This is my first newsletter of 2016, a year which could be make-or-break for our democracy. I wish you and your family a happy, healthy, safe and prosperous year in this beautiful country of ours.
This is an election year, and therefore a year in which each one of us has an important role to play in bringing about change for the better. More than anything, I and the rest of the DA team want change that creates jobs on a massive scale. Because job creation is the best way to fight poverty and thus ensure the happiness, health, safety and prosperity of our collective citizenry.
I am by nature an optimist. I believe that tomorrow can and will be better than yesterday, but I also believe that positive thinking needs to be followed up with positive action. To that end, the DA is running a Jobs Campaign for the month of January, to give a voice to the unemployed and to communicate our plan for creating jobs on a massive scale. We launched the campaign yesterday, in Johannesburg City Centre, by unveiling a billboard with a ticker that shows the additional number of people who have become jobless since President Zuma took office: 1 842 000 so far, and increasing by an average of 774 per day.
The result is that there are now 8.3 million South Africans (and counting) who would like to work but cannot find a job or have given up looking. Each one of these 8.3 million people is locked out of the economy – unable to provide for themselves and their families and denied the independence, self-esteem and opportunities that a job confers. And this number with its attendant misery, injustice and social risk will only grow while we continue on our current job-destructive path, characterized by a hostile legislative framework, crumbling infrastructure, dismal education system and ill-considered, erratic decision-making, such as President Zuma’s recent game of musical chairs with finance ministers.
This morning I was in the Free State, looking at drought and its impact of spiraling food prices and job destruction. This is a major crisis and the poor are absolutely vulnerable. Our current incapable state cannot protect the poor from such a crisis and provide the necessary remedies to stem job losses.
Another major crisis area is our youth unemployment, which at 52% is over four times higher than the world and African average, both of which are 12%, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO). Youth unemployment has aptly become known as “SA’s ticking time-bomb”.
It doesn’t have to be this way. There is so much that can be done on so many fronts to turn the situation around, to open up opportunities, to shield the poor and to bring outsiders into the economy. There is so much “low-hanging fruit”: changes that are relatively easy, quick and cheap to implement, and that produce big fast results. Easy wins, if you like. Beyond that, there are changes that will be more challenging, but that must be made nonetheless.
Two vital notions underpin the DA’s approach to job creation: the first is that policies must be made, decisions taken and resources allocated with the greater good in mind, rather than for the benefit of specific interest groups. The second is that government’s role is to create an enabling environment for job creation, rather than to create jobs itself. President Zuma’s government has styled itself as a job creator: over half our national budget is now spent on public sector wages and still we have growing unemployment. This is proof enough that the government simply cannot directly create jobs on the scale we need in South Africa. On the contrary, a bloated public sector wage bill crowds out exactly the kind of spending we do need in order to enable and stimulate job creation.
No, the DA believes in lean, clean government that efficiently and effectively creates the fertile conditions in which entrepreneurship thrives and in which investors are confident to invest. Our approach can be summarized in five key focus areas, which I will discuss in more detail in the coming weeks.
- Create an enabling infrastructural environment
The DA would invest heavily in the provision and maintenance of world-class water, energy, transport and communication infrastructure. These are essential prerequisites for job-creating economic growth on the scale we have in mind. We urgently need to dismantle the disastrous Eskom monopoly and open the grid to a more balanced mix of power suppliers. And we need to reject the unaffordable and unnecessary nuclear deal.
- Give people the education and skills they need to become independent
The DA would also invest both heavily and consistently in education infrastructure and provision in order to equip people with the skills and abilities necessary to participate in the economy. Universal access to top quality schooling is well overdue and entirely within South Africa’s means to deliver. So too is a top quality post-school education and training system.
- Strongly support entrepreneurs
Only the small, medium and micro enterprises sector (SMME sector) can create jobs on the scale necessary to provide opportunities for all who want to participate in our economy. SA is positively bursting with small business potential, which the DA would unleash through more flexible labour policies, minimising red tape, a more business-friendly regulatory environment, and greater access to capital, tender opportunities and small business support. It must be attractive and easy for people to start and run their own small businesses.
- Create an enabling legislative environment
Our current labour regime is not only hostile to investment, but simply unfair to the 8.3 million jobless South Africans in that it locks them out of the job market. South Africa has had a rigid labour regime for over two decades now and it has failed dismally to serve the greater good. Instead it has delivered us one of the highest unemployment rates in the world and all the misery that comes with that. It is time to press the reset button on this one and introduce a new set of policies – policies which create more opportunities for job-seekers by making it easier for businesses to hire; policies which promote excellence and competition and which give inexperienced new entrants the opportunity to prove their willingness to work and learn.
- Incentivise job creation
The DA would implement job-creating policies, such as tax incentives for job-creating investments, a youth wage subsidy, apprenticeship wages, and the establishment of special economic zones.
Real change comes about when we act on our hopes and dreams. If you are with the DA in dreaming of an inclusive South African economy which creates job opportunities for all and fights poverty, then I urge you to give us your vote in the local government elections this year. Give us the chance to show how good, clean government can deliver at a local level and help us to build the momentum needed to bring our job-creating, poverty-fighting policies to South Africa in 2019.