The budget reflects very clearly the government’s commitment to rural development. That is to say it is unprioritised, non-strategic and vague. As in the past, the ruling party’s oft-touted “prioritisation” of rural development is not made meaningful through this budget. There is no budgetary commitment to a programme that would see significant resources flowing to the most desperate areas of the country. While mention is made of “support for emerging farmers and land reform beneficiaries” as a lever of economic change – no figure is put to this, and no detail is given in the body of the Gordhan’s speech.
The almost off-hand manner in which land restitution is mentioned is, for the Border Rural Committee, a very telling indicator of the government’s commitment to land reform. A target for the finalisation of restitution claims is stated, but no budget is given. This is in the context of an eight-year-old negotiation by the people of the Eastern Cape with the government about redress for so-called betterment dispossession. Three successive ministers for rural development have assured the 30 000 rural people living in 900 villages represented by the Vulamasango Singene campaign that the matter would be finalised as a matter of urgency. Where, then, is the budget to cover information dissemination and the administrative infrastructure to accept new restitution claims?
The budget’s emphasis on infrastructure investment makes almost no reference to rural areas – simply that rural roads would be financed through the fiscus, and not via other mechanisms. While clearly necessary, the investment in water systems in the OR Tambo District is very limited in its reach.
The resources that are committed to rural areas in this budget are, as in the past, welfarist in nature. The two public works programmes and the National Rural Youth Services Corp are critical for the survival of many rural people, but they do not amount to any form of long-term investment in the development of rural areas. Social grants and paltry wages for unskilled labour are not a “lever of economic change”. They are simply an attempt to put a lid on a growing problem.
This government is making a grave mistake if it thinks that rural people are fooled by the vagueness of its lip-service to rural development. People are increasingly aware of the deepening divide between the former homelands and the rest of South Africa – not only in terms of state expenditure and development policy, but also in terms of the erosion of basic human rights in these areas, particularly with respect to traditional governance and courts. We seem to be moving backwards.
Border Rural Committee