The South African government announced today that it will spend about $315 million in the next year on rural development, job creation, new urban housing and other special programs for blacks in an effort to curb civil strife.
In his annual budget speech, Finance Minister Barend du Plessis told Parliament in Cape Town that the government wanted to give people, particularly the nation's 25 million black majority, "a chance to get going and keep going" and through economic growth to help solve the current crisis.
But as a start on President Pieter W. Botha's promises of sweeping political, economic and social reforms, du Plessis' $18.8 billion budget was described by critics as a major disappointment, a failure to commit substantial resources to restoring stability.
"It's a rich man's budget," said Clive Weil, managing director of a supermarket chain. "This is a budget for those who have jobs and who are earning salaries . . . I believe it is insensitive to the needs of the majority of our population, insensitive to the people who are really battling to make ends meet, particularly to those people who are unemployed and have no job prospects."
Harry Schwarz, spokesman on economic policy for the liberal white opposition Progressive Federal Party, commented, "One sees nothing in this budget that shows imagination and realism to deal with the major threats to stability in the country and with the serious economic problems that threaten our ever increasing population."
Du Plessis, however, defended the modest increases in programs for "black upliftment," as the government terms them, as all that the country could afford following two years of severe recession, with a maximum of 3 percent growth projected for the coming year.
"Sound principles of finance are a prerequisite for the long-term success of the upgrading project," he said, adding that spending more would increase inflation -- now running at 21 percent annually, more than twice the rate of a year ago.
About half of the $315 million budget for "upliftment" is to be spent as part of a $500 million, three-year rural development program that Botha announced in January. Most of the rest will go for new black housing and other improvements in urban black ghettos, du Plessis said, and in the process create construction jobs.
The government plans to increase spending on black education by 28 percent, but the total outlay of about $355 million is only about 11 percent of the total education budget of $3.1 billion, the biggest segment in the budget.
Similarly, the $156 million budget for urban black housing, where there is an acknowledged need for 222,000 new units, is less than half the total state housing budget, which allocates more to construction in white, Colored (mixed-race) and Indian areas.
Pensions paid to black retirees under the new budget will be increased by $9 a month to $49, but that is still only half what the state pays to whites.
The government, meanwhile, will begin phasing out its annual subsidy of $100 million, which largely benefits urban blacks, by reducing its outlay by $25 million next year.
"This is a white man's budget," John Simpson, an economist at the University of Cape Town, commented. "Blacks do not get the same benefits, either individually or as a community. Whatever blacks may get is preceded by even greater allocations on whites . . . . That is hardly new, but the government should not pretend there have been sweeping changes."
To encourage modest economic growth and provide relief for the hard-hit white middle class, du Plessis said the government will reduce income taxes by eliminating a special 7 percent and reducing net taxes a further 5 percent.
Despite the continuing civil unrest, defense expenditures, about $2.8 billion, will remain at about 14 percent of the budget, du Plessis told Parliament, and the police budget 3 percent of the total.
United Press International added from Johannesburg:
Thousands of blacks staged a general strike outside Pretoria, accusing police of firing into a crowd last week to disperse a meeting at a YMCA.
The strike in Mamelodi township halted bus service, and few of the minibus taxis that serve the township were on the streets. Thousands of blacks stayed home from their jobs in Pretoria, the capital.
The weekend saw gold miner riots, intertribal battles and antigovernment violence that left more than 20 blacks dead.