Quality of life

2008-07-19 00:00

No doubt the government would like to put a positive cast on the “quality of life” indicators published this week. It is true that in the past decade large numbers of subsidised houses have been built and many more people have access to water, sanitation and electricity. “Severe” malnutrition among children has dropped, immunisation has spread, more youngsters are in school and adult literacy is increasing. The official unemployment rate is down and so is the number of people officially living in poverty. However, the picture of a nation decently housed, properly nourished and educated, generally healthy and productively employed is far from the truth. The incidence of malaria may be down, for example, but the number of tuberculosis cases has increased rapidly and there can be no more telling indicator than the four-year drop in life expectancy for men, down to just 48 in 2007.

Statistics can always be misleading and there are particular concerns about these. One is the benchmark used to define poverty. R462 a month is pitifully little and, while millions may have been lifted above that figure, they remain desperately poor. The other is the time lag since the surveys were completed in 2007. The past six months have seen huge cost increases in such crucial areas as power, fuel and, above all, food. There have been widespread retrenchments and if the growing numbers of car repossessions tell of a middle class in increasing difficulty, what is happening to the poor? Ominously too, the gap between rich and poor is widening, but within race classifications rather than between them. The bureaucrats may brag, but the situation is dire indeed, and the future looks bleaker still.

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