South Africa

South Africa

Budget votes, Day two: The bits you need to know

Archive photo:Parliament budget vote

Tuesday saw the second day of Parliament’s bumper budget vote season, where days are packed with speeches, debates and press briefings about how government departments are spending their days – and our money. REBECCA DAVIS summarises some of the interesting bits from Tuesday’s sessions.

Let’s start with some good news – really. Government’s Expanded Public Works programme – which provides temporary work for South Africa’s unemployed – seems to be bearing fruit. Deputy Public Works Minister Jeremy Cronin pointed out that a recent survey undertaken by Stats SA found that 7/10 of those who participated in the programme had gone on to find employment, with 4/5 of those employed in the formal sector. Cronin candidly described himself as “favourably surprised” by these results. The programme has set a target of providing 6 million work opportunities in five years, and by the end of the first year – in March 2015 – had slightly surpassed the year’s target by creating 1, 24 million.

Jeremy Cronin doesn’t think much of the opposition’s approach to land issues. Cronin described the EFF’s position of expropriation without compensation as “expropriation without comprehension”. He suggested that the EFF believes that land expropriated by government would always affect only white commercial farmers, when in reality it would sometimes include very poor households affected by government plans to widen a road or build a dam. Cronin also criticised the idea that large sums should be paid for expropriated land, however: “The DA must not forget the compensation we pay is taxpayers’ money,” Cronin said. He confirmed that Cabinet hopes to have the Expropriation Bill finalised “sooner rather than later” this year.

#BringBackOurProperty. Last year, the Department of Public Works announced that they were launching “Operation Bring Back”, which should have made people who stole government properties during the transition to democracy very nervous: government wants it back. Now they are re-launching the operation. If you’re secretly living in a state-owned house, possibly in a former homeland, be afraid. To quote Minister Thulas Nxesi: “You can run but you can’t hide.”

The chickens are coming home to roost for (some of) those involved in the Nkandla security upgrades. Minister Nxesi said that disciplinary processes have been instituted against 12 officials for “misconduct” relating to supply chain management in the Nkandla project. One official, who played a “minor role”, has already pleaded guilty and been issued with a final warning, as well as being suspended without pay for a relatively brief period. As for the other 11, the disciplinary procedure has been stalled because of the pesky media, or “you guys”, as Nxesi told journalists pointedly. The media requested access to the disciplinary process, and the high court is still considering the matter. “That’s why we are waiting,” Nxesi said. Three senior officials also look likely to be criminally prosecuted for their role. Since the whole Nkandla fiasco came to light, the department has also tightened “internal controls”. In case it needs spelling out, no mention of Number One.

The government is trying to figure out what to do about its immigration policies. Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba said that they hope to produce a Green Paper on migration by March next year, and have already held four round-table discussions on the matter. Meanwhile, it’s ploughing money into detecting foreign nationals who are here illegally: R118 million is to be spent employing immigration inspectors, and companies employing undocumented foreigners can expect to face harsh penalties.

Home Affairs admits our borders are much too leaky. Gigaba conceded that the management of border controls needs to be “drastically improved”. He said that at crucial points our border line is not supplied with the necessary infrastructure, pointing to areas between South Africa and Mozambique and South Africa and Swaziland as points where people and stolen goods are able to illicitly move in and out. Gigaba – known for being one of the nattiest dressers in Parliament – also described Beit Bridge as “ugly”, and suggested it was ripe for a re-design. He said that the long queues there delay business and foster an environment which enables corruption and the operation of human traffickers.

The Home Affairs Minister thinks the foreigners who left because of xenophobic violence will return. “I think they will be back,” Gigaba said. He said that an estimated 3,700 people had opted for voluntary repatriation – paid for by their embassies, and not by the South African government. If they come back without documents, they shouldn’t expect a warm welcome: Gigaba said they’d be deported back home.

The future is going to be amazing. Listening to Gigaba sketch out what he hopes will be the future for Home Affairs applications felt like being transported to another dimension. Gigaba said that he hopes that by the end of the year you’ll be able to complete all the necessary forms online, pay for your application via electronic transfer, and then make an appointment with a local bank to have your biometric data taken. At the bank, a Home Affairs official will “welcome you” – that bit stretched plausibility – and take your photograph and fingerprints. You’ll receive an SMS thanking you for your application, and you’ll trot off home. Shortly thereafter, you’ll get an SMS informing you that your ID book or passport is ready for collection. Doesn’t that sound dreamy?

Get busy registering your baby’s birth or face suspicion. From the beginning of next year, if you register a child’s birth after more than a month, the baby will “have to undergo a rigorous process to prove that the child really is a South African citizen”. This will not include singing Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika to the child and seeing whether it gurgles along. Tightening this matter up might seem like a small thing, but Gigaba called it “the most important system” that the department is implementing in terms of immigration controls.

South African schools have textbooks this year. Fifty-six million textbooks were delivered to 23,760 schools for this school year. Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said that this amounts to “near universal coverage of 99% nationally”. Sorry if you’re the 1%.

There’s going to be a new type of school-leaving qualification. Motshekga said that the Department of Basic Education is developing an exit-level certificate for people leaving school at NQF 1 (the old Grade 9) for students who might struggle with Matric. This qualification would be based on more vocational subjects.

The Matric pass rate got better when they counted the people who wrote supplementary exams after failing. A total of 90,389 students enrolled to re-write the National Senior Certificate, and once those results have been added to the tally, the national pass rate went up by 1,3% to 77,1%.

They’re continuing to look into making History compulsory. Motshekga’s department seems to have been galvanised by the recent vandalism of statues. “You don’t deface history, whether you like it or not,” she said. “You can’t just wish it away.” She said a task team has been set up to look at the feasibility of making History a compulsory school subject. The team is investigating how other countries deal with the matter. “We don’t want to be over-hasty,” Motshekga said. If the decision is made to go ahead, it won’t come into effect in less than two years because of the need to prepare teachers and the curriculum. The Minister stressed that the brand of history to be taught would be the objective record: “a history of South Africa, not a history of democracy”.

Are you good at star jumps? Your country needs you! This Friday at 8am, in honour of Physical Education Day, the Physical Education Institute of South Africa is attempting to set a new world record for “the most people star jumping simultaneously at multiple venues for two consecutive minutes”. Don’t let them down: “We expect that you will support us in this endeavour,” Minister Motshekga said. DM

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Photo: Minister in the Presidency, Jeff Radebe responsible for the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME) delivering Budget Vote at the National Assembly in Parliament, Cape Town. South Africa. 05/05/2015. Siyabulela Duda

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