/ 18 April 2024

Elections 2024: Interrogate manifestos instead of listening to lofty promises

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South African flag. Getty Images

A new survey released last month suggests that the Democratic Alliance (DA) will win over Western Cape voters in the May elections.

The results from the Social Research Foundation’s Political State of Play in the Western Cape showed the DA at 59%, the ANC at 20%, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) at 6%, and the Freedom Front Plus (FF+) receiving 5% of the vote.

But what makes voters turn out for a specific party? Do they interrogate political parties’ manifestos or stick to lifelong loyalty to a particular party? In releasing their election manifestos, parties set their future agenda, communicate their vision and seek to attract voters in the upcoming elections. 

The DG Murray Trust identified 10 opportunities for change in South Africa. These are directed at breaking the intergenerational poverty and inequality deeply rooted in our country. 

They include food security to address hunger and malnutrition, pathways to youth employment, access to quality early childhood development programmes, and ensuring that learners do not drop out of the schooling system.

Using the four issues, the trust examined the manifestos of the four major political parties in the Western Cape, as identified in the survey, to distinguish between lofty promises and realistic goals. 

Food security

South Africa, as a middle-income country, should be able to feed all its citizens. Yet, the converse is true, as the Pietermaritzburg Economic Justice and Dignity Group’s Household Affordability Index shows. In its March 2024 Index, an estimated 30.4 million (55.5%) South Africans lived below the upper-bound poverty line, set at R1 558 a month. A quarter of South Africans (13.8 million) also live below the Food Poverty Line, set by Statistics South Africa at R760 a month. This is the cost of the minimum nutritional requirement of 2,100 kilocalories per person a day and does not include non-food items.

Furthermore, while the child support grant, with more than 13 million beneficiaries, has been hailed for reducing child hunger, it has yet to keep pace with inflation and, at R530 a month, is below the R760 food poverty line.

So, what do the Western Cape’s top four political parties say about food security?

  • The DA promises to rescue South Africans from poverty and inequality by increasing the child support grant to the food poverty line and expanding the basket of essential food items exempt from VAT.
  • The ANC also wants to increase VAT exemptions, give state support for home gardens, and ensure fair pricing for necessities to combat hunger.
  • The EFF commits to doubling the child support grant, expanding VAT-free staples and providing daily nutritious meals in schools.
  • The FF+ does not directly refer to specific policies or initiatives to close the food gap.

The ANC, as the ruling party since 1994, introduced zero-rated items in 1991 but has, in recent years, refused to include further items despite calls from civil society organisations. As recently as November last year, Deputy Finance Minister David Masondo said an additional VAT zero rating would lead to a decline in revenue that could be used to support the poor.

Youth unemployment

South Africa’s unemployed young people have often been described as a ticking time bomb. Deputy President Paul Mashatile reiterated this last year.

The most damning data lies in the 15 to 24 age category, which comprises 10.2 million of the country’s 62 million citizens. According to Statistics South Africa’s Labour Bulletin, a third of that 10.2 million were not in employment, education or training. In essence, they have given up hope of finding a job in the last quarter of 2023.

  • The DA plans to create more jobs for our youth by introducing a youth employment opportunity certificate to empower young people to give them better chances of finding jobs. The goal is to make it easier for people aged 18 to 35 to move from not having a job to having one by offering flexible employment terms. The certificate will be valid for two years and will be implemented to give unemployed people who have not been employed for 12 months or more the right to exempt themselves from sectoral wage agreements.
  • The ANC has a broad range of strategies to address the 32.1% unemployment rate. The Presidential Youth Employment Intervention and the Presidential Employment Stimulus will continue to address youth unemployment. The party also undertakes to expand and institutionalise the National Youth Service in partnership with the South African National Defence Force and provide work opportunities for unemployed graduates.
  • The EFF promises protected industrial development to create millions of sustainable jobs, including the introduction of the minimum wage(s) to close the wage gap between the rich and the poor, close the apartheid wage gap, and promote rapid career paths for Africans in the workplace. It wants to use legislated state procurement to boost localisation and create sustainable quality jobs, prioritising women and the youth.
  • The FF+ offers little detail to young people apart from the desire to amend rigid labour legislation to promote sustainable job creation.

Early childhood development

Early childhood development (ECD) is one of the most powerful levers to unlock South Africa’s potential and is recognised by the government as a national priority. South Africa’s first nationally representative survey of preschool children in 2022 found that an alarming 57% of children attending an early learning programme (ELP) are not on track for cognitive and physical development. This is an indication that both families and ECD facilities lack adequate resources. 

Early childhood development builds the intellectual, physical and emotional scaffolding for all future investments in human capital and largely determines the rate of return on schooling, technical and vocational training, and university education.

  • The DA’s manifesto does not directly refer to ECD but commits to improving access and quality in the grade R year, ensuring every child is school-ready by grade one.
  • The ANC pledges universal access to quality early childhood development by 2030, but this is not a new undertaking.
  • The EFF manifesto pledges free access to Early childhood development education with a standardised curriculum along with a plan to train 40 000 ECD practitioners to pursue a state-led early childhood education sector in South Africa.
  • The FF+ does not directly reference ECD in their manifesto but pledges to provide more state funding for NGOs focusing on children.

Education: Zero dropout

Each year, as the matric results are released, those who passed celebrate their achievements while government officials laud the successes of the school system. But learners who have disappeared from the system are hardly mentioned, even though there is a direct correlation between those who have dropped out and the high unemployment rate among young people. About one in 10 children (1.2 million) fail their grade each year, and roughly 300,000 learners drop out of school annually, meaning fewer than half our children complete grade 12. 

  • The DA aims to reduce dropout rates by 10% annually by emphasising the need for tailored interventions and curriculum diversification from grade 9.
  • The ANC pledges second chances for matric learners through community and Technical Vocational Education and Training colleges but does not mention a dropout prevention plan.
  • The EFF manifesto proposes compulsory post-secondary education and training by the state and wants parents criminally charged if their children skip school, but again, no help for school dropouts.
  • The FF+ acknowledges the effect of neglecting mother-tongue education on academic performance and the high dropout rate. It wants to give all learners access to mother-tongue education, recognising its crucial role in addressing the dropout problem.

Some might say that the four issues highlighted are less relevant than keeping South Africa’s lights on or that strong economic growth will eradicate unemployment and hunger. But the importance of investing in our children cannot be underestimated. Learners who disappear from the school system will probably face a life of hardship, and young people without hope of a job will present themselves as “the ticking time bomb”, even if it is never their intention.

Phylicia Oppelt is the project lead for Change Ideas, a DG Murray initiative focusing on policy briefs and related content. For more information on the trust’s work on these four issues, visit www.dgmt.co.za