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52 years ago, 30 of the then 32 independent African states came together and founded the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), which would later go on to become the African Union (AU).
Every year, on 25 May, we commemorate the signing of the OAU’s founding charter in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 1963. It is a day on which African unity in combating challenges such as poverty, conflict, disease and climate change is celebrated in the AU’s 53 member states, as well as among the many African diaspora scattered across the globe.
It is also a day on which all South Africans should reflect on our role, as a nation, in Africa.
I have never been more optimistic about this continent. It’s a continent filled with opportunity. Equally so, it’s a continent with many challenges.
The fates of our country and our continent are intertwined. For Africa to succeed, South Africa must succeed, and vice versa.
Unfortunately, South Africa is not where it could be right now. We are not contributing what we should towards making Africa the continent of opportunity that it can be. We are not living up to our potential of being a regional engine of economic growth that can help propel Africa forward.
Holding us back as a country are poverty, unemployment and inequality.
Here in South Africa, many people are without work. 66% of these are young South Africans.
We need millions of new, permanent jobs, and we need them soon. No government can create these jobs. It can create short-term “piece jobs” – which is what the ANC has been promising for years – but substantial numbers of permanent jobs can only be enabled through a growing economy.
We need one million new entrepreneurs. For this to happen, we need to remove as many of the bureaucratic hurdles to starting and running a successful business as we possibly can. And then we need to give our resourceful thinkers with the bright plans access to venture capital.
But simply reducing red tape and providing entrepreneurs with start-up capital won’t solve the problem if we don’t urgently deal with the massive obstacles to growth in South Africa, and specifically our economic heartland, Gauteng.
There is legislation in this country that makes it difficult for people to start and grow businesses that can employ people. An example of this legislation is the elitist B-BBEE codes that would have reduced points for broad-based schemes. These codes were launched and then withdrawn last week, a move symptomatic of the confused leadership of the current government.
The DA will constantly fight against all legislation that benefits a few at the expense of the many. We need economic redress and broad-based black empowerment measures that benefit more South Africans rather than a few who are politically connected.
And we need to have infrastructure that makes it easier for people to trade and do business in this country.
Load-shedding, like e-tolls, represents a severe constraint on economic growth and our ability to open up opportunity for all.
A country without dependable power is a country going nowhere. Particularly in our stage of development, we simply cannot afford to sabotage our own economy by failing to meet our energy needs.
The DA has made it clear what we need to do to solve the energy crisis, and it starts with breaking up the destructive Eskom monopoly. We need to open the grid to far more independent producers, with a greater diversity of energy sources.
We must reject the proposed unrealistic tariff hikes, and we must abandon the nonsensical nuclear deal, which will simply take too long, benefit a few connected individuals and cost far too much. Finally, we must stop paying deployed cadres enormous bonuses in return for effectively ruining the power producer. Eskom execs must pay back the R62 million in bonuses already dished out to them.
Regarding e-tolls, the people of Gauteng have spoken. The gap between targeted revenue and tolls collected is widening every month. The system is not working, and e-tolls need to be scrapped right away. If enforced through new punitive measures announced this week, it will destroy not only Gauteng’s economy, but that of the entire country.
What will be vital in the long-term is turning around our education system. Crippled by a teachers union that acts more like a crime syndicate, education in South Africa is languishing well behind most of our African neighbours. When many of the teachers can’t pass the very exams they set, the children have no hope of leaving school equipped for the future.
It’s one thing to talk about a shortage of jobs, but we can’t have that conversation without also talking about the skills shortage we’re facing. Our education failure has left many young people virtually unemployable. So even if we manage to create enough jobs, it won’t help if we can’t fill them.
On this Africa Day, we must look towards become an integral part of the African community again. Denouncing and preventing the brutal xenophobic attacks on our own soil is a start. But we can do so much more. We must radically increase our African trade by making it simpler, cheaper and safer to take goods across borders.
Once it becomes easier to not only start and run a business here, but also to buy, sell and transport across our borders, South Africa will become a magnet for foreign investment and an engine of economic growth for our region and the continent.
I love this continent and I believe it can become prosperous. South Africa needs to play its part, and that means growing our economy and creating more jobs to realise a better future.