Volume 5, No. 36 9—15 September 2005
During the dying days of the month of August we followed with concern the news that yet another hurricane was approaching the Atlantic coast of the Southern United States. This was Hurricane Katrina which finally devastated the US Gulf Coast on August 29, leaving a catastrophic human tragedy in its wake, especially in the historic city of New Orleans, Louisiana, which one commentator described as being “87 percent black and 30 percent poor”.
Day after day since the defences of the city against destructive floods collapsed, we have followed with deepening despair the suffering visited on the sister people of the United States by Hurricane Katrina. Unfortunately, it is clear that the dismal news will get worse with each passing day. Already it has been reported that the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, has stocked 25 000 body bags, fearing that as the search for missing people continues, thousands of corpses will be found.
Long distances separate us from the states of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama that bore the brunt of the destructive fury of Hurricane Katrina. But as human beings, and given our historic links with the American people, we cannot but share their pain at this moment of a degree of suffering that no human beings should be asked to endure.
At this moment of great tragedy for the American people, we cannot but recall that they helped to prepare some of our greatest liberators for the work they did to establish and lead our movement, the ANC. I refer here to the fact that Pixley ka Izaka Seme, John Langalibalele Dube and Charlotte Maxeke were all educated in the United States.
Neither can we forget the intense and sustained struggle they waged as an important part of the world anti-apartheid movement, which played such a vital role in helping us to achieve our freedom. With great foresight, shortly before our liberation, they helped us to impart skills to people from among the oppressed, to increase our capacity successfully to manage and develop a liberated South Africa.
It is therefore both natural and inevitable that we too should grieve with the American people as they strive to cope with the catastrophe imposed on them by the ferocious Hurricane Katrina. As an expression of that grief, we have conveyed our sincere feelings of sympathy and solidarity to President Bush, the government and people of the United States.
We did this hoping that the knowledge of our sentiment would, at least, help to assuage their pain and strengthen them in their efforts to rebuild the lives of the living, who have lost everything, including their loved ones, their homes and possessions, and their means of livelihood.
The scale of the tragedy was described in a few cryptic words by the on-line “Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia”, which says:
“Hurricane Katrina was one of the most destructive tropical cyclones ever to hit the United States. It caused extensive damage to the coastal regions of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. The storm caused several sections of the levee system in New Orleans, Louisiana to fail, flooding most of the city (most of which lies below sea level) and resulting in widespread damage and many deaths. Current estimates place the death toll place in the thousands, and the damage is expected to surpass Hurricane Andrew as the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. Over a million people are known to have been displaced — a humanitarian crisis on a scale unseen in the U.S. since the Great Depression.”
But perhaps we would understand the tragedy brought about by Hurricane Katrina better, if we see it through the eyes of other US citizens who know through their own experience, what it means to be caught in the jaws of a natural or human machine that knows nothing about the quality of mercy.
The September 8, 2005 edition of a publication of the Native American (Indian) people, “Indian Country Today”, carries an ‘Editors Report’ entitled, “Hurricane Katrina uncovers a tale of two Americas.” Here is what “Indian Country Today” says about the tale of two Americas.
“Almost all of the white folks got out. Many people of colour, it would seem, did not. This is the unavoidable and indelible reality confronting anyone and everyone who watched on television the horrific series of events that has unfolded in the city of New Orleans.
”In the face of an impending and overwhelming catastrophe, as Hurricane Katrina increased to Category 5, then dropped to 4 and set its sights on the Gulf Coast communities of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, evacuation orders went out. Yet, as is now evident, many in Katrina's path did not have the means to evacuate.
”For middle-class and wealthy Americans, months of survival at a relative's house or in a hotel could be covered by a check or charged to a credit card. The purchase of a new home in another area outside the emergency zone is even within reach for some. But then there are those hundreds of thousands who live week to week on pay checks from low-paying jobs and who are reliant on public transportation. Among those families, as in all families, are newborn babies, the sick and the elderly. Suddenly, picking up and leaving doesn't seem so easy.
”America's contradictions are coming into full view in this tearful saga being played out before the country and the world. Among the first is that the limiting and sometimes dangerous condition of poverty remains very much a reality of life for blacks and other people of colour. As America's media have become more corporate and propagandistic in format, style and tone, very little attention has been paid in recent years to the legions of Americans who still live life on the edge of survival, often without adequate income and without even basic health care coverage.
”Indian faces have been equally invisible along with the beleaguered survivors of New Orleans' (African-American) Ninth Ward, until now. As our Brenda Norrell reports in her excellent series on the hurricane, the state-recognized (native) tribes of Louisiana's coast sustained heavy damage and still remain largely out of touch as of this writing.
”Until this crisis made these conditions and these faces unavoidable to the cameras, one would have believed that racial disparity was a thing of the past, that opportunity had indeed levelled out and that the admonitions of the civil rights movement were anachronistic. After all, Michael Jordan made it. So, too, did Will Smith and Condoleezza Rice. See Oprah Winfrey: she made it big in the country that rewards honest, hard work. She bought a $50 million home in Montecito, Calif. and revels in lavish parties with the rich and famous. Few income and racial barriers remain in the wealthiest country on Earth, or so we are often led to believe…
”The mitigation of the disaster after Katrina had stormed through was, in some respects, basic. People needed water, food and transportation out of the disaster zone - immediately. Numerous stories have been told of private Americans making their way to the water's edge to launch small boats in an effort to ferry residents to the New Orleans Superdome or to highways leading out of town.
”Indian tribes have responded, too. The Tunica-Biloxi have sheltered more than 500 evacuees in their Paragon Casino. NIGA and the NCAI have set up relief funds. The Mohegan-owned Connecticut Sun basketball team dedicated the gate from its WNBA playoff home game to hurricane relief. But even these valiant efforts were far too few to handle the volume of the need…
”Hurricane Katrina did even more than ravage entire communities, demolish houses and uproot trees, causing violent death and destruction. It also blew the lid off America's carefully crafted veneer. America's inner cities are heavily populated by people of colour - many who are poor and, as a result, remain particularly vulnerable to both natural and human-made disasters. Much more needs to be rebuilt than the buildings and industries of New Orleans and those other devastated Gulf Coast communities.”
David Brooks echoed this sentiment in his article, “Katrina's Silver Lining”, published in the September 8, 2005 edition of the “New York Times”. He wrote:
“As a colleague of mine says, every crisis is an opportunity. And sure enough, Hurricane Katrina has given us an amazing chance to do something serious about urban poverty.
“That's because Katrina was a natural disaster that interrupted a social disaster. It separated tens of thousands of poor people from the run-down, isolated neighbourhoods in which they were trapped. It disrupted the patterns that have led one generation to follow another into poverty.
“It has created as close to a blank slate as we get in human affairs, and given us a chance to rebuild a city that wasn't working. We need to be realistic about how much we can actually change human behaviour, but it would be a double tragedy if we didn't take advantage of these unique circumstances to do something that could serve as a spur to antipoverty programs nationwide.
“The first rule of the rebuilding effort should be: Nothing Like Before. Most of the ambitious and organized people abandoned the inner-city areas of New Orleans long ago, leaving neighbourhoods where roughly three-quarters of the people were poor.
“In those cultural zones, many people dropped out of high school, so it seemed normal to drop out of high school. Many teenage girls had babies, so it seemed normal to become a teenage mother. It was hard for men to get stable jobs, so it was not abnormal for them to commit crimes and hop from one relationship to another. Many people lacked marketable social skills, so it was hard for young people to learn these skills from parents, neighbours and peers.
“If we just put up new buildings and allow the same people to move back into their old neighbourhoods, then urban New Orleans will become just as rundown and dysfunctional as before…
“We can't win a grandiose war on poverty. But after the tragedy comes the opportunity. This is the post-Katrina moment. Let's not blow it.”
Another commentator, Carlos Barria, writing for the Reuters news agency said: “Ben Wisner, a hazards specialist with the Environmental Studies Programme at Oberlin College, Ohio, says what the United States needs is not higher levees (flood barriers), but another civil rights movement. What are the lessons from the human catastrophe taking place after Hurricane Katrina?
“It wasn’t just the winds and floodwaters that put people at risk along the Gulf of Mexico. The human tragedy in New Orleans and many lesser known communities along the U.S. Gulf Coast has deep roots in a neo-liberal ideology that favours lax regulation and a return to massive investment in petrochemical and other industries with little concern for social and environmental consequences…
“Meanwhile low-income, black families have been mired in poverty by the “downsizing” of the federal state. That has meant less money for education, for small businesses and for decent, low-cost housing...
“Non-governmental organisations, faith communities and activist groups need to mobilise the mass of the population in affected area to see themselves not as victims of nature but victims of a late phase of globalising Capitalism. The affected people will then be in a position to see themselves as agents of their own wellbeing and victims no longer as they demand social change.
“In concrete terms, there is one project that seems to me a priority. Planning for recovery needs to occur in a participatory and inclusive manner. Women, people of colour, people living with disabilities and children and youth need to be part of the process in the post-Katrina situation.”
During the second week of this month, September, 185 Heads of State and Government will gather in New York and celebrate the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the United Nations Organisation. They will also discuss the progress made to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that were adopted in 2000.
Perhaps if these leaders of the nations of the world fully absorb the great lessons communicated by the tragedy in New Orleans, they will take the necessary decisions to ensure that all humanity achieves the MDGs. In this regard, again bearing in mind the painful lessons of the tragedy in New Orleans, they, and us, will have to understand and accept:
Once more we convey our heartfelt sympathy and solidarity to the sister people of the United States, especially the residents of New Orleans. To all of them we reaffirm that because they know what suffering means, our own people share the pain afflicting especially the black, the Native American, and the poor of the United States of America as they strive to overcome the consequences of Hurricane Katrina.
Investing in faster growth
As South Africa's economic performance continues to improve, the ANC-led government is pursuing measures to lift investment and growth to even higher levels, fulfilling its commitment to create work and fight poverty.
Presenting an update on progress in implementing government's programme of action in the economic, investment and employment cluster, Public Enterprises Minister Alec Erwin said this week that targets for the period 2004-2014 included 6-7% growth in the economy, 10% investment growth and export growth of 10%.
In meeting these targets, the country is proceeding from a solid base: "South Africa's economic performance continues to be positive. Business confidence has escalated, and South Africa has had its credit rating upgraded. Continued growth and declining interest rates have spurred strong consumer demand and has boosted foreign investor confidence. Economic policies implemented thus far have provided room for a more expansionary approach."
However, there are substantial challenges that still need to be overcome if the country's high levels of poverty and unemployment are to be effectively tackled. Some of these are inherited from the economic distortions of apartheid; others are the result of global economic factors and changes to the structure of the economy. Factors such as rising international oil prices and shifts within the economy towards capital and skill intensive activities (away from labour-intensive activites) need to be acknowledged and accommodated within our economic development strategy. Other factors -such as the slow pace of investment, skills shortages and insufficient coordination among government actors - can be, and are being, tackled more directly.
One of the ways of stimulating faster growth is to significantly increase the levels of investment in the economy, both by the state and the private sector. State investment is concentrated mainly in the development of infrastructure in areas like energy provision, transport and water. Improvements in such infrastructure will also stimulate private sector investment and activity.
Government is in consultation with Eskom on a new electricity tariff system that facilitates investment. Plans are also being made for independent power producers to invest in the electricity sector to complement investments by Eskom. This is expected to constitute around a third of the new capacity requirements.
In the transport sector, commuter rail infrastructure and rolling stock will be upgraded. An interim passenger rail plan has been produced providing a vision for the direction of passenger rail over the next few decades. This envisages a significant increase in investment. Implementation of water infrastructure projects to the value of R8 billion is currently underway. These projects are expected to benefit the mining and energy sectors, as well as provide water for domestic use.
Government is developing an investment promotion strategy that is expected to be finalised by March next year.
These efforts to increase investment are bolstered by efforts to lower the cost of doing business and improving competition within the economy. A strategy to lower the cost of freight transport has been completed, while important elements of the taxi recapitalisation programme have been finalised by cabinet. Government has also developed strategies for developing sectors of the economy - like tourism and business process outsourcing - that have potential for high growth. It will also provide support to sectors, like the textile and clothing industry, which are facing difficult challenges.
Impacting on the second economy
While it is necessary to continue to develop and grow South Africa's 'first economy', this needs to take place alongside measures to expand the reach of economic activity to those South Africans who are in the 'second economy' -focusing on pushing back the frontiers of poverty and creating linkages between the country's two economies.
One of these measures is the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP), which is drawing economically marginalised people into the world of work through providing access to basic training and information about careers, as well as business opportunities and resources. A mass communication campaign has been undertaken to inform particularly those in the second economy about economic opportunities, including skills development, and how to access available support.
A strategy to develop small business, which draws on the lessons of the last decade, has been finalised and will be submitted to cabinet before the end of September. The rollout of the Small Enterprise Development Agency is continuing, as is the micro enterprise apex fund and the new agricultural credit scheme, MAFISA.
One of the challenges of economic development is not only to redress the imbalances of race, class and gender, but to also achieve a more equitable spread of economic activity. This is particularly important given the gross inequalities of wealth and opportunity between the major urban centres on the one extreme and the former bantustan areas on the other.
To help in this, a comprehensive map of the South African economy is being developed. Statistics SA, the SA Revenue Service and the departments of trade and industry and labour are working together to develop "spatial economic indicators", including an integrated business register.
"The positive turnaround of the South African economy has created a strong platform for accelerated growth in the next decade, with an emphasis on achieving higher levels of productive investment, employment creation, exports, and productivity," Erwin said.
Making government work better
Developing the skills, service culture, structures and systems to ensure government effectively fulfils its developmental role remains the central focus of the work of the governance and administration cluster.
Outlining the progress made in implementing the programme of this cluster, Minister of Public Service and Administration Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi said this week that a key priority was to develop the capacity of the public service and local government to implement the social and economic objectives of government. Achieving a better life for all South Africans requires a strong, capable and efficient public service.
Perhaps the most important element in this effort is to effectively use and develop the human resources of government. This involves improving the flow of skills into the public sector, the strategic development of the skills of the people already in the public service, the retention of scarce skills, and ensuring a more representative public service.
For this reason, a review of the representation of women and disabled persons in the public service has been undertaken. This will soon be submitted to cabinet. Induction programmes have been developed for senior managers and other levels in the public service, while new qualifications in public administration are to be introduced. Other initiatives, like a programme to accelerate the development of middle managers with high potential and a mentorship and coaching programme, are being devised to continually improve the skills and capacities of public servants.
Incentives, such as the payment of 'scarce skills allowances', are being introduced to encourage people with particularly scarce skills to join and remain in the public service. Already some national and provincial departments have applied to provide such allowances.
Effective governance also depends on improving coordination between the different spheres of government - local, provincial and national - and ensuring that, to the extent possible, the entire public service is able to operate in an integrated manner. The work of both local government and public entities are therefore forming part of a 'unified public administration initiative'.
Work is underway to make better use of new technology in streamlining government activities and make government services and information more readily available to the public. The e-Government programme is still being rolled-out, including improvements to the Batho Pele Gateway Portal - a one-stop online resource for anyone wanting to access government services and information. Given the relatively low levels of internet access in South Africa, government is making use of Multi-Purpose Community Centres (MPCCs) and General Service Counters (GSCs) as "intermediaries" to enable a broader section of people to make use of this facility.
Another recent initiative to bring government services and information closer to the people who need them - and who have historically had difficulty accessing them - is the Community Development Worker (CDW) programme. Begun in 2003, the CDW programme aims at "promoting public participation and practical democracy at local level". The programme involves the training and deployment of CDWs throughout the country to bring, among other things, information on services, benefits and economic opportunities to communities.
Since the programme started, over 2,200 CDWs have been recruited. Of these, 1,300 have completed their year-long learnership programme. The plan is to have at least 3,000 CDWs in the immediate future deployed in all municipalities across the country.
Improving the capacity of local government is a major focus of this sector, particularly with the implementation of Project Consolidate to provide targeted assistance to those municipalities that have been struggling with delivery and capacity. Studies have been conducted on the provision of free basic services; an indigent policy is being finalised; technical and financial resources have been mobilised to support local economic development; and hearings have been held with all district and metro municipalities on their Integrated Development Plans.
By the end of June, councils had spent 97% of the 2004/5 Municipal Infrastructure Grant (MIG) allocation and 7% of the 2005/6 allocation. This has resulted in over 200,000 households benefitting from the provision of water infrastructure over this period. A total of 74,000 households have benefitted from the provision of sanitation, 122,000 from the provision of road infrastructure, and 83,000 from the provision of storm water infrastructure over this period.
To track and review government performance across all departments and institutions, cabinet has approved a proposal for a government-wide monitoring and evaluation system that will "collect, collate, analyse, disseminate and apply information on the progress and impact of programmes". It will explicitly promote public participation in governance by providing access to clear, accurate and well-presented updates on progress in government programmes and their impact.
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