  • Adam Habib (bio)

2004 coincides with the tenth anniversary of South Africa's democracy. There have been many assessments of this first ten years of post-apartheid South African democracy. And there will be many more to come. But perhaps the most notable one is the President's annual State of the Nation address, delivered in February at the opening of parliament, which focussed on and served as a self-review of the ANC government's performance. At one level, it was a magnificent speech in particular because the President resisted what would have been a natural inclination to electioneer. Instead, in true statespersonlike behaviour, he delivered a presidential rather than a party leader's speech, which reviewed government's performance over the decade and emphasised the importance of reconciliation and transformation as mechanisms to facilitate nation-building, peace and democracy. Of course the president did put a positive gloss on government's performance. This was not only expected, but was in many cases fair. The issue that raised eyebrows, however, was the President's claim that he did not see the necessity for any policy shifts. The failure of poverty alleviation and development, and the inadequacy of service delivery, was in his view, a result of poor implementation rather than policy failures as such (Mbeki 2004b).

The President is not alone in this view. It is essentially the message of government as a whole and is reflected in both the Presidency's review (Policy Coordination and Advisory Services) of the first decade of South Africa's democracy (PCAS 2003), and the series of presentations of the synthesis report of this review, presented by Joel Netshitsenze to a variety of forums and stakeholders within society.1 The review emphasises the [End Page 90] delivery record of government. It provides empirical evidence demonstrating that 1,985,545 housing subsidies have been approved to a value of R24.22 billion (PCAS 2003:25), new water connections benefit 9 million people (2003: 24), electricity connections had extended to 70 per cent of households by 2001 (2003:25), 1.8 million hectares of land have been redistributed since 1994 (2003:26), and 1,600,633 new jobs have been created (2003:36). The review also maintains that if these social provisions are taken into account, then poverty rates have declined significantly in our society (2003:17-18). However, it also admits that unemployment has gone up in this period, a result of new entrants to the labour market exceeding the number of new jobs created. And it recognises that delivery has been most significant in arenas where the state has retained predominant control. But the overall message is that government has delivered as best as was possible. Its performance was phenomenal given the adverse conditions in the global economy. The tight fiscal reign was part of a far-sighted strategic manoeuvre to stabilise finances so that increased spending on social expenditure could be realised when this had been achieved (2003:31-33). The first ten years, the review maintained, was a good start to transforming South Africa in the interests of all of its citizens.

Is this a fair assessment? The ANC government has without doubt passed a significant amount of legislation - the Labour Relations Act, the Equity legislation - that is progressive and addresses the inequities of South Africa's past. If one couples these with the country's rights-based constitution, one is obliged to conclude that today South Africa is a far better place than it has ever been. But is apartheid an appropriate yardstick by which to judge South Africa's progress? After all was not apartheid described as a crime against humanity? How can it then be described as a reference point for South Africa's democratic transformation? Are not the aspirations of the liberation movement, encapsulated in the Freedom Charter, the Azanian Manifesto, and the Ten Point Program, or the comparative experience of other African countries in their first decade of decolonisation,2 more legitimate reference points to assess South Africa's political and socio-economic progress?

When these programmatic collective aspirations of the liberation movement...


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