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Africa

South Africa unveils pre-election budget

South Africa has unveiled its last budget before the elections in May. It falls largely within spending limits, though critics say it is full of empty "election year" promises.

Presenting his budget speech at the South African parliament in Cape Town on Wednesday, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan allocated 9.3 billion rand ( $857 million, 672 million euros) in income tax relief to households.

He also promised that the government would build 216 000 houses for the poor, connect 905,000 households to electricity, provide over 11 million children with child support grants and rebuild 433 schools in the next three years.

He pledged to create 6 million jobs in the next 5 years with 847 billion rand being set aside for developing public infrastructure.

He told South Africans they had "laid the foundations for a faster and inclusive growth in the years ahead."

But he also told parliament that South Africa's present circumstances obliged it "to live and spend modestly and keep a careful balance between social expenditure and support for growth."

Gordan said the South African economy was set to grow by a slower than projected 2.7 percent this year.

South Africans divided over budget

South Africans gave the budget a mixed response with many praising it as a pro-poor budget, while others dismissed it as electioneering.

Bridget Dube told DW she thought it was a good budget that would help the poor.

"Students who can't pay their school fees can now have a bursary that will be provided by the government," she said.

Civil servant Nondumiso Dlomo was in two minds about it. He suspects that any hand-outs would come with a catch.

Pravin Gordhan with finance ministers of the BRICS group in Durban in March 2013

Pravin Gordhan (center) hosting a meeting of finance ministers at the 2013 Durban BRICS summit.

"There are going to be price increases on petrol, food, school fees," he said

Nontobeko Magubane, who is unemployed, dismissed the budget as an election gimmick.

"It's too good to be true. I think it's meant to attract voters. Why did they not do these good things over the years? It's about 4 years promising these things, it will never be fulfilled," he told DW.

2014 is election year

Some opposition parliamentarians praised the government for improving basic services for the poor, but others like Mangosuthu Buthelezi, leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party, echoed the disillusionment voiced by some voters.

"The head of state himself and head of government has made many promises in the past which have not been fulfilled. There was no earth shaking story," he said.

This year South Africa marks 20 years since the end of apartheid but is still mired in massive inequalities.

South Africans go to the polls on May 7, 2014 and the ruling ANC is expected to be working hard in the meantime to convince the electorate that they will keep their budget promises, which the opposition will seek to discredit.

The rand lost nearly 18 percent against the US dollar last year. South Africa was hit by moves in the United States to ease stimulus spending.

Independent Cape Town-based analyst Daniel Silke told DW that "from the government's point of view this was a fairly good news budget, given the trying and difficult circumstances, and the aim really was to tell South Africans things are not that bad and government has indeed achieved."

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