Education and Health budget welcomed but concerns remain about grassroots impact

Minister of Finance Enoch Godongwana. Photographer Ayanda Ndamane / Independent Newspapers

Minister of Finance Enoch Godongwana. Photographer Ayanda Ndamane / Independent Newspapers

Published Feb 22, 2024


Even though a number of healthcare workers organisations and unions welcomed the much-awaited 2024/25 Medium-Term Budget Plan, Human rights organisation, Section27, believes the new budget will only further constrain basic education and health care delivery across the country.

The South African Medical Association Trade Union (SAMATU) welcomed Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana’s health allocation and said it believed the R848 billion allocation, aimed at reinforcing the healthcare sector, illustrated a significant commitment to revitalising the public healthcare system.

Of the total budget, the union said they were particularly encouraged by the R57.6 bn dedicated to the salaries of critical services, particularly healthcare professionals such as doctors and nurses. They were pleased in particular with the additional R3.7 bn allocated for the financial year to address the wage bill increase and recruitment of unemployed professionals.

This announcement was applauded considering the fate of over 800 unemployed doctors who have completed their in-community service but are still unemployed, a challenge since the beginning of the year.

“We are hopeful that this budget allocation marks the beginning of a transformative era for South African public healthcare, thus warranting improved conditions for both healthcare workers and patients,” said SAMATU general secretary, Dr Cedric Sihlangu.

The Public Servants Association of South Africa (PSA) also welcomed the budget, but stressed that more bold decisions need to be made in certain aspects.

The association said while they were happy with the reversal of some austerity and cost-containment measures, with the hope that these funds would be redirected to health and education, they were however worried about the lack of economic growth.

However, Section27 said, if anything, the budget allocation would likely see the country spending nearly R320 less per learner and R200 less per health service user in the coming year.

With basic education having received a 3.4% increase from R313.7 bn in 2023/24 to R324.5 bn, the organisation said this translated to R23 105 per learner per annum, a R770 increase from last year’s R23 420 in nominal terms.

However, if the projected CPI inflation of 4.7% for the financial year was factored in, the actual investment to education may only come up to R309.2 bn instead.

“If we factor in these things the actual spending per learner would only round up to a 1.2%, resulting in a cut of R315. This will result in less resources for South African public schools to adequately fund the provision of scholar transport, stationery, and learning materials.”

Section27 said while the proposed cuts to basic services this year may on the surface appear less devastating than those presented in the minister’s 2023/2024 Budget, the recent budget allocation would not assist the crucial sectors at all.

In fact, the 2024/25 Budget was unlikely to achieve any real boost to education considering the R397.9 million cut to the Funza Lushaka bursary and increased allocation of only 3.2% to the compensation of basic education personnel to R241.9bn from the previous year’s R235.3bn.

“This below inflation investment will likely be absorbed by cost-of-living increases for existing staff rather than by increasing the teaching headcount.

They added that the austerity trend sadly continued into investment to the public health care system. Using the same calculation the real spend per health care user had also been cut.

“Accounting for inflation translates to a 2.5% real cut to the public health wage bill meaning funding will likely decrease staff headcount and not even cover inflation-linked wage increases. Without further urgent intervention, nursing and health professional posts are likely to remain vacant.

“Like our public schools, our public health care system has fewer resources to provide access to quality health care to the 51.9-million public health care users,” read the statement.