Mboweni throws the spotlight onto social grants

2009-09-11 12:01

RESERVE Bank governor Tito Mboweni would like to believe that Black Consciousness icon and activist Steve Biko would have been “gratified” by the fairly contained level of inflation over the past 15 years, knowing the effect high inflation has on the poor.

However, he was doubtful whether Biko, who said the most potent weapon in the hands of the oppressor was the mind of the oppressed, would have approved of the increasing number of welfare grants in the country.

Mboweni was speaking at the 10th annual Steve Biko lecture at the University of Cape Town (UCT) yesterday.

He said while the number of people benefiting from social grants might “look good” to those from the outside looking in, he questioned the “dignity and conscience” of people who relied on the grants without true need.

“Is that the direction we should be going in?” he asked.

He said it was not an “urban legend” that there were people living in townships who said, “I’m better off having a baby and getting a (child-support) grant”.

“The underprivileged must get support, but we must be careful of the trend. The question can be asked: Shouldn’t we be consolidating the grants system?”

The former labour minister, who is set to retire in November and plans to devote his time to the growing of avocados, expressed his disdain for “brazen” strike action particularly by teachers, health workers, students, municipal workers and soldiers. He said it was “unacceptable” that teachers could strike just before exams, and slammed the taxi industry that was “hell-bent on holding the country to ransom whenever they are not having it their way” in response to the Bus Rapid Transit system.

Mboweni scoffed at the claims by members of the industry that taxi routes were their “intellectual property”.

Highlighting the “unprecedented levels” of economic growth over the past 15 years, he said gross domestic product (GDP) per capita rose by more than 28%, from R20 214 in 1994 to R25 897 last year. He said it was perhaps difficult for people living in a country to recognise its strengths, but South Africa was emerging among the best-performing economies of the world.

The problem remained, however, that economic growth was weighed down by insufficient employment creation. Quoting the revised Labour Force Survey, Mboweni said estimates for the absorption rate between March 2001 and March 2007 tended downwards from 45.8% to 44.1%. Even more disheartening, he said, was the number of discouraged job seekers, which grew from 1 725 000 to2 511 000 over the same period.

His grave concern was over the fact that fewer and fewer matriculants were passing maths and science, and this was at the heart of the job problem for black people in particular. He cited ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe who, in an address on September 2, disclosed that actual teaching time in township and rural schools averaged just 3.5 hours a day.

He said while Biko would have been proud of the constitutional dispensation and Bill of Rights, the emerging black middle class and general decline in poverty, he would have frowned upon the failure to address the spread of HIV and Aids, crime, violence against women and children and xenophobia. – West Cape News.

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