SA Today: The jobless need NDP action, not promises

zilleListening to President Zuma deliver his 7th State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Tuesday evening, it was hard to tell what year we were in. Swap a few numbers, percentages and dates, and this could have been any of his previous addresses.

Like each of his past SONAs, Tuesday evening was big on intentions, but not so big on action. It never seems to go beyond “The Plan”.

And here’s the thing: everyone already knows about the plan. In fact, all major parties endorsed it, which means the majority of voters voted for it. The National Development Plan (NDP) is our blueprint for growth and jobs. Properly implemented, the NDP will create the conditions to restore the investor confidence we need to kick-start our economy.

But if it remains just a good intention bogged down in the ANC’s internal conflicts, red tape, endless committees, and poor management, we will stay forever stuck in the doldrums of weak growth and rising unemployment.

An editorial in the Cape Argus made this point clearly. It quoted Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa saying rating agencies had told the government that its National Development Plan was wonderful… “but we want to see whether you are indeed going to implement it.”

These are the very same agencies responsible for our recent credit rating downgrade, and they’re not alone in wanting to see the NDP translated into action. They speak for just about every South African who understands what it takes to create jobs.

Starting new businesses and expanding existing ones is the only path to sustainable job creation.

In his SONA speech, President Zuma showed that he knows what the problem is: our economy isn’t growing fast enough because the private sector isn’t investing. Investors can choose to start businesses anywhere in the world. They will only do so in South Africa if there is enough certainty that government has the political will to implement its own plan. Policy uncertainty kills investment and growth.

Although about 90% of voters voted for parties that endorse the NDP, it is being blocked by organisations that did not even stand for election. The ANC’s alliance partners (especially COSATU) demand the power to veto government policy without a voter mandate. This is untenable in a democracy.

Increasingly, it is becoming clear that the ANC will have to choose between implementing the National Development Plan, or maintaining the unity of its “tripartite alliance” with COSATU and the SACP. It cannot do both.

One of the greatest ironies of South African politics is that the only province where the NDP is being consistently implemented, is the one governed by the Democratic Alliance. My State of the Province address on Friday sets out some of our strategies, and is available here.

In this newsletter I focus on one of the NDP’s targets: “By 2020 there should be 100% broadband penetration. All schools, health facilities and similar social institutions will be connected and individual citizens will have access to information and services.”

This has been a long-standing goal of the Western Cape Government and it is now within reach. Over the next three years we will invest R3-billion (out of a total R14.5 billion infrastructure budget) to roll out broadband connectivity across the province.

I was able to make this historic announcement on Friday, because, shortly before SOPA began, the Western Cape Government’s Director General signed a contract with Neotel and the State Information and Training Agency (SITA), to supply broad band connectivity linking over 2000 government sites across the province within 2 – 3 years.

This includes all schools, clinics, libraries and offices. These sites will then provide the base for 384 wi-fi zones, spanning almost every ward across the province. Neotel, will donate the wi-fi enabling technology and the Western Cape government will fund limited free internet access because we consider connectivity a crucial basic service in a modern economy.

Every site, and more significantly every school in the province will be connected with minimum speeds of 10Mbp/s by 2016. By August 2018, most of these sites will be serviced by fibre optic cables. A total of 90% of sites will enjoy speeds of 100Mbps, and 10% will have 1Gbps connections.

Reliable broadband changes the way children learn and the way teachers teach. It streamlines public services, connects people with information and jobs, and links entrepreneurs with markets and suppliers.

It’s the most ambitious information technology project ever attempted in South Africa and it has the potential to radically change the lives – the future prospects, the opportunities and dreams – of thousands of people across the province.

In the world we live in today, nothing opens opportunities like internet access. Those of us with access to broadband consider it part of our lives. It’s like using electrical appliances or making phone calls. We take it for granted in our workplace and at home. Life, as we have come to know it, could not carry on without the Internet.

So consider, for a moment, the enormous disadvantage of someone who has to try to get ahead without it.

A report in 2011 by the Human Rights Council of the United Nations General Assembly declared access to the Internet a basic human right, describing it as one of the most powerful instruments of the 21st Century, enabling access to information, and making freedom of opinion and expression real. Internet access is also increasingly becoming indispensable to the competitiveness of small business.

Several countries, including Finland, France, Costa Rica, Greece and Spain have already adopted laws to ensure that Internet access is available to all citizens. The BBC recently surveyed 26 countries and found that almost 80% of people believe access to the Internet is a fundamental right.

A few years ago an amusing take on Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs did the email rounds. Someone had taken a thick red pen and added a layer at the bottom of the pyramid of basic human needs. In this block they scribbled in large, urgent letters: INTERNET.

While funny, this is rapidly becoming true in modernising economies.

Describing broadband access as a basic human right in a country such as ours may sound a little melodramatic, given the array of other unmet basic needs. But when you look at the impact of broadband access on society – or perhaps rather the impact of the lack thereof – it isn’t far-fetched at all.

A 2009 World Bank report analysed the impact of broadband on growth in 120 countries. It found that, in developed countries, each additional 10 percentage points of broadband penetration resulted in a 1.21% increase in per capita GDP growth. In developing countries, such as ours, the GDP increase was even higher at 1.38%.

Increasing South Africa’s internet penetration by 10% could raise our GDP by over R50 billion.

Without access to broadband, an entire generation of South African youth will grow up without the access to opportunities, skills and knowledge that need to function in a modern economy.

It’s anything but an elite luxury.

Which brings me back to our broadband rollout in the Western Cape.

For the past two years we’ve had this project delayed by the most cumbersome and crippling red tape imaginable. We’ve had to halt and restart the process to comply with SITA rules (which often don’t make sense, and don’t seem to apply to tender processes in other provinces), and we’ve lost a lot of valuable time.

Signing the agreement with SITA and Neotel last week means we can now finally put the frustration of the past two years behind us and look forward to reducing the digital divide in the Western Cape.

This will be a game changer for the people and the economy of the Western Cape, and we hope the rest of South Africa will benefit from our experience.

The DA believes that if we implement this, and the other core proposals in the NDP, we could break the cycle of poverty in a generation.

No more lip service, President Zuma. It’s time you took the mandate of the voters seriously, choose growth and jobs, and put the NDP into action.

Helen Zille

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