Notions that the gap between the rich and poor in South Africa is widening is a farce, President Jacob Zuma said on Thursday.
Speaking at the official opening of the National House of Traditional Leaders in Parliament, Zuma inferred that the income gap was a lie which had been repeated several times in the past 18 years.
"We've almost come to believe it is true that ever since 1994 the gap has been widening... it's not scientifically correct," he said.
In an apparent attack on academics and economists, Zuma said comments on the growing gap between the classes was "spin" meant to unfairly criticise the government.
He said there was no measurement of the wealth gap before 1994, as only white people were counted in the census.
"We [black people] were pushed into the homelands.... We were not counted and we didn't even know how much we are," said Zuma.
He said it was only after the democratic dispensation that all citizens were allowed to move from the rural homelands into cities for work opportunities, leading to massive urbanisation.
This led to its own set of problems, as there had been insufficient infrastructure in cities to accommodate the influx, leading to the mushrooming of informal settlements.
"It's a problem of success.... We succeeded in telling citizens they can go wherever they want in the country."
Zuma insisted that the gap between rich and poor had in fact narrowed.
Comparing the pre-1994 period with today, Zuma said that in the past black people had not been allowed to participate in the mainstream economy, whereas in post-apartheid South Africa there were many black-owned businesses listed on the stock exchange.
"In fact, poverty was worse [before 1994] than it is now.... People are getting grants which they didn't get before.... If that isn't closing the gap what is?"
Zuma said the government was on track to change the quality of life of South Africans.
"People who are writing in the newspapers are educated people and we think they are writing the truth.... It's propaganda which is dangerous," he said.
Speaking on a Cabinet decision made last week to freeze the salaries of the executive for the next year, Zuma said it was a symbolic gesture to "indicate the need to close the gap".