- South Africa during the last years has dropped 35 places to 120th on the UN's global Human Development Index (HDI), mostly due to the AIDS pandemic. The main opposition however holds the government responsible for increasing "the gulf between the rich and poor" to levels far higher than during apartheid through failed economic policies.
Each year, the UN's Development Programme (UNDP) published its Human Development Index (HDI), ranking all the world's countries according to life quality of its inhabitants. Major parameters include global access to education and health services, longevity and equal income opportunities.
During the last decade, UNDP reports in the HDI's 2005 edition, Southern Africa is the region that has seen the most negative development. Zimbabwe has dropped 23 places during the last decade, Botswana 21 places and South Africa even 35 places. UNDP mostly attributes this regional setback in human development to the AIDS pandemic, which has caused reversals in health, food security, education and other sectors.
The setback has been dramatic. In Botswana, life expectancy has dropped 20 years since the 1970s. A newborn in Botswana now only can expect to get 36 years old. In neighbouring Zambia, life expectancy now is only 30 years. In South Africa, the situation is better, but the negative development has been strongest here during the last decade.
South Africa, the regional powerhouse, is shocked by the dramatic setback documented by the UN report. For the ruling ANC party, the documentation is especially embarrassing as the time period coincides with its hold on power. The conservative opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) thus is using the negative report to accuse the ANC of failed economic policies.
Helen Zille, the DA spokesperson on Education, today said that the HRI had made it clear that, "under the ANC, the gulf between the rich and poor is greater now than it was under apartheid." As the quality of education, life expectancy and income equality was dropping in South Africa, this was "an incontestable demonstration of the failure of the ANC's delivery programme," Ms Zille said.
"The HDI report makes it clear that the enrichment of a few by means of elite empowerment deals has had no impact on the grinding poverty that is the reality for most South Africans," the opposition spokespersons says. "It exposes the truth that since 1994, the gap between the rich and the poor has continued to grow and the only significant change has been the race of the wealthiest."
The DA and the South African National NGO Coalition (SANGOCO) in particular decry the negative development trend in the education sector. According to SANGOCO, the ANC government has not dedicated enough resources to achieve access to universal primary education. Ms Zille therefore expects that the negative development will continue in years to come.
"Education is the means by which people lift themselves out of poverty," says Ms Zille. "Yet for the overwhelming majority of South Africans, school attendance is nothing but a meaningless formality. When inappropriate policies are implemented and management is poor, and when teachers are uncommitted and unskilled, the end result is that pupils do not get the tools they need to make their lives better."
However, one of the report's authors, Claes Johansson, did not agree to the criticism against the ANC government. "Most of Southern Africa has experienced a decent growth rate, however the impact of HIV/AIDS has affected the life expectancy in the region," Mr Johansson emphasised today. He praised the Pretoria government for its efforts to fight poverty.
He agreed with authorities that South Africa was "well on course to meet" most of the millennium goals to fight poverty, including the introduction of universal primary education. According to the UNDP report, South Africa was making progress in increasing the income level of the poorest through its new social security network.
Ms Zille however maintains that developments in South Africa are disastrous, and that "even though we are not hampered by two of the most crippling development inhibitors – war and oppressive debt." She criticises UN officials for having "attempted to downplay this report."
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