Top Ten Things The South African Government Got Right in 2013


In a year during which the government of Africa’s richest country lurched from the frying pan to the fire, a lot of good was also done. In the interests of sunshine journalism, The South African therefore presents (after considerable research) its Top Ten list of things the state did right this year

As patriotic international South Africans, it’s our duty to criticise the Beloved Country to within an inch of its life. That is how things get fixed (well, that and by giving different parties a turn at running the country). But, after a year in which Africa’s richest country lurched from the frying pan to the fire, a lot of good was also done.

In the interests of sunshine journalism, The South African therefore presents its Top Ten list of things the state did right this year – with no buts, asterisks, provisos or qualifications.

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1. Thuli Madonsela

They hired her, and they kept her – long after La Thuli became a national icon for never, ever backing down in the fight against curious goings-on in government. Madonsela’s forensics team have made independent oversight one of the few things the South African electorate still believes in and trusts: the other consistent high performer this year was the Competition Commission. Thuli has shown great style in her dealings with the comfortable men and women who constitute our senior leadership, but her deftest touches have been  reports on the sl0w-motion car crash that is Nkandla. Perhaps the only thing Madonsela could do now to strike fear into our leaders would be to run for office. She’d be a shoo-in.


2. Crime is at 15-year low

According to South Africa: The Good News (, the respected global analytics company IHS reported in 2013 that crime in South Africa had dropped 38 per cent from its peak in financial 2002/3 to the lowest levels since the late 1990s. The research shows that violent crime is at the lowest level seen in ten years, having fallen by 40 per cent from its 2002 peak, while property crime has fallen by about a quarter in the same time. While South Africans still suffer daily from some of the highest crime levels in the world, there is nothing to celebrate, but perhaps we can take some slight comfort from the news that crime is steadily getting less worse.

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3. NGOs fighting corruption are being listened to and supported, producing some measurable progress (at last)

David Lewis of Corruption Watch in October 2013 that his organisation had encountered a growing spirit of engagement and openness from all three spheres of government in the fight against corruption. Although South Africa has continued to slide badly on most measures of corruption, such as Transparency International’s widely-regarded rankings, Lewis states that the City of Johannesburg has cooperated with Corruption Watch on bribery for traffic offences. The Gauteng Department of Education has made itself available to target corruption in schools. The Treasury and the Auditor-General have engaged proactively and fruitfully with Corruption Watch, while Lindiwe Sisulu’s National Department of Public Service and Administration is introducing new legislation that should make it easier to bring the corrupt to light and sanction them.


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4. South Africa’s racial income inequality reached the lowest levels ever in 2013

A major Stellenbosch University report, produced over two years by the departments of Economics and Political Science, showed that the black share of South Africa’s middle class had grown to 41 per cent, as the black middle class had burgeoned from 350 000 people in 1993 to nearly 3 million in 2012. It is difficult to say whether South African government policies are ultimately responsible for this shift in whole or in part, or at all. Yet there is a case to be made that South Africa’s economy and society are now distributing income more equitably, and that this must be partly due to the range of government policies aimed at redress and affirmative action.

5. South Africa held on to fifth place for governance in Africa, with a slightly improved score

By climbing from 70.7 to 71.3 (out of a possible 100) on the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, South Africa was able to cling on to fifth place amidst deepening competition from other, rapidly-improving African states. The Ibrahim Index, which is associated with a USD 5 million prize for the continent’s best head of government, measures a broad range of important indicators in such fields as democracy-building, the rule of law, transparency and the wellbeing of populations. South Africa continued to score high marks on human development and sustainable economic opportunity, but lost them on safety and security.

As patriotic international South Africans, it’s our duty to criticise the Beloved Country to within an inch of its life. That is how things get fixed (well, that and by giving different parties a turn at running the country). But, after a year in which Africa’s richest country lurched from the frying pan to the fire, a lot of good was also done. In the interests of sunshine journalism, The South African therefore presents its Top Ten list of things the state did right this year — with no buts, asterisks, provisos or qualifications.


6. More tourists visited in 2013 than ever before

Tourism in South Africa is one part of the economy that is growing robustly, despite muted growth in the global tourism sector. It is also one of the few targeted ‘growth industries’ in this country that is reliably producing jobs. Tourism is also a standout area of government leadership: as his Mail & Guardian report card over the years show, minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk has done and said the right things to bring external and internal industry partners round to the Government’s vision of things. South Africa’s 10 million international visitors in 2013 have a steadily-growing list of Blue Flag beaches, well-managed national and private game and nature reserves to enjoy, and a mostly well-performing network of regional tourism offices to get them there.

Department of Science and Technology headquarters, Pretoria
Department of Science and Technology headquarters, Pretoria

7. Science partnerships and major projects are on time, on budget and over-delivering

In this, the German-South African Year of Science, South Africa’s Minister of Science and Technology, Derek Hanekom, can look back on a thriving department that is increasingly branching out from the mammoth coup of winning the Square Kilometre Array for South Africa. The DST is defined by caution and probity, and if this means that it moves slowly in crucial areas like renewable energy and transport and climate science, it seldom retreats. Although funding for research is nowhere near where it should be, the DST has developed a core competency and is adding to it incrementally and slowly. Hanekom has been able to build on Naledi Pandor’s robust achievements in this area; the way in which Pandor slowly raised the profile of her department has brought the DST to the point where a ‘science vote’ is being mooted. In this system, which was the norm before 1994, a large lump sum is voted annually by parliament for scientific research – essentially, the nation’s R&D discretionary fund. This gives the Minister much more freedom to fund what works and stop funding what doesn’t. That sort of freedom can only be entrusted to a nimble and transparent department that is demonstrably succeeding. The DST is that kind of department.


8. Aids infections are falling, and deaths are down. Dr Aaron Motsoaledi has a lot to do with that.

HIV/Aids, and South Africa’s response to it, has come a long way from the catastrophe of the Mbeki era, when, as Pieter Fourie put it, “Aids [was] killing South Africans at a rate equivalent to one September 11th attack every three days”. Life expectancy in 2013, as the research grouping United Academics reports, would have been 64 years without Aids; it is in fact 47. While the reviled Manto Tshabalala-Msimang had already started the turnaround against her disastrous initial policies and Aids denialism when she left office in 2008, Barbara Hogan had less than a year to consolidate these gains; our first real superstar Health Minister was Aaron Motsoaledi, who took up the national stethoscope in 2009. The good doctor has since presided over a meaningful and steady turnaround of South Africa’s health services, which have been near collapse for something like a decade. Given a dearth of staff, Motsoaledi has tried to use his capacity and budget in as strategic a way as possible. This has meant that provinces like the Eastern Cape, where healthcare is in a now systemic crisis, have received only a portion of the Minister’s attention, rather than all of it; meanwhile, Motsoaledi’s focus on the HIV-Aids-TB pandemic, which affects the nation’s health in a deeper and more far-reaching way, has been sustained. The hospitals remain in a generalised crisis, but South Africa has demonstrably turned a corner on its number one public health threat, HIV/Aids, with both infections and deaths beginning to fall with some speed in the face of better awareness, a consistent public health message and the world’s largest antiretroviral programme.



9. All of our major cities have big dreams and big budgets for sustainable, revolutionary forms of transport: the MyCiti, ReaVaya, the Gautrain and Durban’s BRT are thriving

It’s easy to forget how far-fetched the Gautrain sounded back in the 2000s. No one really saw a government that struggled mightily with achieving even the basics building and profitably operating a high-speed train. The country’s once-magnificent railways were a shadow of themselves, the ports were aging, the highways were supporting a mass of freight beyond their design capacity, and South Africans rich enough to afford the Gautrain ticket price were the same people who likely only used public transport getting home after a hijacking. But the Gautrain came, and the ReaVaya system with it. Cape Town’s MyCiti buses are starting to fill up regularly and a ridership culture is growing. It is important to note that South Africa’s cities did this one thing well, and the public transport revolution is already altering the spatial pattern of these cities beyond recognition, especially in Johannesburg’s historic CBD. Durban’s R20 billion public transport system is in preparation, and MyCiti is slowly spreading tendrils into poor areas. Fixing transport fixes everything about urban life: it brings opportunities closer, makes household budgets go further and multiplies the talents and reach of the poor. It may well be that we look back on municipal transport and the epic re-tooling of Transnet (which is a multi-decade process) as the beginning of South Africa’s real economic transformation.

 10. South Africa is getting serious about safeguarding its natural heritage and biodiversity, and the WWF acknowledges this

Valli Moosa, chairman of the WWF South Africa board, has praised South Africa’s ‘quantifiable progress’ towards environmental goals. The state has committed itself toresearch in renewable energy, and some of these targets have actually been met. Investments in solar, wind and other new energy sources are something in the order of R150 billion, and the change has been felt at much as the higher levels of research as in the immediate context of townships and rural areas. For poorer South Africans, this research has translated into robust and simple technologies that directly change lives: solar water heaters, photovoltaic cellular reception towers and solar cookers. â€œRenewable energy in South Africa is now providing services to people who have never before had access to services like hot water,” expanded Minister of Trade and Industry, Rob Davies. “Green technology is creating opportunities for small black-owned enterprises, particularly those involved in the installation aspect of solar water heaters.” Water and Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa has also moved aggressively to start treating South Africa’s dwindling water resources as a national strategic asset. While departments like Fisheries and Mineral Resources are in a shambles, there is some light at least in the environmental field (although the black rhinos may feel very differently about this).


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