South Africa’s newly appointed Finance Minister Tito Mboweni has promised additional funds to ensure female students have access to sanitary pads.
There have been growing calls for this amid complaints that girls – especially those in poor, rural communities – have been missing out on school because of the high cost of the pads.
In some provinces they are already free for all female students.
To cheers in parliament, he also announced that from next April the 15% tax on sanitary pads would be scrapped.
Bread flour and cake flour were also now going to be exempt from VAT, he said, explaining that he had asked people on social media for their tips ahead of the speech:
“I received 3,299 tweets in total. One of them is from Tintsi Ngwenya in Johannesburg, who said: ‘Sanitary pads should be tax free – after considerable debate and consultation, as of the 1 April 2019, government will zero-rate the following items: One, sanitary pads. Two, bread flour Three, cake flour.’”
Mr. Mboweni, who has only been in his job for two weeks, also gave a frank assessment of South Africa’s economy in the mid-term budget speech.
He said the country could not afford to continue borrowing at its current rate and must reduce its national debt, now expected to reach 60% of GDP in the next five years.
He said that the public sector wage bill exceeded its budget by 30bn rand ($2bn, £1,6bn).
Mr Mboweni repeatedly spoke about the cancer of corruption and said that those who were found guilty “must be locked up” in jail.
The speech was free of financial jargon – and he quoted from the Bible and Charles Dickens:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity… we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way.”