President Jacob Zuma said it was wrong and scientifically not true that the gap between the rich and poor had widened since 1994, and that this amounted to an attack on the democratic government.
Addressing the opening of the National House of Traditional Leaders, Zuma argued that before 1994, inequality was never measured and that only a minority of people were measured because a huge proportion of the country pushed into homelands were not measured, while some did not even have birth certificates.
“It has not been growing since 1994, it has been narrowing. The only problem is that while it’s narrowing, the gap is too big,” he said.
Zuma said when Group Areas Act restrictions were lifted, people flooded to the cities, where the infrastructure was not built to handle such an influx.
“It’s a manipulation of the words, to make us who are in a democratic country responsible for the sins that happened in apartheid,” he said.
The President said during apartheid, black businesses had not been allowed to be part of the mainstream economy, but were limited to running a few cornershops, but today black people ran serious businesses while a number are listed on the JSE.
On top of this 15 million poor people, who never had social grants before, now get grants.
“If that isn’t closing the gap, what is it?” he questioned.
South Africa would celebrate National Children’s Day on Saturday, and Zuma said the results of Census 2011, released on Tuesday, points out that the country had made advances in education.
He said the census results showed that the proportion of no-schooling had halved between 1996 and 2011, that there had been a huge increase in enrolment in those from pre-school to tertiary education and that the percentage of those that pass matric had also increased – from 16% in 1996 to 29% in 2011.
He said he had met with SA Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) this week and stressed that it was a matter that one could not play with.
“Education of our children is one very direct [way to ensure] nation building and investment of our future,” he said.
He also urged traditional leaders to work with teachers, pupils and the Department of Education.
“If we solve education, we would have solved half of the problems in this country,” he said.
More also needed to be done to advance rural development to stem the tide on rising migration from rural to urban areas, he said, pointing to the significant increase in migration to cities that Census 2011 highlighted.
Zuma called on traditional leaders to use their time at the house sessions to debate ways to improve rural development and so assist government in sharpening its rural support programmes.
“If we use this time to deal with disputes and tensions, then we are missing the point,” he said.
While people from different tribal groups were divided under apartheid, the National House of Traditional Leaders brought these tribes to discussed shared matters.
A new Commission on Traditional Leadership Disputes and Claims, comprised of five full-time commissioners and headed by Bagudi Tolo, had since it came into office in January 2011, received 1 244 claims.
So far 139 claims and disputes had already been processed.
Zuma said this meant it was likely that the commission would finalise all claims by 2015 when its term comes to an end.
Turning to the Traditional Courts Bill, Zuma said government had come to the realisation, following public hearings both in Parliament and in local communities, that there were genuine concerns as traditional courts operate outside a proper legislative framework.
He said all the concerns raised in respect of the Bill were being addressed as part of the on-going parliamentary process.
The government, through the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development, had put forward certain recommendations on the bill.
He said the bill should also address the gender prejudices and patriarchal tendencies of the past.
The government also wants the bill to be improved to ensure that the right of access to court enshrined in the Constitution is not undermined, he said.
“This would give people the right to access ordinary courts of law where such courts have jurisdiction over the dispute.
“Another recommendation is that the appeal dispensation contemplated in the bill should be revised as it is undesirable for the decisions of traditional courts to be taken on appeal to courts of law which apply a different value system,” he said.
He said these recommendations will guide possible amendments to the Traditional Courts Bill by the National Council of Provinces.
He said there are initiatives by Parliament to extend the deadline of 31 December 2012 for comment on the bill.
Zuma also extended his condolences to chiefs in the Eastern Cape who lost followers in the Marikana shooting.
He also thanked those traditional leaders who visited Marikana to talk to the workers there.
The shooting did not mean South Africa was sliding back to how things were under apartheid, he said, pointing out that such shootings in apartheid were a daily occurrence.
“Today it is wrong to equate one incident to a system (apartheid),” he said. – SAnews.gov.za