JOHANNESBURG — THE $350 million drought relief effort in South Africa, directed mainly at supporting white farmers, farmworkers, and rural blacks, has been marred by allegations of racial bias by government and of inefficiency and corruption by tribal homeland administrations.
"The same racial bias that has existed in all areas of the economy - and still exists in spending on education, health, welfare, and services - exists in the spending on development and water supplies," says Rob Short of the Consultative Forum on Drought and a coauthor of a report on causes of the drought. The Forum, an umbrella group which brings together government officials, the liberation movements, trade unions, churches, and development agencies, was formed last June to coordinate effective drought
The drought has taken a harsh toll on farmers and their workers and in the western and northern Transvaal Province and Orange Free State and has devastated the northern tribal homelands of Lebowa and Venda, large areas of which have been without water for months and are supplied by road tankers. More than 2,000 commercial farmers are expected to go bankrupt, and cattle and wildlife are dying in large numbers both on farms and in the parched tribal areas. Inefficient relief
Diplomats and aid workers say that drought-related development in the homelands is wasteful and inefficient and often fails to target those who need it most.
"The main problem is that the responsibility for drought relief among rural blacks has been given to structures that have already failed to carry out development work," Mr. Short says.
Short was referring to recent judicial commissions that have found massive corruption in homeland administrations and the (now defunct) Department of Development Aid that used to administer them. The homelands were created as part of the vision of grand apartheid which sought to bestow political independence on economically dependent tribal lands, which represent about 13 percent of South African territory and were intended to accommodate 87 percent of the population.
Operation Hunger, the major South African relief agency involved in feeding the poor, says that about 2.6 million South Africans - 2.5 million of them black - are dependent on food aid.
The government, normally an exporter of grain, has imported 6.6 million tons to make up for the 80 percent crop loss, but it will all be sold on a commercial basis. Operation Hunger and other relief agencies feed those who cannot afford to buy food.
"The drought has been worse - much, much worse - than we anticipated," says Operation Hunger director Ina Perlman in an overview of the crisis.
Of the 15 million rural blacks in South Africa, 10 million are without formal water supplies and many live below the Poverty Datum Line, the standard for maintaining basic standards of health and nutrition. Early warning system
"We need to develop an effective early warning system so that we can react to a drought in a coherent way," Short says. "Information coordination is very chaotic."
In a October report, compiled by a team headed by Consultative Forum director Len Abrams, it was found that per capita drought spending on whites was 54 times the amount spent on blacks. The report found that the government was spending $70 million on 15 million rural blacks, while spending $280 million on 1.2 million whites.
The report criticized the government's emphasis on aid to white farmers and its neglect of millions of blacks in impoverished rural homelands.
Of an estimated 1.2 million black farmworkers - who have about 5.5 million dependents - 300,000 have lost their jobs and are homeless as a result of the drought. But the government has allocated only $1.7 million for their wages and $340,000 for their training.
The country's leading daily newspaper read by blacks, The Sowetan, recently reported that some farmers were not passing on the allocation of drought aid intended for their black workers. The newspaper also published photographs of severely malnourished black children hospitalized in black homelands.
Government officials have vigorously denied the allegations of racial bias in drought relief and insist that all South Africans - including the black majority - benefit from the $350 million package to farmers.
They also point to various allocations to counter poverty - amounting to more than $1 billion - which have been made over the past two or three years.