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South Africa / Poor - 2002-07-18

Eight years after dismantling apartheid, many South Africans are growing impatient that their black-led government has not been able to meet the needs of the country's poor. There are calls for a more comprehensive welfare system in South Africa to remedy the situation.

It is estimated that more than half of South Africa's 42 million people live on less than two dollars a day. Overall unemployment hovers around 40 percent. According to Patrick Craven, spokesperson for the Congress of South African Trade Unions, known as COSATU, those figures help make a powerful case for a comprehensive social security system to deal with poverty in South Africa.

He says, "The rich in South Africa are among the richest in the world. And yet the poor are among the poorest in the world. Clearly, there is an overwhelming argument for providing a basic income for everybody in this country so that they can at least avoid the virtual starvation and subsistence living which hundreds of thousands of them exist in at the moment."

COSATU, which is at the forefront of the campaign to provide that sort of safety net, is calling on the government to provide at least 10 dollars monthly per poor person. But with an estimated 22 million poor in South Africa, new revenue would be needed to pay for such a program. Mr.Craven is urging a special income tax on the rich.

Mr. Craven says, "We believe that in the long term, it would cost to the country far greater if we don't do something about the levels of poverty than if we do, because poverty lies at the root of many other problems. The high incidence of various diseases, the level of crimes, and general social instability arise in large part from the high level of poverty in this country.

Mbulelo Musi (uum-boo-leh-loh MOO-see) is director of communication for the South African department of Social Development. He says that as a democracy the South African government is not going to impose the cost of any new welfare system on a single group.

He says, "Let me say that even business people have made input on how we can solve some of these challenges. So essentially we will consider all those options in consultation and in consideration of other people's views in such a manner that at the end of the day, the solution that comes is in the best interest of all South Africans."

Mr. Musi says the government realizes that the apartheid era distorted the country's economic development processes through racist policies. He adds the government wants to adopt new approaches and established a committee of inquiry whose report is now in the hands of the public and the country's political leaders

Mr. Musi says, "We are hoping that the findings and final deliberations of cabinet and the executive will be coming out by early next year, and then we can be willing to say what type of options are there and what is feasible and where is South Africa moving to."

Mr. Musi rejects any suggestion that the black-led government of South Africa has not moved quickly enough to address the economic disparities created by the apartheid era.

He says, "What do you mean by long? Eight years of democracy? Other countries took over 200 years to solve their own such system. Some 300 years for that matter. Some have not even yet solved their problems. What are we talking about here? That's a ridiculous statement."

The Social Development Department spokesman says there are four million South Africans who are already benefiting from some form of a social welfare system. He says no other country in the world would have been able to accomplish what South Africa has inn just eight years.

Mr. Musi adds that as South Africa considers how to deal with its welfare and poverty, it wants to make sure it does not create a dependency syndrome. He says whatever system South Africa adopts will embrace self-reliance.