South Africa : Service delivery over the last 15 years has touched the lives of millions

Four million homes electrified, over 2.3 million housing units built, 1 600 clinics and health care centres built, almost 100 percent enrolment in free primary education, almost 90 percent of households having access to water - government has achieved all this in just 15 years, writes Shaun Benton.

The achievements of the government since the advent of democracy in 1994, also highlight the challenges remaining as the executive looks at what more needs to be done in the last remaining months of the current government.

The number of households using the bucket system is heading closer to nil: a previous figure of 609 675 using this sanitation system has dropped to 211 508, with access to sanitation increasing from 50 percent to 71 percent.

Homesteads with access to a communal tap have increased from 62 percent in 1996 to 88 percent in 2007, while those households with access to running water in their homes has jumped from 61 percent to 70 percent.

Government has provided just over 2 358 667 housing units, at a cost of R48.5 billion, while 9.9 million people - 53 percent women - have benefited from state-subsidised housing opportunities.

A 15-year review of government's achievements is to be released next year which will further highlight the key remaining challenges as well as the examples that demonstrate the fulfilment of a commitment to a better life for all.

Briefing the media on Sunday on the latest Cabinet Lekgotla which took place from 22 to 24 July, President Thabo Mbeki said the basic services which were previously denied to most of the country's 48 million citizens were currently the subject of a rigorous scientific analysis.

Government's review, which will incorporate as far as possible the latest statistics on progress, will be the current government's contribution to an assessment of the key medium term goals of halving poverty and unemployment by 2014.

Central to the achievement of these goals is the performance of the economy, said President Mbeki, pointing out that while jobs are being created the rate was not yet at the levels required to reduce the unemployment rate.

The economy is at a growth of 3 percent since 2001.

For this to happen, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth must be closer to seven percent and exports must grow three times faster in order to raise employment levels by 5 percent.

Much of the lekgotla concerned itself with economic issues, with the APEX priorities outlined by the President in the February State of the Nation address receiving "quite a bit of attention" during the three-day session that involved ministers, deputy ministers, premiers, directors generals and South African Local Government Association (Salga) representatives.

A key question the conference faced, said Mr Mbeki, was how to achieve this growth in the context of the global environment, with attention needing to be focused on the need to build on macro-economic success while accelerating micro-economic reforms.

The APEX priorities involve 24 projects which government has committed to, many of which dovetail with the objectives of the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative of South Africa (Asgisa) and are seen as the bedrock for consistent further economic growth.

Apart from the Industrial Policy Action Plan, which is Project One under the priorities, business process outsourcing is one area where the real success at job-creation is a strong possibility. Nine projects have been approved already, President Mbeki told reporters, with over 9 000 jobs created so far in a wave of R658 million in investment.

Agreement has been reached with Telkom on telecommunications prices - subject to regulatory approval - which is vital to further growth of the sector, while another project involves the roll-out of the Sentech wireless broadband network, to boost the uptake of ICT usage.

The construction of fibreoptic submarine cables continues at a pace, while South Africa will be participating in an international telecommunications costs benchmarking exercise in the coming months with Brazil, Chile, Korea, India and Malaysia, among others.

Another intervention linked to the APEX priorities is the provision of rebates for foreign and local film and television production. This was launched in March this year, said Mr Mbeki.

Another specific action is the establishment of a jewellery manufacturing precinct at OR Tambo International Airport, which is to designated as an industrial development zone, set for October this year.

Energy consumption is another key issue. The country remains way off the 10 percent savings target, with a national average saving sitting at only 4 percent.

This is largely because of reticence among residential consumers, as Eskom's key industrial customers have achieved a seven percent target.

Skills development is another critical area government is committed to addressing.

A revised human resources development strategy was agreed to at the lekgotla for the period 2009 to 2014. An additional one million books are to be distributed to 3000 schools, while 2000 schools are to receive 2.2 million reading books in 11 languages

The objective of government's land and agrarian reform is to redistribute five million hectares of white-owned agricultural land to 10 000 new agricultural producers.

At total of 2.5 million hectares of land will be delivered by the end of March 2009, while the other half is to be delivered, by the end of the 2009/2010 financial year, according to the President.

Agricultural production is to be increased by 10 percent to 15 percent, spurred on by rising food prices, which has led to a number of other actions, including the establishment in South Africa of a national Food Control Agency.

The Justice, Crime Prevention and Security Cluster is expected to see a shake-up. Deputy Minister of Justice Johnny de Lange is to lead the process of implementation of the programme resulting from a comprehensive review of the criminal justice system.

The reforms for this sector are designed to ensure further improvements in the safety and security of all South Africans.

Seeking to get to the bottom of the disturbing violence that often accompanies crime, the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation has been tasked with undertaking a special study on the causes of the violent nature of crimes in South Africa, said President Mbeki.

The centre has already submitted some reports to government on the subject, but a full report is expected by the end of the year, with the complete report to be discussed by the January lekgotla, President Mbeki said.

The aim is to get not only government but society as a whole to consider the question, while the three-day meeting of senior government executives also noted that Parliament will be holding public hearings on the Bills for the incorporation of the Directorate of Special Operations into the South African Police Service.

In the end, the Cabinet lekgotla agreed that the course that was taken with regard to responding to the challenges of poverty, human resource development, transformation and strengthening of the government system to be able to respond to these challenges, had been achieved.

According to President Mbeki these achievements indicate that South Africa needs to continue in those directions, and that "indeed we had the possibility to meet the commitments that we have made ourselves with regard to the progress we needed to achieve."

"In these last remaining months the task of government would be to focus particularly on the APEX priorities, and for that reason the presidency would then put in place a particular system of monitoring and evaluation so that the presidency is kept regularly informed [about progress] towards the APEX priorities.

"Thus, when the current government comes to the end of its term, it would be able to say, that we have done everything we could to live up to the electoral mandate that was given by our people in 2004," said Mr Mbeki.