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Citizens urged to debate SA's problems

15 July 2011

Having released its comprehensive diagnostic overview of the country, the National Planning Commission has begun public hearings across the country to get the views of South Africans on how to tackle the challenges raised in the document.

A 10-member delegation, led by the commission's deputy chairman, Cyril Ramaphosa, arrived in East London on Wednesday to brief provincial leaders and civil society on the diagnostic document, which was released to Parliament last month.

The report, which has been the subject of discussion by both politicians and economists since its release, identifies the tough challenges that South Africa needs to overcome to reduce poverty and inequality.

Tough challenges identified

These range from disparities in the education system to poor healthcare facilities and insufficient investment in infrastructure.

Chaired by Planning Minister Trevor Manuel, the 25-member commission was also critical of the South Africa's infrastructure development, saying successful countries invested largely in and were continuously modernising public infrastructure, whereas Africa's biggest economy lagged far behind.

"South Africa has effectively missed a generation of infrastructure modernisation. Public investment in both new and old infrastructure falls far short of what is needed to meet the country's economic and social requirements," says the report.

The country had to expand its infrastructure to assist mining and other traditional activities, while at the same time investing in the facilities for a more labour-absorbing and knowledge-intensive economy.

The document further points out that while South Africa's education system has made strides since 1994, with access to education nearly universal, the challenges were stark. Apart from a small minority of schools, the quality of public education "remains poor", with only one percent of African schools achieving top performance matric results.

Also, the country's poor lived far from jobs, schools and infrastructure a phenomenon which the commission blamed for "reversing" the effects of spatial apartheid, which forced people to live in defined areas according to race.

Challenges 'not unique to Eastern Cape'

The Eastern Cape is the second host province for the series of public engagements the National Planning Commission (NPC) plans to have across the country in the coming months. Ironically, the province has been regarded as one of if not the worst performing when it comes to education and health care.

Recently, the national government had to intervene in the affairs of the Eastern Cape education by placing the department under national administration following years of maladministration and alleged mismanagement of funds.

During the NPC visit on Wednesday, Ramaphosa insisted that while certain problems in the Eastern Cape were getting prominent media coverage, the challenges were not unique to the province.

Despite the diagnosis, the commission remains optimistic the situation can be turned around.

'We need to craft a national vision'

"A diagnostic report means that we have diagnosed the ailment of the patient, and the patient has a number of ailments, but the patient is not terminally ill," Ramaphosa said. "This is just a diagnosis and there are a number of remedies that is why we need active participation of all citizens.

"We are here to consult the broader public on the problems that our country is facing. We want to get South Africans to evolve and craft a national vision that will lead to a strategic plan that will move our country forward.

"Our task was to take a critical overarching objective view of what is happening in our country to come up with a plan that will assist the country address the challenges we are facing."

Ramaphosa spoke largely about the "crumbling" education system and health delivery that was not living up to the expectations of the nation, describing the outcomes at schools as often very poor.

'We will have to make some tough choices'

"The delivery in health doesn't meet the accepted standards, and we are of the view that those challenges can be resolved ... The government is determined to address these problems, but it needs society to do that. In some areas as a country, we will have to make some tough choices."

What the commission wanted to do was to engage the people of South Africa to debate "these elements" that were envisioned for the country.

In addition, the commission hopes that the public hearings over the next three months will allow South Africans to agree on what was wrong in the country and why.

"Our job as commission is to research and come up with concrete proposals that government can look at. We can only recommend what should be done," said Ramaphosa.

NPC report 'an opportunity'

Eastern Cape MEC for Planning and Treasury, Phumulo Masuale, who also heads the province's planning commission, said officials saw the NPC report as "an opportunity for us as a country to discuss problems that are common to all of us.

"We believe that much as we have challenges as a province, as a country there are things that we need to take bold actions to address," Masuale said. "We also think that the country has to explore different avenues to address some of the challenges as we have done in our economic direction."

With East London having recently been declared a metro municipality, authorities agree that the Eastern Cape now with two major metros, the other being Port Elizabeth will have to change the way of doing things if the province is to meet the targets set by the NPC.

"We welcome the report and yes, to some of us it serves as a reminder of the work that needs to be done. It's a very good platform for the metro to plan," said Buffalo City Executive Mayor Zukiswa Ncitha.

She told BuaNews that most of the challenges raised in the NPC report were largely issues with which her municipality was battling.

"The issues of infrastructure, public service delivery, and challenges in education those are the problems that we have but ... we will learn and as we plan, we will need to consider all of those," she said.

Ramaphosa confirmed that the NPC would also be engaging the public on the report through platforms such as the internet and social networking sites, including Facebook and Twitter, in an attempt to get everyone behind the national plan.

Source: BuaNews

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