by MTHULISI SIBANDA
JOHANNESBURG, (CAJ News) – THE irony of the donation of millions to Cuba is that South Africa’s economy is struggling and the government battling to ensure services to millions reeling under the crisis.
This also the latest twist in the Southern African country’s foreign policy being a source of domestic conflict.
The government’s plans to donate R50 million (US$3,1 million) in humanitarian assistance to Cuba, which has suffered a legal halt, first emerged in July last year when Cuba made the appeal.
South Africa assented to the request, citing the island nation was suffering its worst economic crisis in three decades owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the long-running economic blockade by the United States.
The economic turmoil has resulted in shortages of electricity, food and medicines among other essentials.
It has emerged from court documents that the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) intends to donate R350 million to Cuba.
The main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) noted the amount was far more than the R50 million that had sparked uproar from civil society organisations.
Ashor Sarupen, the DA Shadow Deputy Minister of Finance, denounced the plans as a slap in the face of South Africans facing similar challenges to those endured by Cubans.
These include rolling power cuts known as load shedding, rising prices, food insecurity, and most recently, in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), citizens were struggling to recover from the recent flooding.
“Very little funding has been released for recovery,” Sarupen said.
The floods in KZN were the worst climatic disaster to pummel South Africa. They left more than 400 people dead in their trail.
DA argues instead believes charity must begin at home and thus, instead of donating millions to Cuba based on “extinct cold war politics”, the African National Congress (ANC) – led government of President Cyril Ramaphosa must be taking care of struggling citizens locally.
Opposition legislator, Bridget Masango, accused the ANC government of choosing to spend “money that South Africa does not have on the purported woes of their Cuban comrades while caring not one iota about the very serious issues plaguing our shores.”
She expressed concern this appeared a priority for government than the deaths of children from hunger in South Africa.
It is reported no less than seven children have died of starvation in the Eastern Cape since January.
Another six have reportedly been hospitalized with severe acute malnutrition.
“The plight of hungry Cuban children apparently weighs heavy on the ANC government’s mind, but it pays no thought to children dying of hunger in this country,” Masango charged.
The legislator is demanding that the government prioritise food security for South Africans.
“Spending money on their friends (Cuba) while their children are starving to death is obscene,” she said.
Naledi Pandor, South African International Relations and Cooperation, justified the assistance to Cuba.
“South Africa responded to call for humanitarian assistance in the context of reciprocity and its historical friendship and solidarity with Cuba which was cemented through Cuba’s sacrifices during our struggle for freedom,” Pandor said.
This was a parliamentary response to questions by the DA.
To highlight the economic woes afflicting South Africa lately, Masango pointed out the ANC allegedly owes the South African Revenue Service (SARS) R102 million rand in tax.
Apart from a run-in with the taxman, has struggled to pay staff salaries last year.
ANC workers have repeatedly held demonstrations at the party’s headquarters in Johannesburg.
South Africa is battling economic woes highlighted by rising poverty and unemployment.
The economy has struggled to shake off the pandemic-induced contraction of 6,4 percent in 2020.
Figures released by Statistics South Africa in March indicate the unemployment rate has shot up to 35,3 percent.
The figure is for the fourth quarter of 2021.
The number of unemployed people thus is around 8 million.
The ANC-led government this week plunged into yet another controversial scheme.
In an apparent case of misplaced priorities during economic turmoil, the Department of Sports, Arts and Culture plans to install a 100-metre giant flag to the tune of R22 million.
South Africans are up in arms over the project, again arguing the funds ought to be spent on artists and athletes that are bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 lockdowns.
Nathi Mthethwa, the Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture, justified the project as playing a role in nation building and social cohesion.
The opposition disagreed.
“South Africans are already proud of their flag but the actions of out-of-touch ministers leave a lot to be desired,” said the DA’s Tsepo Mhlongo.
He is the party’s Shadow Minister of Sports, Arts and Culture.
– CAJ News