On which side of the tracks one was born has largely determined one’s resilience and survival during the Covid-19 pandemic. And while technology can provide an answer to safe and accessible education, the digital divide has reinforced existing social and economic inequalities. This has limited access for the majority to information, health and education. These were the words of the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Ms Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma when she delivered her budget speech for the Department of Cooperative Governance to Members of the National Assembly in a virtual plenary today.

The pandemic is “exposing fallacies and falsehoods everywhere”, she said, and one such falsehood “is that we live in a gender-equal society. Ours is a male-dominated world, where women are discriminated upon and oppressed simply because of their gender. We have seen a spike in gender-based violence during this lockdown phase of our Covid-19 response. Gender inequality means that our country will never reach its full potential because we miss out on the talents and intelligence of half our population.”

South Africa’s response to Covid-19 has to factor in these realities. “This budget vote 3 is part of a society-wide response by which we hope to contribute to equality and the creation of jobs through a responsive, developmental and empowering state,” she said.

“As we have said in this house before, there is a growing social distance between us as leaders and the masses we serve. The United Nations Secretary-General during the Mandela Lecture reminded us that “people want social and economic systems that work for everyone… They want a say in decisions that affect their lives.”

This is a fundamental feature of the District Development Model (DDM), which the government has rolled out with urgency since it is a central feature in its response to Covid-19. “We need not fear the pandemic, because it also offers us an opportunity to reset our outlook. Through our responses, we can claw back the possibility of a more equal, sustainable and just society, where leaders are active facilitators in development,” she said.

As the Department of Cooperative Governance implements the DDM, it cannot pretend that all municipalities are in good shape and simply require complementary plans, capabilities and capacities. The Auditor-General’s report is a reminder of that reality. “We take this opportunity to congratulate the 20 municipalities that consistently perform well in the audits. We will work with the Treasury who have the financial oversight role to support municipalities,” she added.

Covid-19 has not spared the municipalities and has affected their revenue collection. “For instance, there has been an under-collection of R3,1billion over the past three months in eThekwini, Ekurhuleni and the City of Cape Town. In order to ease the burden on municipalities, the president announced an allocation of R20 billion, of which R11 billion is under the equitable share and R9 billion is repurposed infrastructure conditional grants,” she said.