We should not be abused by a government that harms us.

Issued by Siviwe Gwarube – Chief Whip of the Official Opposition
14 Apr 2024 in News

In the noise of South African politics, there is a lot at stake. While corruption allegations against politicians abound and political party wars rage, half of South Africans live in poverty.

Many battle to afford meals and over a quarter of children under the age of five are stunted due to malnutrition. We must turn our gaze to those suffering, whose pain continues aside from what is topical in our media. With less than 50 days until we cast our votes, those stories matter the most.

I have spent considerable time this year bearing witness to South Africans’ lived realities. Over the past weeks, I have been in KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Limpopo, where rates of hardship are devastating. As a people, we deserve better than failing governance and must restore our collective dignity in the coming elections.

Budget cuts to NPOs in KZN

I visited a homeless shelter in eThekwini, which houses more than 300 people. The municipality owns the facility, but due to underfunding, non-profit organisations (NPOs) have taken over the responsibility. As we continue to see, when government fails, helping hands emerge, but there is only so much that NPOs can do, as they also face budget cuts.

Due to national government’s self-inflicted fiscal crisis, the KwaZulu-Natal provincial government’s budget has been cut by more than R12 billion over the medium term and this has been felt hardest by those who need assistance the most.

Consider that the Child and Family Welfare Society of Pietermaritzburg, with more than 100 years of service and 10 000 beneficiaries each year, is facing a budget cut of more than R600 000 this year.

As its director was quoted, this will “set the organisation back 10 years, as it had only received three increases in the past decade”. The grant to upgrade informal settlements and house the vulnerable in the province has also been cut by R229 million. These painful budget cuts occurred while millionaire public sector wage earners received comfortable increases, which shows our government’s priorities.

The DA’s offer focuses on protecting our vulnerable and lifting people out of poverty. Our rescue plan delivers a comprehensive social safety net that will lift 15 million South Africans out of extreme poverty and into lives of opportunity.

We will lift the child support grant in line with the poverty line from R520 to R760 to protect the most vulnerable from hunger. We will protect the vulnerable from record food inflation through an expanded zero-vat-rated food basket, food hubs and gardens. In South Africa, no one should die from hunger and our government is duty-bound to prevent this.

Mpumalanga: a province of beautiful bodies of water, yet taps are dry.

I commemorated Human Rights Day in Mpumalanga, where I was welcomed by abundant rain. Yet taps were dry in the communities I visited. Some have not seen consistent water supply in years.

Residents of Mbombela must either purchase water or fetch it themselves. It is well known that South Africa is water-scarce, yet it is unacceptable to see full rivers while taps are dry and people are relegated to sharing drinking water with animals.

Mbombela’s water crisis necessitated intervention by the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) which, in February this year, found the municipality to have violated section 27 of the Constitution, the right to water.

Mbombela was ordered to fulfil its constitutional obligations within 90 days of the SAHRC’s findings, yet as the rain fell on Human Rights Day, I saw little turnaround. While commemorating three decades of our democracy, it stung that so many do not experience the human rights guaranteed by our Constitution.

In contrast, the City of Cape Town recently unveiled its 2024/25 budget, which includes a R12.1 billion investment in infrastructure, an investment of R40 billion over the medium-term. This pro-poor investment provides a split screen of what is possible with the right decision-makers in office. We can achieve stability in our councils with good coalition laws that allow municipalities to focus on delivering for residents. We can leave the erosion and gamesmanship behind to deliver excellent services.

Generations of Limpopo residents go without quality services

In Limpopo, the sinking feeling continued. I met the humblest people, yet many have not reaped the fruits of democracy. Similar to Mpumalanga, Limpopo in expanded terms, sits with an unemployment rate north of 45%. This disproportionately impacts young people, those supposedly born free.

Seeing statistics on paper of millions without work is heartbreaking enough, it is more shattering seeing their faces. Sitting in public meetings with residents, I heard story after story of destitution, yet residents still had hope for change.

We are powerfully resilient as South Africans, but we should not be abused by a government that harms us. As I sat with residents in Tzaneen and Phalaborwa, who, among many other concerns, cried about a lack of water, I grew angry, as the funding for a water project meant to be delivered to them years ago was siphoned during the tenure of the former minister of water and sanitation.

Billions of rands and a Special Investigating Unit report later, residents are still without water. We deserve ethical and accountable leadership, where public service is a noble duty and not an avenue for self-gain.

As a society, we continue to deserve better and the onus is also on us to demand it. As the sixth Parliament draws to a close and the political news cycle intensifies for our coming elections, I have more on my mind than just the politics of the day.

Amid all that goes on, the lived realities of South Africans remain. There is great need all around us and these elections for those who need help the most.