Originally: Archbishop Desmond Tutu says Mbeki enriching few at expense of poor


 Andrew Meldrum in Johannesburg
Wednesday November 24, 2004

The Guardian

South Africa’s anti-apartheid elder statesman, the former Archbishop Desmond Tutu, accused Thabo Mbeki’s government yesterday of enriching a few while the vast majority of the population stayed poor.

“We are sitting on a powder keg,” the Nobel peace prize winner warned. He said that millions of South Africans experienced “grueling, demeaning, dehumanizing poverty”.

Bishop Tutu attacked the Mbeki government’s policy of black economic empowerment whereby, in a move to redress the inequities of apartheid, well-connected black businessmen and politicians got large shares of South African corporations. “What is black empowerment when it seems to benefit not the vast majority but an elite that tends to be recycled?” he asked.

A recent empowerment deal was criticized by trade unions because a public pension fund bought a billion dollar stake in the state telephone monopoly, Telkom on behalf of a handful of top officials of Mr Mbeki’s ruling party, the African National Congress.

Bishop Tutu warned that deals enriching already wealthy black people while millions of South Africans remained mired in poverty could be “building up much resentment which we may rue later”.

Such criticism of Mr Mbeki’s government is rarely voiced by prominent anti-apartheid stalwarts. Bishop Tutu’s blistering critique received a standing ovation from the audience and was aired live on national television as he gave the second annual Nelson Mandela lecture. He said the government’s greatest challenge was to pull millions out of poverty.

He criticized politicians for debating whether to give the poor an income grant of £9 a month and said the proposal should get serious consideration. “We cannot glibly, on full stomachs, speak about handouts to those who often go to bed hungry. It is cynical in the extreme to speak about handouts when people can become very rich at the stroke of a pen,” he said, again referring to the black empowerment deals.

He urged South Africans to “adopt” a poor family, giving them up to £18 a month, or paying for school fees.

Mr Tutu acknowledged that South Africa was admired “as a beacon of hope” after apartheid, but said the government should not rest on its laurels and that ANC politicians had to listen to criticism. “An unthinking, uncritical, kowtowing party line-toeing is fatal to a vibrant democracy. Truth cannot suffer by being challenged and examined.