This speech was delivered by Mmusi Maimane on Tuesday 16 February 2016, at the State of the Nation Debate in the National Assembly.
Last week, while razor wire was going up around Parliament, and stun grenades were dispersing the crowds, the President was tucked safely away, somewhere on Planet Zuma.
Planet Zuma is a place in a parallel universe, far, far away from the lives of ordinary South Africans.
Planet Zuma is a place where a swimming pool is called a fire pool.
It is a place where all the continents of the world fit into Africa.
It is a place where the Finance Minister flies economy class, but the president buys himself a R4 billion jet.
Planet Zuma is a place where a President can replace an excellent Finance Minister with a backbencher that nobody has ever heard of.
It is a place where an international fugitive wanted for genocide is welcomed and given refuge.
Planet Zuma is a place where young people who stand up for their right to learn are dismissed as part of a “third force” and charged with treason.
It is a place where mineworkers can be massacred by the police, without apology and without compensation for their families.
Planet Zuma is where our President lives, in a galaxy far, far away from the lives of ordinary South Africans.
In his speech on Thursday, we learned more about Planet Zuma than the country we live in.
On Planet Zuma, there is no jobs crisis. This is why, in the President’s speech, we didn’t hear anything about the 8.3 million South Africans who are jobless.
On Planet Zuma, all children have access to a quality education. This must be why the President didn’t mention basic education once.
On Planet Zuma, our state owned enterprises are, in the words of the President, “performing well”.
And, on Planet Zuma, every problem can be solved by setting up a Committee, a Task Team or a Commission of Inquiry.
The President lived up to our expectations on Thursday. We expected to hear the empty words of a man out of touch with the people. And that is what we got.
We knew what to expect, but we came to listen anyway, and we stayed until the bitter end.
Because this is what the South African people expect of us. They expect us to be here, in this Parliament, making it work.
Let me be clear: we came to listen to the President out of respect for the Constitution and the office he holds. But we did not come out of respect for Jacob Zuma.
We cannot respect a man who puts himself and his rich friends first while the people of this country suffer.
We cannot respect the man personally responsible for the building of Nkandla and the firing of Nhlanhla.
Madam Speaker, Jacob Zuma is not an honourable man. Because, if he was an honourable man, he would do the honourable thing and resign.
The President is not alone on Planet Zuma. Its gravitational pull is so strong that the entire ANC has been sucked into its orbit, and it cannot escape.
The party that was once the defender of freedom has now become the defender of just one man.
Make no mistake: there are many good people in the ANC, and many of them sit here on these benches. And there are still some excellent Cabinet Ministers who do a good job in difficult circumstances.
So, when the President spoke on Thursday night, we could see how painful it was for the honourable members seated on my right.
We noticed the glum faces and muted applause on the ANC benches.
We saw Cabinet members wince as the President laboured his way through his speech.
And who can blame them?
Every honourable member on this side of the House knows the damage that this man is doing to this country, and their party.
But not one of you has the guts to speak out against what is happening. It is, quite simply, a failure of leadership. You should be ashamed.
In 1983, the great novelist, Chinua Achebe, said the following about his native Nigeria:
“The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian character. There is nothing wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example, which are the hallmarks of true leadership.”
Mr Achebe could have been writing about our own country.
Because there is nothing wrong with the South African character. There is nothing wrong with our country and the people who live here. But there is a lot wrong with our leadership.
Mr President, let us rewind to a few days before the State of the Nation Address, when your Nkandla case was heard in the Constitutional Court.
You weren’t physically in the dock, but you may as well have been. You were on trial for subverting our Constitution, corrupting our Parliament, undermining the Office of the Public Protector and violating your own oath of office.
After all those years of stalling, lying, ducking and diving, it took the Court just hours to unravel your web of defiance and deceit.
Through a string of extraordinary concessions in court, your legal team effectively relegated your caucus to its current position: under the proverbial bus.
Before that bench of esteemed judges there was simply nowhere to hide.
Now that you have been exposed in the nation’s highest court, it remains to be determined how much you will pay.
But here’s the thing: whatever the amount, it will be nothing compared to what the people of this country have already paid for your presidency.
Instead of redressing the structural inequalities of apartheid, you built yourself a big house on the backs of poor South Africans.
Instead of breaking down the barriers that keep young, black people excluded from the economy, you introduced BEE codes that keep empowering the connected few.
And, instead of dismantling Bantu Education, you have allowed the education of the African child to deteriorate.
The people who have paid the highest price of all are the people who can least afford it.
Every single poor child still stuck in our failing education system, who will never escape the poverty trap in their lifetime. You cost them their future, President Zuma.
The 8.3 million South Africans who cannot find work have paid more for you than you will ever know. They paid for you with their dreams.
I know, because we’ve heard their heartbreaking stories.
Amabali afana nebali lika Themba Lukhoto oneminyaka engamashumi amabini anesithoba ochaza ishumi leminyaka lokuswela umsebenzi nanjengelona xesha libi ngakumbi kunentolongo.
(Stories like that of like 29 year-old Themba Lukhoto who describes a decade of unemployment as worse than prison.)
Or 41 year-old Robert van Wyngaardt who lost both his legs and has been without work for the past six years. He and his unemployed wife struggle to provide for their little daughter and can’t make a living on a social grant.
Or 28 year-old Cherice Minnaar who has a college diploma but has been unemployed for the past six months. She feels her children deserve a better mother because she cannot raise them on love and water.
Kgotsa Mbusi Cele wa dingwaga dile some-a-mane le bobedi, o nang le Masters degree mme geisi a bone tiro mo dingwageng dile pedi. Are o setse a inelletse mo botshelong.
(Or 42 year-old Mbusi Cele who hold a Masters degree but hasn’t had a job in two years now. He says he has lost the will to live.)
And there are many more just like them. We couldn’t fit all 8.3 million into this book, but here are some of their stories. They are the people this government forgot.
I believe every person has a conscience, Mr President. My question is: how do you live with yours?
You call yourself a champion of poor black South Africans.
You talk big about the twin evils of racism and structural racial inequality.
So why then, Mr President, do you govern as though black lives don’t matter?
Why do you govern for the elite few, and not for the many who live in poverty?
President Zuma, we are acutely aware of the structural legacy of Apartheid.
We know that unemployment, poverty and inequality is a result of a deeply unfair history of exclusion and oppression.
But your job is to fix it. Not overnight. Nobody is expecting miracles. We just expect our country to move in the right direction.
There is one part of our country moving in the right direction. It is a place where the life of each and every citizen matters.
It is a place where the structural inequalities of the past are being rolled back.
It is a place where, every day, progress is made towards a fair society.
It is a place where the DA government cut the perks and privileges of politicians. Where the cost of ministerial vehicles was slashed in half, where blue light brigades were banned and economy class flights are the norm.
And please note, President Zuma, these cost-cutting measures weren’t implemented because the economy was in meltdown. They were implemented because we don’t think politicians are more important than other people.
It is a place where over two thirds of the City of Cape Town’s budget is spent in poor communities, and where the poor receive the most generous package of free water and electricity in the entire country.
Dis ’n plek waar die regering vir al die mense werk.
(It’s a place where the government works for all the people.)
It is a place where, to grow the economy and create jobs, the government focuses on getting the fundamentals right: clean government, policy certainty, infrastructure development, support for entrepreneurs and aggressive targeting of investment.
A place where fewer people are unemployed and more people are hopeful of finding a job.
It is a place where the inequities in the health system are finally being undone – not by unaffordable new schemes that will bankrupt the system, but by sound, clean government that delivers better healthcare for the poor.
A place where the first new hospitals built by the DA government were in Khayelitsha and Mitchell’s Plain – areas neglected for two decades by the ANC.
It is a place where getting the basics right pays dividends. Where the matric pass rate improved last year to 84.7% – the highest in South Africa – while the pass rates in every other province declined.
It is a place where the pass rate in schools in the most impoverished areas increased from 57% under the ANC to 73% under the DA.
A place where this year, for the first time, every matriculant who passed qualified for access to some form of tertiary education, and half of them for university entrance.
Mr President, while you and your cronies are on Planet Zuma, we are here where the people are. We are improving people’s lives, step by step and day by day.
And we are making progress.
James Baldwin, the renowned American novelist and civil rights activist, once said: “The most dangerous creation of any society is the man who has nothing to lose”.
Mr President, your neglect has created a society of 8.3 million jobless people, many with nothing left to lose.
The time is coming soon when they will sweep you and your cronies out of office, and vote in a new government. A government committed to building a fair society, where every child has a chance to be the best they can be.
And when we deliver our inaugural State of the Nation Address, it will sound very different to yours, President Zuma.
We will announce a number of measures to turn our economy around and lift people out of poverty.
We will cut the size of your bloated cabinet in half, saving R4.7 billion.
We will privatise our failing state owned enterprises, beginning with SAA and Eskom who guzzle billions of Rands every year.
We will make South Africa a nation of entrepreneurs by cutting red tape and providing more support and training for small businesses.
We will improve Black Economic Empowerment so that it rewards companies that invest in their workers and create jobs, instead of simply re-empowering the same connected individuals.
We will turn Basic Education around before we lose another generation of black children. We’ll do so by giving teachers the support and training they need to equip our children to compete in the global knowledge economy.
We will increase NSFAS funding for poor students so that no qualifying student is denied further education because they cannot afford it.
We will make communities safer by putting 250,000 properly trained police officers on the streets.
We will fight gangsterism and drugs by re-instating the Narcotics Bureau and building more rehabilitation centres.
We will save R30 billion per year by cutting corruption and firing corrupt officials.
We will invest at least 10% of GDP in the infrastructure vital for economic growth.
We will dedicate an extra R10 billion to speed up land reform, provide training and support for emerging farmers, and roll out farm equity schemes that give workers ownership of the land they work on.
We will accelerate the issuing of title deeds to give people assets and redress past land ownership.
And we will declare the drought a national disaster so that we can urgently protect our food security.
Because we understand that helping our farming communities is more important than buying new cars for traditional leaders, or remodeling ministers’ offices.
This is how we will build a safe, prosperous and inclusive South Africa, and prepare our country for a changing world.
We will harness the full potential of the South African people. Because, against all odds, ordinary people are achieving extraordinary things.
It’s the teacher who works hard every day to uplift poor children.
It’s the policeman who risks his life to safeguard his community.
It’s the entrepreneur who must battle impossible regulations to keep her business afloat.
It’s the unemployed parent who doesn’t stop looking for a way to take care of her family.
Imagine what they could do if they had a government that worked for them instead of against them.
Mr President, in your parallel universe I’m sure your State of the Nation speech would have been just fine. But here, in the real world, it just didn’t cut it.
On Planet Zuma you can pretend the schools are working, that investors are lining up and state owned enterprises are thriving. But in the real world, none of those things are true.
On Planet Zuma you can carry on dismissing the aspirations of young, black South Africans. You can keep on betraying their hopes for a brighter future, and govern as if their lives don’t matter. But here in the real world, each one of those lives really matters.
Here in the real world we need a President and a government that serve all the people of South Africa.
We need a President with a vision, and the power to unite people – black and white – in striving for this vision. Because we are better together. We prosper together.
We need a President who is an example to his government, and to the nation.
We need a President who is in touch with the people.
We need a President who puts the people first, and himself last.
You, sir, are not that President.
I thank you.