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Building a South Africa of our hopes

The money to move South Africa forward and speed up the improvement of our quality of life is in the bank.

Every year, April is the month in which government starts to spend the Budget that the Minister of Finance shares with the nation shortly after the State of the Nation Address in February.

On February 25, Finance Minister Nene presented the Budget for 2015/16 to Parliament.

With our national Budget, government puts its money where its mouth is.

Thanks to millions of South Africans who do their duty as citizens and pay their taxes, South Africa is becoming a better place in which to live, to do business or to visit.

The money that goes into government’s coffers finds its way into our lives, homes and communities through our Programme of Action which, between 2015 and 2019, is aiming to change South Africa for the better at a rate that is much higher than we experienced in the first 20 Years of Freedom.

The Budget for 2015/16 shows that our concern for the poorest and most vulnerable people in our society is at the heart of our Programme of Action.

We are a government that cares – and that is putting its cash behind its care.

The Budget shows we are a pro-poor government that understands the circumstances and needs of those who need the support of government and society the most.

Child support grants have increased to R330. Those that recieve grants should use them responsibly by ensuring that children are fed and clothed.We are determined to win the fight against poverty, unemployment and inequality and our plans for 2015/16 show that we have the will and the means to wage - and win - this war.

Believing that education is our nation’s path out of underdevelopment, more than R640 billion will be allocated to basic education during the next three years.

The number of qualified teachers entering the public service is expected to increase from 8 227 in 2012/13 to 10 200 in 2017/18.

To support teacher training, R3.1 billion will be awarded in Funza Lushaka bursaries over the next three years.

We will print and distribute 170 million workbooks at 23 562 public schools during the same period. Each learner in Grades R to 9 will receive two books per subject each year in numeracy, mathematics, literacy, language and life skills.

R7.4 billion will be used to replace more than 500 unsafe or poorly constructed schools, and attend to water, sanitation and electricity needs.

The budget also includes R4.1 billion over the MTEF period to build and support public libraries. School and community sport programmes and sports academies will receive R1.7 billion via our provinces.

Better learning conditions will produce more dignified, educated and productive citizens for our future. What this means is that our learners, their parents and their teachers have a great deal to look forward to – but also a great deal to look after.

As citizens of this special country, we should play our part to ensure that facilities such as schools are treasured and protected assets in our communities.

We should all be saddened and angered when other amenities in our neighbourhoods. These facilities are put up by government but belong to the people, and should be treated as such.

When, for any reason, anyone sets a classroom alight or breaks a window, they are not just damaging infrastructure for which South Africans are paying with their hard-earned income. They are damaging lives and the prospects of our nation developing as fast as it could.

Another big slice of our Budget and our vision is going into the nation’s health.

Health spending will reach R178 billion in 2017/18.

Based on increases in health spending in the past 20 years, South Africans are living longer and healthier lives today than just five or 10 years ago; not even a generation ago.

Our antiretroviral treatment programme now reaches 3 million patients. The mother-to-child transmission of HIV has decreased from 20 per cent a decade ago to 2 per cent last year, and is expected to decline further over the period ahead.

Government is playing its part. But, if we are to maintain a healthy nation, it is up to everyone among us to make healthy and wholesome lifestyle choices – from what we eat and drink to what we do with our bodies.

A great deal of our nation’s health problems can be eliminated if we were just to make better choices. Eating balanced and wholesome meals, avoiding the abuse of alcohol, staying away from smoking, keeping our cigarettes away from our children and being responsible in our intimate relationships can change the burden of disease – and the burden of the money to pay for this burden.

To help the poorest households in our society, the Department of Social Development is being given an additional R7.1 billion to make it possible for more needy South Africans to receive social grants, and for the value of grants to be increased.

With this in mind, the Minister of Finance announced that monthly grants will be adjusted as follows from 1 April:

  • The old age, war veterans, disability and care dependency grants will increase by R60 to R1 410.
  • Child support grants increase to R330.
  • Foster care grants increase by R30 to R860.

It is the responsibility of all grant recipients – especially those who care for young children – to ensure that the money is used in the right way. With the grants government is providing, there is no reason why children should not be fed or clothed, or have safe and comfortable places – at home or elsewhere – where they are cared for.

Children who should be at school, must be at school. They should not be at home, loitering, begging or fearing abuse from adults who prey on vulnerable children.

A better life for all starts in these small ways and it is our responsibility as parents, caregivers and communities to ensure that our children are and feel safe.

To further improve the quality of life and our level of development, government will be spending hundreds of billions of rand in the next three years on upgrading roads, putting new trains on our railway tracks, bringing water and sanitation to residents and connecting 875 000 households to the electricity grid or to get off-grid power.

However, government will not only be giving. It will also be taking, especially from those who indulge or particularly over-indulge in alcoholic beverages and tobacco products.

The abuse of these substances creates enormous pressure on the public and private health systems. Abuse also leads to anti-social behavior and deprives the economy of productive workers and executives.

The Minister of Finance therefore announced that duties on alcoholic beverages and tobacco products will again increase:

  • the tax on a quart of beer goes up by 15.5 cents
  • a bottle of wine will cost 15 cents more,
  • a bottle of sparkling wine goes up by 48 cents
  • a bottle of whisky will be R3.77 more;
  • a pack of 20 cigarettes goes up by 82 cents.

I believe that government’s investment and involvement in the issues that concern South Africans the most will produce positive results and that with this Budget, South Africa will indeed experience faster and more radical change this year.

It always remains the task of all of us to build our society and our economy and to make this a country in whose success and pride we share.

At this time of year, our pride is often undermined by the tragic and avoidable loss of life that goes with millions of South Africans moving around the country to places of worship and recreation during the Easter period.

Very recently, we were all shocked by news of the untimely death, in a car crash in Limpopo, of Public Service and Administration Minister Collins Chabane, driver Lesiba Sekele and protector Lawrence Lentsoane.

Our prayers and thoughts remain with their families, while their tragic deaths remind us of how fragile the human body is. This unfortunate incident also reminds us how deep the loss is to families and organisations – government included – when tragedy strikes in this way.

Let us all do what we know is right. Let’s obey the rules of the road and the laws of our country. Let’s be considerate and responsible. Let’s slow down, take the necessary breaks and say no to drinking and driving.

Let’s Arrive Alive so that our families, communities and workplaces can remain whole and we can continue to build the South Africa of our hopes.

Jacob G Zuma
President of the Republic of South Africa