SA’s poor need a real solution now

SOME of us remember where we were on days when the world changed: June 16 1976, February 11 1990, April 27 1994, January 1 2000, September 11 2001. Perhaps we can now add March 13 2013 and the words habemus papam Fransiscum.

Perhaps Christ chose Peter as his favourite because he was a fisherman and represented the most downtrodden lot in any society — the majority. If it had been Matthew the tax collector, he would have represented the minority — in South Africa, a minority of just 4-million personal taxpayers.

The 48-million who are dependent on someone else include more than 16-million South Africans living on social security and 400,000 join their throng very year. About 11.3-million are children and receive R280 a month — not enough to buy a loaf of bread a day.

Forty-three million are dependent on a public health system that spends R137bn a year — R3,200 per person a year. The other 9-million spend R129bn or R14,300 per person a year.

The allocation of an additional R1bn to the National Health Insurance pilot schemes will make little difference this year. R100bn is needed and there is no prospect of that with South Africa’s current borrowing level of more than 5% of gross domestic product.

All these figures are readily available in the Budget Review documents. But few read them. They say “the 2013-14 budget speech was a non-event” and cross to the other side of the road, hoping that the National Development Plan will deliver the miracle by 2030 without digging up the Karoo.

South Africa is paying lip service to co-operation between the private and public sectors. Clem Sunter is quite right when he says that we should lock the government, labour and the private sector into an economic Codesa. And throw away the key until they find some real solutions.

Meanwhile, the poor just sit.

If the Vatican has found a new Peter who can become Pope Francis Superstar for the poor, that will mean much. The danger is that he will not be allowed to move on from the problems of the past. Next week will be eight years since the death of Pope John Paul II. His successor, Benedict XVI, will not be remembered by the poor for much else than his retirement.

Hamba kahle, Pope Francis.

Originally published in the Sunday Times: Money & Careers Tax Talk column.

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