When he delivered his Budget Speech on Wednesday, Finance Minister Trevor Manuel said that the Budget had been guided by five "enduring principles", the first of which was "protecting the poor".
Manuel undertook to protect the poor by increasing the value of various social grants, and added R4 billion to the school nutrition programme. Many commentators embraced this as evidence of a "pro-poor Budget". In fact, in order for the Budget to have been genuinely "pro-poor" it should have paid far more attention to creating opportunity.
Even so, the DA welcomed the increased expenditure on social spending, because we believe that poverty should be alleviated through an appropriate social safety net of state grants. But we believe it is increasingly necessary to link welfare payments to personal responsibility. Indeed, recipients of certain categories of grants should be required to demonstrate that they are using them responsibly.
Ideally, social grants should extend opportunities for their recipients. So, for example, the DA contends that recipients of child grants must demonstrate that the grants are being used for the welfare of the child. A parent or guardian who receives such a grant must be required to demonstrate that the child has regular health check-ups and attends school regularly.
In a caring society, the government protects the poor with an appropriate buffer of benefits. That offers some relief against acute poverty but is insufficient to eradicate or even substantially alleviate poverty. The government must go further: it must empower the poor by creating opportunity. And one of the key ways of doing that is through empowering the private sector to drive economic growth, because economic growth is essential to create opportunity.
The Budget should have incentivised the private sector to do this. It should also have focused on ways of bringing unskilled, poorly-educated South Africans into the mainstream economy. Without a skills training component to the expanded public works programme, for example, the government will continue to focus its efforts simply on alleviating poverty rather than enabling people to enter the formal economy.
Minister Manuel and the National Treasury are constrained from taking bold, imaginative steps like these, however, because the ANC shapes economic policy, and the simple truth is that the ANC is not pro-poor.
The ANC does not believe in opportunity: its policies and actions promote a closed, crony society and dependency. That is why the ANC refuses to amend job-crushing labour laws. The ANC doesn't care about making it easier for the unemployed to find jobs. As long as those who already have work are protected, the ANC regards creating opportunities for the unemployed as a secondary consideration. The stark truth is that the ANC's manifesto doesn't contain a single proposal for creating opportunity. Instead, it threatens to "introduce laws to regulate contract work, subcontracting and outsourcing". That will reduce rather than create opportunity.
The ANC's manifesto is not pro-poor: it is pro-poverty and pro-unemployment. COPE's manifesto is a cut-and-paste-job of the ANC's manifesto, so, like the party from which it split, COPE offers no new ideas on how to tackle poverty.
The DA is the only party with a pro-poor agenda. The ANC knows it and COPE knows it. That is why they spend so much time creating smokescreens and diversions to disguise this fact.
Last week, for example, the Labour Minister, Membathisi Mdladlana, claimed that the DA-led government was not spending its budgets or delivering services in informal settlements in Cape Town.
That is a bald and blatant lie. Under the former ANC-administration, there was no budget allocation for upgrading informal settlements. In July 2007, the DA-led administration instituted a dedicated budget for the provision of services (water, electricity and sanitation) to informal settlements.
The City of Cape Town allocated R586 million worth of free services to the poor in the 2008/2009 financial year. The DA-led multiparty government has doubled the ceiling applying to those who qualify for benefits. Under the ANC, those who earned R2300/month or below could apply for assistance; the multiparty government has increased this threshold to R7000/month. As a result, significantly more people now qualify for subsidies.
And we have ramped up delivery. We are working hard to install electricity and water in all the areas that did not receive them when the ANC was in government. We are steadily meeting our targets and outstripping the ANC in the pace of delivery. This year we have already installed 2840 toilets (nearly 400 more than the whole of the previous year), and we have installed 186 water standpipes.
Because of our rollout of water standpipes, and the steady implementation of our successful open, opportunity-driven policies, Cape Town has not been as badly affected as other municipalities by the recent cholera outbreak. 7 cases of cholera have been reported, and these have been linked to human contact, not to drinking water.
But instead of acknowledging this, and focusing on ANC-governed municipalities where cholera is rife, the ANC is abusing the parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Water Affairs and Forestry to focus on Cape Town - the one municipality that is working - for narrow electioneering purposes. It has claimed that our rollout of water flow management devices is somehow "anti-poor", even though these devices have helped people to avoid losing water and money through leaks by allowing them to monitor how much they use.
The ANC tells lies about the DA to divert attention from its failed policies, and its failed service delivery - both of which hit the poor the hardest. It is easier for the ANC to accuse the DA of being a "middle-class party" than to face up to the reality that its own failures make the ANC anti-poor.
Alan Boesak, who is being touted as COPE's Premier candidate for the Western Cape, has jumped on the same bandwagon.
At a rally in Rocklands recently, Boesak falsely claimed that the City of Cape Town was "prioritising affluent areas such as Claremont at the expense of poor areas such as Mitchells Plain when providing recreational facilities".
The statistics tell a different story. Because Claremont has existing recreational facilities, the multiparty government has only needed to spend R324 000 to maintain these facilities during the three years we have been in office. In the same period in Mitchells Plain, by contrast, we have invested R21 million in building and upgrading recreational facilities in underdeveloped areas. Incidentally, we have also spent hundreds of millions of rands on transport interchanges in Mitchells Plain to provide essential services to the poor.
But it is far more convenient for Boesak to spread lies about the DA than to do the hard work of explaining how his own party would help the poor.
When politicians and their parties resort to smears and falsehoods about their opponents, it is because they have run out of ideas. That is what has happened with the ANC and COPE. They have run out of ideas on combating poverty.
On Saturday, the DA will release its manifesto, which is based on a package of carefully costed and mutually reinforcing policies that set out practical steps to attain our vision of an open, opportunity society for all. It seeks not only to alleviate poverty through state grants, but to reduce poverty by expanding opportunity.
Our manifesto set outs exactly how we will do this. We can deliver on the promises in our manifesto, and our track record in government proves that we will. That is something which the ANC and COPE evidently realise, and fear.
This article by Helen Zille first appeared in SA Today, the weekly online letter by the leader of the Democratic Alliance, February 13 2009