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The Democratic Alliance is suffering from willful amnesia

6 November 2003

Judging by statements made by Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Tony Leon at the launch of its registration campaign last week, the party is suffering a severe bout of self-inflicted amnesia.

Leon claimed that South Africa is going in the wrong direction. This is not only at odds with reality, but shows an extreme unwillingness to acknowledge where the country has come from.

South Africa faces many challenges today, such as unemployment and low rates of savings, not as a result of the policies of the ANC, but because of what happened in South Africa during the years Leon spent in the all-white parliament.

The economy we inherited was one in which only a third of the population benefited. The levels of consumption and savings of the privileged third were too small to create a wealth basis that could create jobs in the economy.

In fact, the South African economy had been shedding jobs for almost two decades by the time the ANC came into government, and was in an advanced state of near-terminal decline.

The new government inherited a debt of about R254 billion, compunded by an extremely narrow skills base, the result of decades of bantu education, job reservation and an economy preoccupied with the extraction and exportation of raw materials.

The ANC-led government was dealt a particularly bad hand of cards by the apartheid governments that preceded it. And through intelligent policies and determined effort, the ANC has played South Africa back into the global economy.

Through disciplined public spending, improved financial management and efficient tax collection, the ANC has tackled the apartheid debt while committing resources to address the massive backlog of services and infrastructure.

Inflation has been brought under control, interest rates are down, the rand has stabilised and the economy has been able to withstand shocks that have damaged other emerging markets. These measures have also created the fiscal space for the government to significantly increase the level of social spending.

Social spending has significantly shifted resources to the poor. Between 1993 and 1997 social spending increased for the poorest 60 percent of households, improving their lives while having a positive impact on levels of income inequality.

One of the most successful interventions by the ANC-led government has been the expansion of social grants. Between 1994 and 2003 the number of people receiving social grants has increased from 2.6 million to 6.8 million.

About nine million additional people have gained access to safe water between 1995 and 2003. There have been around 3,8 million new electricity grid connections since 1994.

Through the housing and land programmes about R50 billion of assets have been transferred to poor households since 1994. Nearly two million housing subsidies have been approved over this period, with over six million South Africans having received housing as a result.

This effort is not just about numbers but the principle behind the numbers. More and more of our people are experiencing a better quality of life.

Since 1994 there has been a net growth of around 1.5 million jobs. However, the growth in jobs has not been sufficient to meet the large increase in the number of people entering the job market. This is the major challenge the country faces as it enters its second decade of freedom.

In tackling this challenge, the ANC will not opt for populist policies that are bound to fail. It will, as history has shown, adopt policies based on principle, sustainability and respect for human rights. The ANC has proved in the first 10 years of democracy that its policies work.