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Program 9908
February 23, 1999


Various South African Laborers

Michiel Bester, Senior Economist, Econometrics

Peter Danjtie, Deputy General Secretary, Metal Trades Union

Jennie Cargill, Owner, Business Map

Anzil Adams, Coordinator, New Beginnings Co-op

Peter Jacobs, Leader, New Beginnings Co-op

Vusi Nhalpu, President, National Hospital Workers Union

Cynnthia Alvillar, Spokesperson, Labor Ministry, South Africa

Esther Hlongwane, Communication Officer, Chris Hani Baragwanav Hospital

Dr. Karen Silwa, Heart Specialist, Chris Hani Baragwanav Hospital

Popo Maja, Spokesperson, Provincial Ministry of Health, South Africa

This text has been professionally transcribed. However, for timely distribution, it has not been edited or proofread against the tape.

JOSEPH PEPU: And I think the government have to look at the policies. Unemployment is the key in this country, and it needs to be addressed with immediate effect. A government who cannot be able to support its own nation, it is not a government at all.

JEFF MARTIN: South Africa holds elections later this year and while there is no serious threat to the rule of the African National Congress, there is unrest among the electorate. South Africa has high unemployment and a tremendous demand for social services, including the need to restructure the delivery of health care.

POPO MAJA: We still have a problem in educating the masses of the people. Because people still believe that the best treatment, you can only find it at hospital.

MARTIN: Two reports on South Africa, in this edition of Common Ground. Common Ground is a program on world affairs and the people who shape events. It is produced by the Stanley Foundation. I’m Jeff Martin..

Just four years ago the African National Congress won the election in South Africa and Nelson Mandela was elected President. The country’s black majority had high hopes for political democracy and improving the economy. But the unemployment rate is 29% today and political frustrations are growing. As special correspondent Reese Ehrlich reports from Johannesburg and Cape Town, the ANC is still wrestling with the economic legacy of Apartheid and problems of its own making.

[sound of people talking on a street corner]

REESE EHRLICH: On a busy street corner near a dilapidated black township African workers wait for whites driving new cars to come by and offer work. These day laborers hope to find work as gardeners, carpenters, or construction helpers. This South African man named Canfus hasn’t worked in two years and he’s becoming desperate.

CANFUS: I’m not working right now. Is there, is the more I’m thinking, maybe to steal something and then get something to eat, you see.

EHRLICH: Whose fault is it that there’s so much unemployment?

CANFUS: Government.

EHRLICH: Did you expect more from the ANC when they came to power?


EHRLICH: Tingan is another day laborer, a steel worker who’s been unemployed for 18 months. He has a different opinion about the government of the African National Congress, or ANC.

TINGAN: Now ?? ?? a little. All these victories?? are not?? functioning well.

EHRLICH: What do you think of the government of the ANC in general, right now?

TINGAN: I think it’s now better. It’s not as such as it was before.

EHRLICH: These pro- and anti-government sentiments reflect the divergent opinions held by black workers here in South Africa. The official unemployment rate is 29%, but some analysts say it’s closer to 40%. Unemployment is a major source of discontent and potential instability for the ANC. The unemployment rate is so high in part because the government is under tremendous pressure from the US and international financial institutions. They want South Africa to lower budget deficits, pay off the huge loans racked up during the apartheid years and lower tariffs. Those policies make South Africa more acceptable to Western powers but they also cause tremendous problems for ordinary people.

[sound of industrial machinery]

EHRLICH: The problems become evident here at Ainsworth Engineering, here in Johannesburg, a company that makes industrial values. Union shop steward Joseph Pepu offers a quick tour of the factory.

PEPU: [with sounds of industrial machinery in the background] This is a drill-and-tap machine. This guy, what it do, he have to drill this body and after drilling this body he has to tap it again. So they are working as a team. That one, he is drilling. And this one is tapping. So this is the machine, this is the drilling machine, you can hear this now.

EHRLICH: The tapping puts the threads in for the screws?

PEPU: [with sounds of industrial machinery in the background] Yes. Put the threads in for the screws.

EHRLICH: Walking into his sparsely appointed office, Pepu explains that since 1994 his company has retrenched—or laid off—an incredible 68% of the workforce.

PEPU: The new trend now with the South African companies, especially local companies, is that job freeze. If somebody dismisses or dies they don’t employ anyone. So that becomes retrenchment on its own.

EHRLICH: In 1994 the steel industry as a whole employed 555,000 workers. Today it has only 200,000. Pepu says the massive layoffs came about as a result of economic policies dictated to South African by Western powers. The old apartheid government had run up billions of dollars in debt to pay for military spending. Today the multi-racial ANC government must spend 20% of its budget to pay off that debt. So there’s much less money to be spent on much needed infrastructure or social services. Pepu complains that the IMF also calls for privatization of state-owned companies, a process that inevitably means layoffs.

PEPU: Then the government have to, have to go back to its drawing board and change those policies. Because I don’t think IMF policies, conservative policies, are informed of the local situation, you understand. Because I think IMF policy, which became to say that you have to be, fiscal discipline, you must not, the government must not be, must not be, there’s nothing which puts government to be in business. Government must be, business must be liberated and liberal, you know, out of government. And I don’t think that’s the way. Government have to put policies which begin to say, that how business have to run in that particular country.

EHRLICH: The South African business community strongly disagrees. Michiel Bester is a Senior Economist at the business consulting firm Econometrics.

MICHIEL BESTER: In a globalizing world—and we have no choice but to globalize because we are a very open economy, our exports and imports if you total them make up about 60% of our GDP, so if we want to grow we’ve got to embrace the process of globalization. And we’ve got to face up to the harsh realities.

EHRLICH: Bester acknowledges that the IMF policies caused higher unemployment and other problems in the short-run.

BESTER: It’s a trade-off between the short- and the long-term benefits, unfortunately.

EHRLICH: The government is taking some steps to alleviate the unemployment problem. Trade unions, private businesses and the government have agreed to begin large scale worker retraining programs. Peter Danjtie is Deputy General Secretary of the Metal Trades Union, which represents steelworkers.

PETER DANJTIE: One major problem in South Africa is lack of skills. The training that is given currently by the employers is confined to production within their own plants, which is a problem. What we proposing to the employers is one, retraining and training of workers so that they can be deployed within the economy, not only in their own sectors, but they should be skilled and have mobile, so there can be mobility in terms of employment. That is the first thing that we are trying to look at. But then secondly is re-deployment within the same industry, where possible. But thirdly, to have a pool of people who can be retrained.

EHRLICH: But as in the US, job retraining won’t work unless the re-educated workers can actually find jobs. Jennie Cargill, who owns the consulting firm Business Map, says job retraining can be a cruel hoax.

JENNIE CARGILL: Somebody has been laid off, they’ve got very little education, they’ve been unskilled, they get some quick training on something, everybody feels good. And then they’re dumped on the labor market and they won’t get another job.

EHRLICH: She and others from the business community argue that jobs will only be created with investment in the private sector.

CARGILL: I think we’ve got to get massive investment. I mean, I think, and an investment of a particular kind. And that’s not easy to get. I mean tourism is obviously a logical sector to focus upon. So I think they’ve got to really address the investment environment further. I think it’s not fully addressed. They’re looking at tourism because that seemed to have a potential, potentially high growth rate for jobs. It’s internationally proven.

EHRLICH: The South African government and the private sector have agreed to put up $10 million each in order to promote tourism. South Africa is a beautiful country full of game parks and scenic vistas. Tourism does indeed offer the potential to create a lot of service sector jobs. To some extent the wine country near Cape Town is already doing just that.

[sound of music in the background]

[sound of people opening and drinking wine]

EHRLICH: One of the country’s most interesting experiments at job creation and black empowerment is taking place here at the Nelson Creek Estates near Cape Town. The white winery owner, Alan Nelson, gave 25 acres of prime grape growing land to his black farm workers. Using money from a government-subsidized land reform program, the workers formed a cooperative that produces New Beginnings wine. Anzil Adams is coordinator for the Co-op.

ANZIL ADAMS: You have an example here of expertise, a farmer and his wine maker coming together with a community, and government, to try and alleviate some plights of the people. You have here a very interesting combination of government level, business level, and community level to try and jointly and holistically, solve some problems, socioeconomic problems. The project has been quite successful from a marketing point of view because it’s a hugely marketable concept. There is a demand for the wines, right across the spectrum, both in South African and overseas. That at least will secure cash flow, the income of sales and monies from sales of the wines. Now we need to sustain it from the beneficiaries point of view. There involvement.

[sound of a running truck]

EHRLICH: Adams climbs into a bedraggled pickup truck and drives on a rutted dirt road out to the Co-op’s land. There, spread out alongside the grape arbors, is a row of aging one-room houses where the workers live.

[sound of a child crying]

EHRLICH: Co-op leader Pete Jacobs says the project has given the workers hope. And been a financial success. He, like many rural black South Africans, speaks Afrikaans.

PETE JACOBS [via a translator]: I am very proud because I now have access to my own land. We’re mostly investing the profits in education, such as a child care center for our children. We’re providing burial insurance and life insurance for the first time. Most importantly, we’re buying land so we can build our own houses.

EHRLICH: The Co-op currently includes a total of sixty-two people. Jacobs hopes that the success here can help other South African farm workers dig their way out of poverty.

JACOBS [via a translator]: Most farm laborers are interested in what’s happening here and would like the same thing at their farms. The other farmers are very conservative though and are opposed to it. If our Co-op is a success, hopefully the other farmers will do the same as what Nelson Creek is doing.

[sound of wine being opened and poured]

EHRLICH: Back at the winery tasting room Co-op coordinator Adams savors a glass of New Beginnings chardonnay. He says the Co-op shows other South African wineries how to both make a profit and provide jobs.

ADAMS: When you open this bottle of wine it’s a bottle of liberation. It’s not just wine. It’s really and truly a bottle of liberation. It’s a liberation of 300 years of oppression, particularly for farm laborers that were treated so badly.

[sound of South African music]

EHRLICH: In many ways the ANC is trying to apply the New Beginnings concept to other areas of the economy, by promoting cooperation between government, workers and the private sector. Late last year the government sponsored a jobs summit in which industry, unions and the government promised to put up money to fund new employment. Each sector would reap some benefits, says Vusi Nhlapu, President of the National Hospital Workers Union.

VUSI NHALPU: They’re offering like, tax holidays to businesses and basically all kind of incentives. Especially to create jobs in sectors of the economy where people were marginalized by the apartheid regime. The government is encouraging, is encouraging partnerships between white established business and up-and-coming black entrepreneurs so that, you know, there could be a widening of the cake, the economic cake. The government will initiate a lot of the projects. There’s the presidential lead project, which is to build in areas like the townships and so on, where mostly black people live. But those projects will be co-sponsored by big business. And they will, we hope that jobs can be created in that way.

EHRLICH: Cynthia Alvillar, a spokesperson for the Labor Ministry, says the ANC government will provide funding for construction of much needed housing in the black townships.

CYNTHIA ALVILLAR: Housing, for example, takes on center stage because of the huge backlog in infrastructure and housing being an important component, housing construction can be done in a very labor intensive way. So that’s being viewed as a way to actually hit two things, hit two birds with one stone, if you will.

EHRLICH: Alvillar is an American who was active in the anti-apartheid movement and later moved to South Africa. She says the government is sponsoring traditional public works projects, particularly in rural areas which suffered the most under apartheid.

ALVILLAR: There are a number of projects that are already in place that are job creating and or created—that are formulated for that very same purpose. Working for Water, for example, which is a project that involves rural people, to remove invasive alien vegetation, has been a tremendous success in terms of not only attacking a problem in the rural sector, which is enormous, but also having the commitment on the part of people that this is the kind of program that they want.

EHRLICH: Business consultant Cargill is more skeptical about the jobs summit and the public works projects. She says too much government intervention won’t work.

CARGILL: I’ve always seen it as high risk. No government delivers jobs. So when you start making that your primary platform, the delivery of jobs, you can get judged very harshly when the jobs don’t arrive. I would have thought government might have been sort of better equipped at rather focusing on an investment strategy where it does have leverage, it can use policy measures to support certain investment and in certain sectors that may be supportive of jobs.

EHRLICH: Cargill and others in the business community estimate that unemployment won’t be significantly reduced for at least five years. Many workers say that’s not soon enough.

[sound of industrial machinery]

EHRLICH: Back at the steel factory, workers are grinding valves. Shop steward Joseph Pepu says the ANC continues to have wide support among black South Africans. But he says, that support won’t last forever if the economy doesn’t improve. He says poor and working class blacks may seek a more radical alternative.

PEPU: [with sounds of industrial machinery in the background] I’m not saying they’ll get a divorce tomorrow. But I’m saying you have to look at the long-run, what is going to help in the long run. And I think the government have to look at the policies. Unemployment is the key in this country, and it needs to be addressed with immediate effect. A government who cannot be able to support its own nation, it is not a government at all.

EHRLICH: For Common Ground, I’m Reese Ehrlich, in Johannesburg.

[sound of South African music]

MARTIN: We’ll break here for a moment and then return to Reese Ehrlich in South Africa for a report on the healthcare system.

[sound of South African music]

MARTIN: Printed transcripts of Common Ground and audio cassettes of this program are available. Listen at the end of the broadcast for details on ordering. Common Ground is a service of the Stanley Foundation, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that conducts varied programs and activities meant to provoke thought and encourage dialogue on world affairs.

For years South Africa had one of the world’s most advanced healthcare systems. The first heart transplant operation took place in Cape Town. But the medical system provided few benefits for black South Africans. Today, four years after the election of a multi-racial government, the ruling African National Congress is struggling with how to extend quality care to blacks and still pay for it all. Reese Ehrlich reports from Johannesburg.

EHRLICH: In 1989 I made a clandestine tour of Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto, the black township outside Johannesburg. It was a covert visit because the right wing apartheid government then in power wasn’t real anxious for the outside world to know about the quality of black healthcare. The hospital was appalling. Saturday nights in the Emergency Room looked like a war zone. The surgery recovery ward was nothing more than a dirt floor with a tin roof extending from the side of the building.

[sound of people talking in hospital hallways]

EHRLICH: These days, the hospital, renamed Chris Hani Baragwanav, has changed a lot. Esther Hlongwane, Communication Officer for the hospital, walked with me to the surgery recovery ward I had visited in 1989. Now it’s a clean, whitewashed room with normal hospital beds.

[sound of people talking in hospital hallways]

ESTHER HLONGWANE: That’s terrible. It used to be terrible. It used to have pans underneath the, you know, the beds underneath the bed.

EHRLICH: People having to sleep on the floor?


EHRLICH: Is that true anymore now? Even when it gets crowded?

HLONGWANE: It’s a history. Yeah.

EHRLICH: And there are some new buildings. Swiss and American corporations have donated a new cardiology unit and filled it with the most modern equipment.

[sound of people talking in hospital hallways]

EHRLICH: Dr. Karen Silwa, a heart specialist born in Germany, shows me around.

DR. KAREN SILWA: This is the outpatient clinic of cardiology in Baragwanav Hospital and every day we see approximately 140 patients here. Today is the clinic for hypertensive patients or coronary artery disease patients. I think we have better equipment here than in many clinics in Germany. I’m not aware of any cardiologic department who has so many echo machines. So those kinds of machines you also don’t find very common in Western countries.

EHRLICH: While conditions are better than in the past, massive problems remain. Chris Hani Baragwanav Hospital is now the largest in the world. Most buildings are dilapidated, there are too few doctors and nurses, and from among the two million people of Soweto, every serious medical case—and some not-so-serious—seems to end up at the emergency room door.

[sound of people talking in hospital hallways]

EHRLICH: The Emergency Room treats as many as 350 patients a night. Heather Mnkono has worked 15 years at the hospital and says overcrowding has led to unnecessary deaths.

HEATHER MNKONO: It’s very terrible. First of all the impact is in terms of the staff. We are under, short-staffed. We don’t have nurses and we are having a lot of patients.

EHRLICH: If you were seriously injured, would you come to Bara Hospital?

MNOKO: No, I wouldn’t.

EHRLICH: The medical care here is that bad?


EHRLICH: The overcrowding exists in part because the African National Congress government has made quality healthcare available for the first time to millions of black. Services at public hospitals are free for children under six and pregnant women. Everyone else pays the equivalent of $2 for any treatment, even surgery. Popo Maja is a spokesperson for the Provincial Ministry of Health.

MAJA: The health services were now opened to the majority of the disadvantaged communities. And of course with this opening of the health services there was an overload in our hospitals and we began to have complaints from our staff members, who were saying “we are understaffed because now we have loads and loads of people coming into hospitals.

EHRLICH: Over the past several years the government expanded services by 50% without increasing the Health Ministry’s budget. That’s because the government is under strong international pressure to lower its budget deficit and repay debts run up under the apartheid regime. Jennie Cargill is a business consultant.

CARGILL: They have to cut the budget deficit, that we’re carrying far too high a debt at a very high interest rate, and that that can’t be sustained over time. And they can’t manage to delivery health to as many people as they undertook to do when they came into power.

EHRLICH: Popo Maja says the government is trying to make up for the budget shortfall, in part by eliminating waste.

MAJA: We are emphasizing on quite strict measures of initial control, avoiding wastage, and this is the type of management that most of the managers of our clinics and hospitals are not used to. They believe that to solve our problems you can only get more money and more money. As we believe that proper management systems, if are in place, they will actually save the state a lot.

EHRLICH: The new government is also trying to reduce costs by emphasizing primary health care. Vusi Nhlapu, President of the National Hospital Workers Union, says if more patients visit local clinics it will relieve pressure on the big hospitals and save money.

VUSI NHLAPU: The only way to deal with Chris Hani Baragwanav is to reduce the size of that hospital and increase on the side of primary healthcare. And what used to be called poly?? clinics and have more of those clinics, so that those clinics use Baragwanav as a referral hospital only. Not a port of first call for people with headaches and things like that.

EHRLICH: The government has set up some local clinics and encouraged people to use them for day-to-day medical needs. But Maja says South Africa has a long history of blacks only getting good treatment at large hospitals and many people are reluctant to try something different.

MAJA: We still have a problem in educating the masses of the people. Because people still believe that the best treatment, you can only find it at hospital. Clinics are really for vaccination, and for maternity things. They don’t think that we can get a comprehensive care in clinics. Now it’s a question of us trying to shape the mindset of our people, to begin to say to them, “primary healthcare is where you have to start. It is at the doorstep of your houses.”

EHRLICH: While the government is taking steps to improve the existing system, Maja says it must also increase the Health Ministry budget. And there’s the rub. The government is certainly squeezed by international pressure, but it also recently announced a $5 billion program to modernize its armed forces: new ships, tanks and planes. Business consultant Cargill says that decision reflects the wrong priority.

CARGILL: I don’t support it. I mean, I have a moral objection to, as reporting at the same time over our media, that we’re cutting back on hospital services, that some of the major hospitals in Johannesburg may shut down casualty wards, at the same time as announcing that we’re going to have state-of-the-art military hardware. So I can’t go along with it.

EHRLICH: But others disagree. The government argues that South Africa must maintain a modern military if it is to remain a regional power in a volatile continent. Michiel Bester, a business consultant in Johannesburg, says many business people also support the planned arms purchases.

BESTER: I think the government probably faced up to the fact that they couldn’t let defense spending slip any further, as a percentage of the total budget. It was more than 10% six or seven years ago and has declined to less than, close to 5%. And they felt, their Defense Force just couldn’t be sustained to sort of do the basic duties which they have to perform with the equipment which they have at their disposal now. So I think it was a choice of saying, a decision of saying “we’ve got to do it now rather than wait.”

EHRLICH: While the ANC government is wrestling with budget priorities it is also embarking on some innovative and unique public health education. The government passes out free condoms as part of a massive anti-AIDS campaign. Health Ministry spokesperson Maja says the government also just passed the world’s toughest anti-smoking law.

MAJA: We have taken our clues for instance from the United States’ aggressive campaign against tobacco. The major component of the law is that tobacco companies, together with the advertising agencies, are not allowed to advertise. That no person should sell tobacco to a child of under 21. And the tobacco companies should stop actually sponsoring sports, because when they do that they are kind of advertising themselves. Tobacco-related illnesses cost the state a lot of money. A lot, a lot of money. We can use that money elsewhere.

EHRLICH: Later this year the government hopes to establish a new healthcare system financed through worker and employer contributions. But it will remain difficult to both maintain good quality care and expand services. Maja says the government is committed to finding a way.

MAJA: We may not at the moment be able to satisfy the needs of all people as we might have promised them during the electioneering and the like. But we take quite seriously the health of our people and this, one area that the government is most serious about, the health of our people.

EHRLICH: For Common Ground, I’m Reese Ehrlich, in Johannesburg.

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