ANC Anti-Poverty Initiatives

The African National Congress’s (ANC) rise to power in 1994 saw a monumental increase in efforts to combat poverty and inequality. Their election campaign had been centred around uplifting the welfare of South Africans, with a backdrop of the promises of the Freedom Charter.[1] In practice, the ANC has failed to effectively solve poverty in South Africa, but not for lack of trying. The ANC has employed a myriad of strategies and government plans to attempt to alleviate poverty and drive economic growth. This essay will be outlining the two initial development strategies, RDP and GEAR, and then evaluating them. Fundamentally, this essay will show that RDP failed to have a consistent and concrete vision, while GEAR failed due to a lack of support among government officials.

The Reconstruction and Development Plan (RDP) of 1994 was aimed at alleviating the poverty and inequality caused and exacerbated by Apartheid.[2] The policy set out 12 general policy goals, ranging from quite liberal policies such as trade liberalisation to raising the general welfare of poor South Africans (explicit in point 9).[3] RDP saw the delivery of many public sector services, such as in providing electricity to poor homes and free health care to expectant mothers and small children.[4] Cheru (2001) argues that RDP was a success due to these reasons, only being terminated in 1996 as a result of an unfavourable economic climate.[5] Cronje (2014) argues otherwise. He purports that RDP was terminated and absorbed by the central functions of the state due to an unsustainable rise in expectations and a bureaucracy unable to maintain the system.[6] This shows a twin success and failure of the RDP. While it delivered many services in its two-year tenure, it generated expectations that unfortunately exceeded its capacity to deliver; as a result, it grew too bloated and had to be dissolved. An additional foundational problem with RDP was the multiple contradictory policy goals, many seeming to come from opposite ends of the political spectrum.[7] The point “reducing the budget deficit” for instance, is very hard to maintain with the goal “increasing capital expenditure by government.”[8] As a result of this inconsistency, RDP would not have adequately been capable of enacting any real change, as opposing ideologies and contradictory policies butted heads.

The Growth, Employment and Redistribution strategy (GEAR) replaced RDP in 1996.[9] The aim of the strategy was to use market-led economic growth and re-prioritised government spending to alleviate poverty.[10] Pundits identified public sector employment as unsustainable.[11] Rightly so, as public sector employment does not generate tax revenue, reducing the amount of funding to the state, which is necessary to maintain public sector employment. GEAR aimed at liberalising the economy to raise employment and raise fiscal responsibility. GEAR has been identified by many as neoliberal, and condemned as such, but this is unreasonable. GEAR does fulfil an adequate amount of the criteria to be deemed neoliberal, but that doesn’t make it a priori bad. Cheru argues that GEAR was a failure, due to it missing all its targets and resulting in negative effects on the poor.[12] Cheru identifies water privatisation as an area where neoliberal policies failed, as the poor were left without adequately clean water.[13] But this conflates policy with bad implementation. GEAR had a policy to look after the poor, and in this policy framework, should have implemented water privatisation, to enhance quality through competition, but paid for water distribution in poor areas with public funds. In this way, GEAR’s policy wasn’t the problem, only its implementation. Cheru also condemns an inadequate education system, despite it receiving the lion-share of the budget.[14] This is not the fault of GEAR, however, but of those trying to implement it. Cheru accuses the ANC of sacrificing its values to appeal to Capitalists and the rich.[15] Cronje would disagree. He argues that GEAR was not capable of being implemented properly due to internal resistance against the strategy by almost all officials other than Trevor Manuel.[16] The government didn’t commit to the project, with the Tripartite Alliance actively opposing it along ideological grounds.[17] Opponents of GEAR like to call its policy results into question, but neglect to mention the failure of the state intervention that happened after GEAR was abolished.[18] GEAR may or may not have worked, but it was not given a chance due to ideological dogma.

Not all ANC policies have failed to address poverty. Bundy (2016) identifies the ANC’s social security system as helping to keep people out of destitution.[19] Cronje also argues that the ANC’s welfare system has managed to alleviate large swathes of dire poverty, but is still inadequate to address the requirements for uplifting the majority of the poverty-stricken in South Africa.[20]

The ANC has introduced and abolished many strategies to alleviate poverty. This essay has outlined and evaluated two of the most prominent, RDP and GEAR. While RDP failed due to inconsistent policies and an inadequate bureaucracy, GEAR failed due to internal opposition from the state. GEAR’s other failures, in addition, cannot be blamed on neoliberal policy, but rather incompetent implementation. While both these systems failed, the ANC have introduced a social security system, that while not perfect, has helped to keep many people from abject poverty.

References

  • Bundy, Colin. Poverty in South Africa. Auckland Park: Jacana, 2016.
  • Cheru, Fantu. “Overcoming Apartheid’s Legacy: The Ascendancy of Neoliberalism in South Africa’s Anti-Poverty Strategy.” Third World Quarterly 22, no. 4 (2001): 505-527.
  • Cronje, Frans. Our Next Ten Years. Cape Town: Tafelberg, 2014.

Footnotes

[1] Colin Bundy, Poverty in South Africa (Auckland Park: Jacana, 2016), 112.

[2] Fantu Cheru, “Overcoming Apartheid’s Legacy: The Ascendancy of Neoliberalism in South Africa’s Anti-Poverty Strategy,” Third World Quarterly 22, no 4 (2001): 507.

[3] Frans Cronje, A time traveller’s guide to our next ten years (Cape Town: Tafelberg), 77.

[4] Cheru, “Overcoming Apartheid’s Legacy: The Ascendancy of Neoliberalism in South Africa’s Anti-Poverty Strategy,” 507.

[5] Ibid., 507.

[6] Cronje, A time traveller’s guide to our next ten years, 78.

[7] Ibid., 77.

[8] Ibid., 77.

[9] Cheru, “Overcoming Apartheid’s Legacy: The Ascendancy of Neoliberalism in South Africa’s Anti-Poverty Strategy,” 507.

[10] Ibid., 508.

[11] Ibid., 508.

[12] Ibid., 509.

[13] Ibid., 510.

[14] Ibid., 512.

[15] Ibid., 514.

[16] Cronje, A time traveller’s guide to our next ten years, 80.

[17] Cronje, A time traveller’s guide to our next ten years, 81.

[18] Cronje, A time traveller’s guide to our next ten years, 84.

[19] Bundy, Poverty in South Africa, 111.

[20] Cronje, A time traveller’s guide to our next ten years, 84.