Tintswalo: A cynical allegory of delivery

When South African presidents speak, their audiences listen with weary hearts, exhausted by disappointment and deferred promises.

So, when President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered his State-of-the-Nation Address (SONA) this month, he would have been acutely aware of how weary South Africans have become. A February poll suggested that his party, the ANC, would likely get a lowly 42% in the upcoming elections. This is significant in comparison to the 62.7% the ANC won in the first democratic elections in 1994.

The president thus had to pull a proverbial rabbit out of his electioneering hat. And this he did by neatly packaging the ANC delivery highlights in an “every girl” called Tintswalo, who benefitted from a land of law and order, delivery of houses, water, electricity, quality education and progressive laws.

Through these, a black girl’s life was transformed from a stereotype of poverty and deprivation into a promising fairy tale that fulfilled her every wish.

In his SONA speech, Ramaphosa said:

Tintswalo grew up with a “constitution rooted in equality, the rule of law, and affirmation of the inherent dignity of every citizen”.

There has been no equality or protection under the law for Tintswalo and South Africa’s women. How can they feel protected when our police minister announced in 2023 that over three months – October to December 2022 – 5 935 rapes were reported? This averages out to 66 incidences per day over a 90 period.

Tintswalo, and many others born at the same time as her, were beneficiaries of the first policies of the democratic state to provide free health care for pregnant women and children under the age of six.

South Africa has some way to go in lowering infant mortality. By simply ensuring that all newborns are breastfed within the first 24 hours, about 5,400 neonatal deaths can be avoided.

The recent SA Human Rights Commission investigation into child malnutrition in the Eastern Cape stands as a shameful reminder of the government’s failures to address child nutrition and eradicate the 27% stunting among children under five.

Tintswalo’s formative years were spent in a house provided by the State, one of millions of houses built to shelter the poor.

While there has been progress in providing house, there remains “a disconnection between the legal framework and the ability of local government to deliver access to housing and basic services, and the lack of effective and consistent implementation of policies perpetuates rights violations and the cycle of poverty and inequality.”1

Add to this the regular occurrence of service delivery protests – the most vocal expression of citizens’ dissatisfaction with the state, with an average of 2.5 a day, and it’s clear that not everyone feels comfortable in their shelters.2

Tintswalo attended a school in which her parents did not have to pay school fees, and each school day, she received a nutritious meal as part of a programme that today supports nine million learners from poor families.

While the school nutrition programme has alleviated child hunger, challenges remain. In May 2023, at a parliamentary portfolio briefing, the Department of Basic Education’s Dr Granville Whittle, Deputy Director-General of Educational Enrichment Services, admitted the programme was flawed and had asked for it to be changed. But he said, “The ministers and MECs do not want to change the model because if anything goes wrong, the President looks at them”.3

Despite education getting the biggest slice of the budget pie, there remain significant challenges with the quality of education provided, as evidenced in South Africa’s participation in international literacy and numeracy assessments. Add to this the fact that “around 40% of learners who start school in Grade 1 will exit the schooling system before finishing matric,” according to Zero Dropout.

In January 2024, when the matric results were released, only 40.9% of the learners who passed received a bachelor’s pass that would allow them to study at a university.

A Child Support Grant to meet her basic needs. This grant, together with other forms of social assistance, continues to be a lifeline for more than 26 million South Africans every month.

In “Reducing Child Poverty: A Review of Child Poverty and the Value of the Child Support Grant”, the Children’s Institute said that if the CSG remains low, child food poverty will likely increase. “This, in turn, will lead to increased child inequality, deprivation, malnutrition and stunting. Increases in these child-centric indicators will be viewed by international treaty bodies and South African courts as evidence that the state is not achieving progress in realising children’s right to social assistance and is unjustifiably violating the basic nutrition rights of over seven million children.”4

That the R510 grant is far too little is underscored by the fact that it is below the R760 food poverty line and the R953.75, which is the cost of a basic nutritious diet for a child.

Then, there is the fact that the government has continued to ignore the calls for the grant to be extended before birth into a maternity support grant to ensure that unborn children and their mothers receive adequate nutrition.

Through the assistance of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme, Tintswalo attended one of our Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges and obtained a qualification.

Yet, research into the TVET system found it beset with flaws, ranging from mismanagement, programmes being inadequate for the labour market and a lack of skills and qualifications of lecturers. Furthermore, once vaunted as the panacea to address youth unemployment, the TVET system has yet to make a dent in creating a pathway to jobs.

The worst indication of young people being failed is that in 2023, there were 10.2 million young people aged 15–24 years, with 32,7% not in employment, education or training. The percentage of young people aged 15–34 who were NEET was 42,0% in 2023.

When Tintswalo entered the world of work, she could progress and thrive with the support of the State’s employment equity and Black Economic Empowerment.

Empowerment only stretches so far in corporate South Africa. The 2023 PWC Executive Director report shows that only 15.6% of all executive directors (including CEOs and CFOs) are female.5

So what do all these mean for Ramaphosa’s invocation of Tintswalo? It brings into sharp relief the reality of all the Tintswalos who will remain trapped in intergenerational poverty, statistically likely to be raped and who are unlikely to ascend to higher education institutions, never mind reaping the benefits of employment equity and black economic empowerment.

So much for early electioneering from the SONA podium.

Phylicia Oppelt is the Project Lead for DGMT’s Change Ideas.



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