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General News    H3'ed 2/4/09

Notes from South Africa

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Message Tom Dennen
The upcoming budget.

The only way to avoid plagiarism is to predict what everyone else is going to say before they say it and then say it first so here goes:

Years of fiscal 'restraint'--high interest rates and fairly tight state spending (road repair having been left out for instance, health just on the road to recovery and job creation still a mystery to local politicians)--have left South Africa in an enviable economic position although politically still in a weak one.

Although economic opinion would decry the amount of what are seen to be shaky U.S. Treasury notes (+- US$36bn) in the S.A. Reserve Bank, Mr. Tito Mboweni (number 70 on the African National Congress (ANC) party list) has chosen to keep, indeed add to them, something I believe 'at this moment in global economic time' to be ill-advised.


Mr. Trevor Manuel (number three on the party list), upon taking up his new office after the coming election, will hopefully relieve the country of that burden--although that is possibly just my own bête noire--and concentrate on job creation and the relief of our worst burden, that of poverty.

The Americans are thinking fast and hard on 'recovery' and a look in that direction, aided by the Center for American Progress (CAP), a think tank "dedicated to improving the lives of Americans through ideas and action," might give us an insight into Mr. Manuel's budget, given what is already evident: He knows what he's doing.

CAP is looking at programs which directly provide food and cash benefits for food purchases via government handouts which is seen to be a temporary but necessary measure and not a solution.

Just prior to the beginning of the current recession in December 2007, the US Department of Agriculture found that "36.2 million Americans (just over ten percent),  including 12.4 million children, suffered from 'food insecurity' at some point during the year. This means that a lack of money or other resources either prevented them from having enough food to eat or created some doubt in that regard.

"The years 2007 and 2008 were marked by a combined food price increaseof 9.5 percent, a factor that has made matters worse. Although recent USDA estimates predict a slight reversal of the trend, with an expectation that food prices may decrease 3 to 4 percent in 2009, prices may not return to previous levels, raising concerns about affordability for America's most vulnerable families."

All indications point to the price of food coming down but it is not, which says to me that Wall Street has its oh-so-sticky fingers in food derivatives, is making money fooling with food futures and only when profit-taking has occurred will prices return to 'normal', like the price of oil.

In October 2006 the South African Government formally established a National Food Security and Vulnerability Information Management System (FIVMIS) to study the South African people's social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.

At the World Food Summit of 1996, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) member states--including South Africa--pledged their political will to an effort to eradicate hunger in all countries and to achieve food security which is when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.

We are not alone.

In December last year ANC Deputy Minister Dr. Fatima Hajaig *  said at the SADC Stakeholders Engagement on NEPAD Development Bank of South Africa, Midrand, Gauteng , "it is clear that the success of NEPAD and its impact on the lives of our people rests in our own hands.

"It is only through the "domestication" of NEPAD in our national and regional development plans, and through our collective efforts, that we will be able to translate the vision and objectives of this African-owned process into a prosperous reality."

A prosperous reality means social access across the board, which economically means jobs and the money to buy healthy food.

Politically, it means facing and addressing the Zimbabwe realities, but that's only part of Manuel's brief.

At home, Manuel is faced with one basic reality: Without access to food because of poverty caused by inefficient state concern for social relief, people will tend toward change for the better and that could include serious unrest.

This, added to almost fifteen years of zero change on the bottom rung of South Africa's economic ladder could also echo Mr. Barak Obama's upcoming difficulties in keeping his campaign promises--much like the ANC's before the transition to popular government.

So Manuel's budget must logically address the primary concern of his people--jobs that mean food on the table.

 The people are waiting, sir.

* (Fatima Hajaig has been an ANC Member of Parliament since 1994. Hajaig is currently Chairperson of the portfolio committee on Foreign Affairs as well as subcommittee on International Affairs. She has served as a member of the foreign affairs subcommittee on African Union and Related Matters as well as trade and industry committee since 1994.
Hajaig is a former member of the ANCWL PEC in Gauteng, Vice-President of the Transvaal Indian Congress and member of the Transvaal Indian Youth Congress and UDF.
She possesses a BA Degree from Wits, LLB from Eotvös Lorand University, certificate in Macroeconomics from NIEP and Certificate in SMME Business Incubation from Shanghai.)
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Tom is a contributor to public debate on issues affecting our survival; works with a London and a South African think tank, is a working journalist and author.
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