It is quite something to delve into the Democratic Alliance policy documents and to read an unfiltered account of where the official opposition stands on various issues. One of these is the social safety net programme, or the welfare programme. Unlike some of the social media outbursts from the more tempestuous corners of the party, the official policy is full support [PDF] for the programme.
"Where we govern, our long-term goal will be to ensure that all people can be active participants in a vibrant, growing economy and enjoy the developmental benefits associated with growth. However, the reality is that some vulnerable citizens require immediate social protection provided by a government that is committed to ensuring that they have access to basic services and that they are protected from poverty-induced hunger," the document states.
"In a society where nearly one in four people do not have a job, where 41 percent of the population lives below the poverty line and where 12 million people do not have access to adequate nutrition, there are many who require assistance from a caring government."
This is the reality of South Africa. The programme is a must. One often sees conservatives and other right-wing types sneeringly referring to it as an African National Congress (ANC) vote-getting tactic, but the economic and political reality is that without it, there is no peaceful, democratic South Africa. There are simply too many people who never got the education required to be active participants in the economy — thanks to apartheid — and our taxes have to go towards feeding them. There's no other way. (There is a reason why no political party with serious ambitions to govern the country has attempted to campaign on ending the welfare programme.)
Should the government fail to deliver, even for one month, it will completely break the association between itself and the successes of the democratic dispensation.
In 2013, at the press conference announcing the Goldman Sachs report into South Africa since 1994, the investment bank's local chief Colin Coleman called the welfare programme the ANC's greatest achievement in the democratic era, showing how it had helped move most of the people who were living below the global poverty line above it. It remains true that most black people in South Africa live in poverty, but this programme means that they don't starve.
In fact, more than once, the ANC has nefariously used the welfare programme as a tool on the hustings. As recently as last year, Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa led a crowd in the Western Cape in a sing-along about the money for grants coming from the ruling party. (Not taxpayers, the party.) In 2014, the DA in KwaZulu-Natal was left fuming after an ANC official told voters that to take social grants and then vote for the opposition was a form of theft.
Here's a lens through which to view the Social Development Ministry scandal that may imperil the lives of those who subsist on the 17 million grants come April: to you and I, the democratic South Africa manifests itself through freedoms such as movement, association and expression. This is what underpins our personal and professional lives. How has democratic South Africa changed the lived realities of the poor? The most meaningful way is the social wage net. Should the government fail to deliver, even for one month, it will completely break the association between itself and the successes of the democratic dispensation. These people will not view the ruling party as the deliverer of the fruits of freedom, but rather the impediment to these fruits.
For these 17 million people — who form a healthy chunk of the electorate too — the national election will not come soon enough. Keep in mind too that many of these people live in rural areas, where the opposition parties have failed to make inroads, even as they conquered the metropolitan hubs in the country.
It boggles the mind that President Jacob Zuma, who understands the rural electorate better than most politicians, has allowed Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini to create and foment this crisis. Surely he knows how devastating this will be for his party? Surely?