Sexwale: Recession hurts fight against poverty

South Africa is committed to fighting poverty but is constrained by the recession, and more effective leadership is needed to tackle the problem, Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale said in remarks broadcast on Tuesday.

After spending a night in Diepsloot, one of the country’s grim squatter camps, the former businessman said part of the problem was some local government officials he described as “unscrupulous councillors who are failing people”.

Violent protests in townships last month over inadequate housing, medical care and unemployment have pressured President Jacob Zuma to live up to election promises to help the poor.

But he is constrained by South Africa’s first recession in 17 years, and changing economic policies could worry foreign investors in Africa’s biggest economy.

“It’s also going to be a question of the budgets. And I am afraid the budgets are getting low because of the performance of the economy, which is poor,” Sexwale told Talk Radio 702.

Sexwale left active politics a decade ago and built up a business empire spanning diamonds to banking, becoming one of South Africa’s richest men in the process.

Now, as South Africa’s human settlements minister, he is faced with the daunting task of finding proper housing for millions of poor black South Africans still living in townships or squatter camps 15 years after the end of apartheid.

Zuma, inaugurated in May after the African National Congress’s sweeping election victory, also faces labour unrest.

Last week, tens of thousands of municipal workers ended a five-day strike that saw rubbish pile up on the streets and key services paralysed.

Unions, including those in the critical mining sector that could have caused the most economic damage, reached a wage agreement last week, so Zuma still has breathing space.

Sexwale said inhabitants of Diepsloot, a mass of crude shacks where raw sewage flows in dirt lanes, had a clear message for South African leaders: “We don’t see you, you leave us to the devices of some of the councillors, who are not responsive to what we are doing here.”

“At the end of the day it’s about leadership to close the disconnect that I believe has been existing between the topmost leadership in the country and ordinary people,” said Sexwale.—Reuters

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