Special Focus: Inequalities in South Africa

Set up by South Africa’s Constitution, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) must each year monitor and assess what measures government departments have taken to ensure that human rights around housing, health care, food, water, social security, education and the environment as set down in the Bill of Rights, are met. Karl Cloete * takes a closer look at some of the findings in its 4 th Annual Economic and Social Rights report.

Relying on questionnaires completed by national, provincial, metropolitan spheres of government as well as parastatals, the report analyses the state of affairs in various areas of delivery and pits them against the constitutional requirement. In this article only housing, land, health care, food, social security, education, environment and water are covered.

On the right to housing

“Everyone has the right to have access to adequate housing” – Bill of Rights Government at national and provincial level has instituted many policies, programmes and projects to increase the level of investment in the low-income housing sector. However, it points to insufficient capacity at municipal level, under-expenditure and lack of clarity on the roles of traditional leaders in relation to housing in the rural areas as combining to slow down the rate of delivery of housing. In addition low-cost houses have been badly constructed leading to poor ventilation and little resistance to damp. It notes that government has taken steps towards the realisation of the right for all to have access to adequate housing. However the report calls it “regrettable that despite the decision of the constitutional Court in Grootboom* , millions of people are still living in peril”. (The Grootboom judgment ordered government to provide basic building materials, water and sanitation to squatters in the Western Cape ) It also recommends that government should provide a national framework for provinces to provide housing to people living and affected by HIV/AIDS.

On the Right to land;

Whilst strides were registered, the report indicates that in many areas very little has happened. Most of the land (80%) is still owned by white commercial farmers. The state and the previously disadvantaged groups share only 20% with 13 to 14 million rural inhabitants affected by lack of access to land. In terms of restoring land to those that lost it as a result of colonial and apartheid legislation, no major policies were introduced and most of the land claims (80%) were urban based with only 20% resolved in the rural areas. Only 2% of the land has been redistributed – way below the 5 year goal the Department of Land Affairs set itself. The willing-seller, willing-buyer notion has further discouraged buyers as sellers sold land expensively. Very little progress has been made in the disposal of the 669 000 hectares of state land. Today between 13 million and 14 million people are still without land tenure. Under spending of land reform funds shows that of the R327 million targeted for the 2001/2002 financial year, only R162 million was spent by the end of 2001. Nevertheless, the Commission believes that delivery can be sped up by allocating more funds to land reform and better implementation of policies.

On the right to health care

” Everyone has the right to health care services, including reproductive health care; no one may be refused emergency medical treatment, basic health care services for children, adequate medical treatment for detained persons and prisoners.”

The National Department of Health (NDH) has developed various documents to guide delivery of health across all provinces. Such guidelines cover primary health care, a strategy to reduce new HIV infections and the impact of HIV/Aids in individuals, families and communities. However, because the NDH failed to provide the necessary information, the Commission was unable to determine whether there was meaningful progress in achieving the right of access to health care services. It criticised government for not providing anti-retroviral drugs to people living with Aids, and found that there were few or no specific programmes to cater for the needs of the rural population, refugees and asylum seekers, people infected by HIV/Aids and Aids orphans. It concluded that in the public health sector, the goal of equity and implementation of quality and efficient service delivery remains to be realised.

The right to food

“Everyone has the right to have access to sufficient food” – Bill of Rights

On paper, plans are in place to carry out the mandate, but in practice, the Commission found that at provincial level only five provinces, Eastern Cape , Northern Cape , North West Province , Free State and Limpopo had adopted the Special Programme for Food Security. Regarding the root problem of hunger and malnutrition not as a lack of food “but the lack of access to available food mainly due to poverty”, it recommended that all food related programmes and projects across departments must be reviewed to assess whether they afford everyone the right to sufficient food.

Right to Social Security

” Everyone has the right to have access to social security, including, if they are unable to support themselves and their dependants, appropriate social assistance.”

The Commission found that government is gradually advancing the right to social security. However it identified challenges that need to be addressed as soon as possible “as they constitute a denial of the right of access to social security and assistance for many South Africans.” Such challenges are that child offenders are still kept in prisons as awaiting trialists. Despite guidelines to ensure efficient delivery of social grants, corruption and maladministration continue to plague delivery resulting in many beneficiaries waiting on average for two hours at payout points with little water or toilet facilities provided. Only half of the more than 3 million children eligible for social grants receive them.

The Right to Education

“Everyone has the right to a basic education, including adult basic education and to further education, which the State, through reasonable measures, must make progressively available and accessible.”

Education policies and programmes of government are in line with the Bill of Rights.

However, shortfalls in infrastructure are a challenge:

10 723 schools have a shortage of classrooms
13 204 schools are short of textbooks
10 859 schools are without electricity
2 498 schools have inadequate toilet facilities
21 773 school lacks access to library facilities and
17 762 schools lack access to recreational and sporting facilities

The Commission proposes that government departments improve on their financial management skills and avoid unnecessary under-spending to ensure the right to education is fulfilled.

Environmental Rights

“Everyone has the right to an environment that is not harmful to their health or well being and to have the environment protected for the benefit of present and future generations through reasonable legislative and other measures that prevent pollution and ecological degradation; promote conservation and secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources while promoting justifiable economic and social development.” – Bill of Rights

The Commission commends government’s polices around pollution prevention, sustainable coast development and its programme to monitor the environment at levels of government. However it questions the effectiveness of the National Waste Management Strategy due to limited human and financial resources, political commitment and support by all stakeholders. Noting that 18 million people are still without adequate sanitation, it encourages government to continue to implement basic household sanitation to reduce killer diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera and typhoid.

Right to Water

“Everyone has the right to sufficient water.” – Bill of Rights

Commenting on the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry’s programme to provide free basic water (about 6000 litres for each household per month) and sanitation to all households, it remarks that only 43% of the population are enjoying free basic water. Statistics indicate that the most vulnerable groups of our society still do not enjoy access to clean and adequate water. The outbreak of cholera in Eastern Cape and KwaZulu Natal highlighted the fragile infrastructure for safe water supply and sanitary health. It is also concerned about the use of privatisation schemes to provide water. The report captures this concern when it says “it is a violation of the right to water if the State allows people to continue living in terrible and intolerable conditions without access to water as provided under section 27 of the constitution.”

Karl Cloete is Numsa’s regional secretary in the Western Cape

Democracy has bypassed the poor

“Sada is one of the few remaining small-to-medium sized African residential areas still using the hated bucket and unhygienic latrine system. The sight of those removing the buckets during the festive season is rare. In the previous years, the folks were forced to dig holes in their gardens to bury their waste. One of the most important things you cannot afford to forget to buy is Doom and Fastkill. Flies move freely between the open bucket and the houses. The whole area is smelly. The sight of kids with running stomachs being followed by hungry and starving dogs is the order of the day. My own son Aphelele could not escape diarrhoea. Development has not been coming in the direction of Sada. Only recently has a single street been upgraded and tarred. But even this street is so constructed that it is a risk driving there….. There is a belief amongst the folks that Sada was cursed. So they blame this for their neglect under the apartheid system and their total neglect by the Sebe sons and Brigadier Oupa Gqozo. Now they blame the same curseas the reason for them being neglected by the democratic government. How could people be subjected to this humiliation ten years after their freedom?” Cosatu general secretary, Zwelinzima Vavi, reflects on his visit to his home at Sada, in the Eastern Cape in December 2003. This is an extract from an article that appeared in the Sowetan earlier this year.