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23 November 2017 00:18 (South Africa)
Opinionista Helen Zille

DA skews budget away from wealthy suburbs in favour of Khayelitsha residents

  • Helen Zille
    helen-zille-02.jpg
    Helen Zille

    Helen Zille is Premier of the Western Cape. See her Wikipedia profile.

It is true that the DA governs poor black areas differently from wealthy suburbs such as Constantia and Bishopscourt. We pour resources into the former, and virtually ignore the latter.

Being the kind of person who likes to work in a quiet space, I am always amazed at people who can concentrate on a complex task with the TV blaring in the background.

Nevertheless, I often benefit from those who can, like my secretary, Donnae Strydom. Walking through her office to get to mine, I often pick up serendipitous snippets of news on eNCA that turn out to be very useful. There is a term to describe this phenomenon. It is called “incidental learning”.

Rushing through her office this week, I heard a woman’s voice say: “If you look at that 40.5% which is ANC voters giving Helen Zille the thumbs up…..”

That stopped me in my tracks. I looked at the screen and saw Karima Brown, a regular political commentator on eNCA, analysing the results of an opinion poll commissioned by the TV station to gauge the state of the ANC in the run-up to its elective conference in December.

The poll has been analysed province by province, and as I entered Donnae’s office, I just happened to hear Jeremy Maggs discussing one aspect of the Western Cape’s results with Ms Brown.

In this context, it is relevant to recall that Ms Brown is no fan of the DA. During her brief stint as Group Executive Editor of “Independent” newspapers, she made headlines in 2015 when she attended the ANC’s 103rd birthday bash in that party’s regalia. She subsequently defended her display of partisanship.

This made her comment about the poll all the more remarkable. So I resolved to track down the full TV clip to see if I had interpreted her words correctly. Had 40.5% of ANC voters in the Western Cape really giving me the “thumbs up”, as I had heard Ms Brown say?

If it were true, this would be an exceptionally high number, given that this finding referred only to ANC voters. When I watched the full extract I was even more amazed. In fact, no fewer than 54% of ANC voters in the Western Cape thought the DA provincial government was doing a good or reasonable job.

But what was even more dumbfounding was Ms Brown’s explanation of this result:

It tells you a lot about the ANC voters in the Western Cape who hail from the Eastern Cape,” she opined.

If you look at the misrule that you see from the Eastern Cape there, it is a huge improvement to live in the Western Cape. Even though Helen Zille has been much tardier and her party has historically governed poor black areas much different from what they do in let’s say Constantia or Bishopscourt…. and so there is a sense even among ANC voters that delivery under Helen Zille is slightly better and that is quite an indictment on the ANC.”

When I hear this level of “analysis” it reminds me of the perks of being a political commentator, such as making sweeping statements without any evidence to back them up.

It is true we govern poor black areas “much different” from what we do in “let’s say Constantia or Bishopscourt” but not in the way Ms Brown implies. We pour resources into the former, and virtually ignore the latter.

Let’s start with the macro statistics. Health is our biggest budget item, accounting for R20-billion of the past year’s budget, followed by Education at R19.2-billion during the past financial year. Together they make up 70% of the province’s R55-billion budget.

The health budget supports our public health system which is overwhelmingly, and rightly, directed to provide quality health services to the poor. Let’s look at Khayelitsha. I would be prepared to wager that it has the best allocation and distribution of state health services (including oral health, physiotherapy and other ancillary services) of any major township in South Africa. None of the at least 500 000 residents - (most of whom come from the Eastern Cape as Ms Brown correctly notes) lives more than 2km away from a health facility when they are in Khayelitsha. At the start of our term in office, we built a world-class hospital there. In contrast, there is not a single public health facility in Constantia or Bishopscourt, nor in most other upper middle-class suburbs in the province.

More than 90% of our public health spend goes to the poor. Now and again I hear affirming accounts of the quality of our public health service, from middle class and wealthy families too. During the past week, a relieved grandmother (who is a medical doctor) told me that her premature granddaughter, who had developed pneumonia, would probably not have survived had she been anywhere else in the world. Three paediatricians at one of the best private hospitals all agreed that her best chance of survival and recovery was at the public Red Cross Children’s hospital, where she could benefit from the most modern equipment available to ventilate premature babies. This equipment is not available in the private sector. The baby survived and is now thriving. (While the provincial government has a large budget for updating medical equipment, it is also important to acknowledge the sterling efforts of the Red Cross Children’s Hospital Trust, whose fund-raising efforts help maintain the hospital as one of the world’s best.)

When our housekeeper, Grace Voyiya, was diagnosed with cancer, I was advised by a private doctor that she could access more advanced cancer treatment in the public sector.

Turning to education: There are no public schools in Bishopscourt and only two in Constantia – both of which serve children from disadvantaged families. Constantia primary school has offered education to children of farmworkers in the area for decades. There is also the Cape Academy for Mathematics, Science and Technology, with boarding facilities in a prime “green belt” location, serving learners from disadvantaged communities who show an aptitude for maths, science and information technology. So there is state spending on education in Constantia, but it is targeted, almost exclusively, to the poor.

Indeed, only 20% of the province’s 1,500 state-funded public schools are former model C schools and most of these are now entirely integrated. Many serve a significant number of children from disadvantaged families, for which the state pays an additional subsidy to the school. Although we do provide small subsidies to many private schools to support disadvantaged learners, this is minuscule in comparison to our investment in public education.

Internet access has become indispensable to good education. The private sector has long since provided broadband internet access to middle class suburbs because it makes business sense to do so. In order to ensure that children from disadvantaged backgrounds do not fall behind the e-learning curve, we have budgeted R3-billion over the medium term, merely to provide broadband infrastructure, primarily in under-serviced communities. We are spending additional millions training teachers, providing e-infrastructure (such as tablets and whiteboards in schools) and offering e-content to cover the entire curriculum. Initial results have been impressive. The biggest obstacle we face to this programme is crime, which results in infrastructure being vandalised and stolen.

Unfortunately, safety (including the operational control of the police and the entire criminal justice pipeline) falls outside our provincial mandate. We have oversight powers only. We spend millions each year on training and supporting neighbourhood watches to help detect and prevent crime. We also provide private security to many public facilities, and have established oversight mechanisms such as the Police Ombudsman to investigate public complaints around policing. While these initiatives help, all the money spent on them is effectively an unfunded mandate that would not be necessary if we had a functional criminal justice system.

To deal with the causes of crime we have a (limited) mandate in the Department of Social Development which benefits disadvantaged families almost exclusively. We take responsibility for 35,000 children in foster care, 2,000 in secure care, several thousand in child and youth care centres, and subsidise 75,000 disadvantaged children in early childhood education. The province also has many unique offerings (provided nowhere else in the country) include youth cafés (where young people can socialise and get internet access safely in crime-ridden areas); occupational and speech therapy for disadvantaged pre-primary children who need it; school-based drug treatment programmes; outpatient opiate replacement drug therapy, and the funding of post-graduate courses dealing with various aspects of “addiction management” to ensure that well-qualified professionals staff our drug treatment centres.

The department also transfers R1-billion every year to non-governmental organisations to provide community services. Millions more are transferred by other departments to non-governmental organisations operating in poor communities. Few, if any, of these services are offered by the provincial government in middle-class suburbs. In addition, the funds we spend on probationary and diversionary programmes are designed to prevent petty offenders from ending up in jail, where they run the risk of becoming hardened criminals.

Our human settlements department, which last week won the top national award for the best Social Housing Project in South Africa, and the joint overall prize for the top performing housing department in the country, spends its resources exclusively on providing subsidised housing for the poor.

In every department, including Sports, Arts and Culture, funding is directed towards the poorest citizens. We give minimal support to our world-class Philharmonic Orchestra, Cape Town Ballet and Cape Town Opera, while pouring resources into after-school programmes in disadvantaged communities, with a range of enrichment activities, including sport and academic support.

Our Department of Economic Opportunities focuses on creating conditions for investment and job creation, particularly in agriculture and tourism, the two greatest employment sectors for unskilled people. During our term of office, over 200,000 new jobs have been created, primarily in these two sectors, despite three continuous years of drought.

Our Department of Public Works builds and maintains infrastructure (such as schools and hospitals) primarily serving the poor, while Transport looks after provincial roads on which everyone, rich and poor alike, travel each day. And our traffic services seek to keep our roads safe, for everyone.

If I had to produce an exhaustive list of everything the provincial government (and other spheres of government) fund exclusively for people from disadvantaged backgrounds, it would fill a book. But I have made my point. I am grateful that residents in places like Constantia and Bishopscourt (mostly) pay their taxes while continuing to purchase their own services (including education, health and safety) that the state seeks to provide, often free, to others.

We rely on the taxes of wealthier members of society, and of businesses, to enable us to skew the budgets so heavily in favour of the poor. It is the right thing to do. And the 54% of ANC voters in the eNCA poll who gave the provincial government the “thumbs up” perhaps understand our commitment better than many political commentators.

We acknowledge that we still have a long way to go, but we are making solid progress. Every day I remind myself of the words of Michael Barber, an international expert on developing state capacity, who said: “Building a capable state is the great moral imperative of our time.”

He is right. And the health of a democracy presupposes that voters realise this, and use the power of the ballot to achieve it. DM

  • Helen Zille
    helen-zille-02.jpg
    Helen Zille

    Helen Zille is Premier of the Western Cape. See her Wikipedia profile.

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