South Africa tackles social inequities

South Africa tackles social inequities

Reconstruction and development
Some of the current bitterness stems from the very high hopes generated by the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP). Originally launched in 1994 as the ANC's election programme, it then became the centre of the new government's mandate for reform. As defined by then President Nelson Mandela, the RDP encompassed not only socio-economic programmes designed to redress imbalances in living conditions, but also institutional reform, educational and cultural programmes, employment generation and human resources development. The programme, Mr. Mandela said, would be "an all-encompassing process of transforming society in its totality to ensure a better life for all."
At first, the RDP had a dual aspect. As a policy framework, its priorities influenced the targeting of donor aid and guided the government's normal budgetary process, leading to significant shifts in how government revenues were spent. Less went to the military, for example, and substantially more was allocated to education, health, housing and other social spending.
At the same time, the RDP had its own distinct presence. A special RDP Fund, of several billion rands annually, financed high-profile "presidential projects," such as free medical care for under-six children and pregnant mothers, a school feeding programme, electrification of poor homes and public works projects for unemployed youths. A separate RDP office also was set up, headed by Minister without Portfolio Jay Naidoo (a former Cosatu union leader), to administer the fund and coordinate the different facets of the programme in the various ministries.
In 1996, however, the RDP lost its most visible public face when Mr. Naidoo was reassigned to other ministerial duties. The RDP office was eliminated as a separate entity, with its coordinating functions subsumed into the office of then Deputy President Thabo Mbeki, now president, who remains directly responsible for the RDP programme.
Despite the RDP's lower profile, the programme has continued to register significant progress. Some of its achievements over the past six years, such as the rapid expansion of housing and access to clean water, surpass anything accomplished in such a short period of time elsewhere in Africa -- and even in some European countries (see table, page 14). A recent survey conducted by the National Economic Development and Labour Council, a statutory body that mediates most labour negotiations, found that a majority of those questioned felt their lives had improved due to the RDP.

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