Looking on the bright side of South Africa

2007-11-17 00:00

Yes, we are alarmed by the level of crime. Yes, few South Africans have any doubts about the poor quality of the public health services available to our people. And yes, the Department of Home Affairs is in a mess and the minister, incompetence personified, should really resign to make way for a more efficient leader.

But there is also much good news that is affecting and will continue to affect positively the lives of all South Africans.

For instance, Trevor Manuel signed an agreement last month that will see South Africa receive almost R10 billion in development aid from the European Union over the next seven years. The money will be used inter alia by provincial and local governments for poverty alleviation programmes and, in particular, for sorely needed human resource development. This will bring South Africa two major benefits - fewer people living below the poverty datum line and more people in programmes related to skills training.

Moving briefly to statistics, the social allowances paid every month have helped push poverty backwards. Research indicates that about three million South Africans have been lifted out of poverty since 2000, largely because of social grants. The number of people living in poverty has declined from 57% in 1970 to 47% in in 2000 and to 41% now. Surely that is real and steady progress?

In 1996, 2,4 million people received a total of R10 billion in social grants. In 2007, 11,2 million people received R80 billion in social grants. On the education front, in 1996, South Africa had 542 398 university graduates, this year the figure is 1 460 000. In 1996, only 51% of houses had electricity. Today the figure is 80%.

In every area, housing, the availability of clean water and figures of children attending school, are moving steadily upwards. And with education, electricity, water, and believe it or not, with the revolution of the cellphone, today used by 73% of all South Africans, the birth rate is dropping and has reached the almost desirable norm of 2,5 % per annum.

A special issue of Time magazine has named some 50 world heroes promoting the protection of the environment. Some of the most famous names recorded are former United States vice president Al Gore, who is a recent Nobel Prize winner, Mikhail Gorbachev, Prince Charles, Richard Branson, David Attenborough and a South African, the little known Rory Pearson, who founded the company that makes hand-powered radios, lanterns, portable generators and torches - simple products which do not need batteries and do not have to be plugged into a power point. So our country and its people continue to make their mark.

But there is more. The Land Claims Court recently ratified an agreement reached with the government concerning the return to the Richtersveld community of 84 000 hectares of diamond-bearing land on the Namaqualand coast and compensation for gems extracted. The land is now in the hands of its rightful owners and an extraordinary reparation of some R190 million is being paid, which will fund continued mining operations in the area for the benefit of the local inhabitants. More happy people. Justice at last.

Danny Jordaan says that the 2010 Fifa Soccer World Cup has already generated billions of extra revenue for South Africa and has generated thousands of new jobs, in construction, the hospitality industry and the like. Preparations are on track and plenty of opportunities exist to earn revenue on the sale of goods and provision of services which will be needed before, during and after the World Cup, which is expected to attract about 450 000 extra visitors.

After a bumper season for 3 000 whales that have visited our coastline these past four months, most of them are on their way back to the Antarctic. One nine-metre long juvenile whale was caught up with two buoys and ropes from a crayfish trap wrapped around it just outside Kalk Bay harbour. Did you know that there exists an organisation called as the Whale Disentanglement Network? I certainly didn't. But it does. And it was called in. After three hours of frantic, not to mention dangerous, close-up labour from a small boat the whale was freed and it swam off without so much as a thank you.

A happy headline caught my fancy some days ago. It read, “Sunny skies, family values lure Britons”. The number of British citizens immigrating to South Africa has increased by about 50% since 2000. The reasons given are diverse - sunny skies, lifestyle, education, social breakdown in the UK, overcrowding, traffic gridlock, yob behaviour, spiralling living costs and so on.

I do not believe that there are any ethics in emigration and immigration. Families must decide for themselves what is best for them and their children. But it is true that there are few countries that can match what South Africa, with all its warts, has to offer. Opportunities abound.

I wish every new South African a good life and happiness in our country. You chose well.

You may have noticed that I did not even mention that our Springboks are the Rugby World Cup holders. There's no need to boast, is there?

• David Dalling is a former ANC member of Parliament and parliamentary whip. E-mail: ddalling@mweb.co.za

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