SPECIAL BOKAMOSO | An agenda for reform

The following speech was delivered by DA Leader Mmusi Maimane on Wednesday in the National Assembly during the Budget Vote on the Presidency.

Madam Speaker

Honourable Members

Fellow South Africans



This week the President will celebrate his first 100 days in office, and we offer our own congratulations to him on the achievements of these past three months.

In particular, the President and his party have made two announcements in recent days which we wholeheartedly welcome:

Firstly, the President has said that he will not oppose our court application to scrap the deal by which the State would cover all of former President Jacob Zuma’s legal defense fees.

The President’s announcement that he will abide by the Court’s decision in this matter is an important step towards finally seeing justice for Mr Zuma. His trial has been so long delayed only because he could always rely on the public to pay for his constant delay tactics.

Once this strategy is no longer available to him, we know that justice for his crimes will follow swiftly. His retirement must be as uncomfortable for him as his Presidency was for South Africa.

Secondly, the governing party has, in the last few days, performed a complete about-turn on amending the Constitution to enable land expropriation without compensation.

The ANC has said that it now plans to do so within the confines of the current Constitutional framework. This is a very significant departure from the language the President has used over the last months.

The current wording of the Constitution safeguards against arbitrary expropriation and requires “just and equitable” compensation. It is a far cry from the broad-ranging permission to expropriate whatever, whenever, with no compensation, that the government has spoken of.

I welcome this shift from the EFF’s position, whereby expropriated land is owned by the state, to the position the DA has consistently held on this issue, which is that property rights must be protected. This is progress.

Now let us not stop there, Mr President.

Let’s also take the thousands of hectares of state-owned farmland and hand this back to the people.

Let’s accelerate the transfer of title deeds.

In metros and towns with DA-led governments we have already made 100,000 South Africans home owners by handing them title deeds. Let’s double or triple this number.

Mr President, you said we must work together to achieve fundamental social and economic transformation.

And so I’d like to invite you to come with me to the rural community of Gwatyu in the Eastern Cape, where the people have been waiting decades to own their land. Come and show them your commitment to returning land to the people.

Honourable Members, these two matters are substantive, and go to the heart of what the Ramaphosa Presidency needs to achieve.

Namely, it must show real commitment to building a capable state that is corruption-free, and it must prove that it will return us to meaningful economic growth that creates jobs.

However, as we take stock of these first 100 days, the early morning mists of the New Dawn are starting to lift and burn away under the glare of the country and the world.

Given how we suffered under the Presidency of Jacob Zuma, it is understandable that for some time the country gave the new President ample benefit of the doubt.

But now in the harsh light of day, the conferences, talk shops and PR launches will not cut it.

For unemployed South Africans, and the millions more who are in jobs that are insecure and inconsistent, what is needed is real change. Meaningful change. And immediate change.

If we want to rebuild our country, it will require a new agenda for deep, abiding reform.

Firstly, it will require deep political reform.

We must break free from the politics of identity as practiced by liberation movements across the continent. Our people need a political system in which their choices express their ideals and not their race.

This lies at the heart of the DA’s project – ours is a mission to build one South Africa for all.

The political scientist and journalist, Yascha Mounk, describes this challenge in his book, “The People vs Democracy”, when he says:

“The noble experiment of multi-ethnic democracy can only succeed if all of its adherents start to emphasize what unites rather than what divides them.

In the last eight years, a righteous impatience with the continuing reality of racial injustice has increasingly pushed some people to denounce the principles of liberal democracy as hypocritical, or even to make group rights the building block of society. This is a moral as well as a strategic mistake: The only society that can treat all of its members with respect is one in which every individual enjoys rights on the basis of being a citizen, not on the basis of belonging to a particular group.”

This was written for an American context, but it is as relevant here as we try to build a truly multi-ethnic democracy. This demands a government and a President that is committed to all its citizens.

Fellow South Africans,

An important part of this political reform is building a capable state.

So many of our country’s problems can be traced back to the ANC’s policy of cadre deployment.

When you appoint people purely for their allegiance, you are putting the interests of a faction ahead of the interests of your country.

Mr President, you will have to summon all of your political skills to deal with the factions in your party that harass you from every side with even more intensity than before.

We see this playing out in the North West and the decision to place the province under administration. If this were truly about governance and not factions, then provinces like KZN and Mpumalanga would have also been subjected to administration.

We see it playing out in the negotiated settlements in cabinet, where people like Minister Nomvula Mokonyane and Minister Malusi Gigaba have been retained despite their track records.

You will need to turn your back on cadre deployment, Mr President, and you will need to rid your government of criminals and the corrupt.

It is unacceptable that you have given Mr Arthur Fraser the corner office at the Department of Correctional Services. He should be getting a corner cell.

The only reason he is treated differently to someone like Tom Moyane is because of his faction.

Equally so, those responsible for State Capture who remain in government, like Mr Ace Magashule, cannot go unpunished. There must be real accountability.

They must be cut out of government, thrown out of the party and run out of town.

If not, all these promises to seriously fight corruption will be shown to be hollow.

In Johannesburg, Mayor Mashaba has already uncovered corruption worth almost R15bn since taking office. We need to take this fight to every municipality, province and national department.

Secondly, we need sweeping economic reform.

We need a President that grasps the full scope of our challenge in this country and what it will take to overcome it. Because it is an enormous challenge.

The latest Labour Force Survey tells us that, today, a staggering 9.5 million South Africans are without work. That’s 264,000 more than the previous quarter.

When it comes to South Africans under the age of 24, the unemployment rate has now moved up to 66%. Two-thirds of our young people cannot find jobs.

And we are not preparing them for the world of work either. 78% of our Grade 4 children cannot read for meaning.

Barely ten years old, we have already failed these young citizens of our country.

Over the past decade our Foreign Direct Investment has plummeted and our national debt has skyrocketed.

These are the problems that define us as a nation today. This is what our President should focus on fixing.

President Ramaphosa has the advantage of following in the footsteps of the very worst the ANC had to offer to our country.

Simply reversing some of Mr Zuma’s worst mistakes, like appointing new boards at Eskom, Prasa and Transnet, has earned him applause.

Make no mistake, I welcome the new boards at our embattled SOE’s. But instead of changing boards, we should be bringing real reform by selling off some of these companies and breaking up their monopolies.

SAA is a serious fiscal risk, Mr President, and yet you continue to ask the public to underwrite it.

We need a President that is serious about living within our means – one that can look at our bloated cabinet and our expensive administration and say: half of this can go; it is wasteful.

We need to be honest about what does and doesn’t work in growing our economy and opening opportunities for people. Let’s recognise when national government must step aside and let our cities and towns drive economic development.

Let us explore every avenue in getting our young people into jobs, including the possibility of a civilian national service – a post-school year during which young people can gain valuable work experience.

Let us look to the establishment of a Jobs and Justice Fund to help new entrants get a foothold in the economy. This would demonstrate real redress, allowing the new miner and the new farmer entry into these sectors, and not the connected few.

Simply tinkering with existing policy will not turn this ship around. We need comprehensive economic reform.

Third, we need a President that can speak for all our people in language that brings us together.

We seem unable to have mature discussions about how to deal with the legacies of our past, in a way that does not still split us up by race and turn us against each other.

We have become a country so ruled by our past that we simply cannot envisage our future, never mind achieve it.

We are victims of a failing liberation movement that has no choice but to cling to the past, because it has no credible plan for the future.

Every big conversation we have today is about what brought us here, and not about where we’re going.

Every big solution offered is about re-dividing what’s already there, and not about creating more for all.

We are constantly told that there must be losers for others to win. We are told that the advancement of economic opportunity in South Africa is a zero sum game.

I don’t believe this for one second. I believe it is entirely possible for us to build an inclusive society and an inclusive economy without creating enemies. But we can only do this together.

For this we need a President obsessed with the future, who boldly makes the case for one South Africa for all.

Fourth, we need a President that can put the interests of young South Africans first.

There is no greater shame to every Member of this House than our country’s dismal public education disaster.

It should haunt our thoughts every day. It should be a standing item on the business of this House until it is sorted out.

We will never fix South Africa until we can deliver quality, world-class public education. And we certainly won’t achieve this by slashing R7.2bn from the education infrastructure budget, as this government has just done.

Mr President, you should bravely challenge SADTU – that organisation that so hobbles our education system that they now control six out of nine provincial education departments.

What they have done is state capture too, and I wonder frankly if it is not even more damaging to our country than the state capture President Zuma was responsible for.

And fifth, we need a President that can restore South Africa’s honour on the global stage.

We need a President that can re-establish our moral authority in the world and on the continent that we should be leading.

We should not side with dictators and pariahs and allow genocidal criminals to go free. That is not the South Africa we envision.

We should be world leaders in morality and peace, in human rights and democracy, and the President must take the lead in restoring us to that place.

He can begin to do so by abandoning any thought of withdrawing from the International Criminal Court.

If anything, let us strengthen that institution by offering it our full support, sending to it our best jurists, and helping to ensure justice for the victims of crimes against humanity around the world.

Honourable Members,

These are the reforms our country urgently needs.

This is what is required from our President.

But it will be very hard for President Ramaphosa, because he doesn’t have the mandate for meaningful reform. He only has room for tinkering.

We don’t need someone who is better at executing the old plan. We need a new plan.

And we need a President bold enough to lead our country out of the perilous situation we are in.

Time will tell if we have a President who can do this.

Time will tell if we have a President who will deliver real change, or if we simply have a slightly more presentable version of the old one.

If we want to serve the people who put us here in this house with their votes, then we have to start treating their future as our number one priority. And that future is one that is shared by each and every South African, black or white.

We must stop creating enemies in our society. We must stop mobilising around race.

Mr President, you once said that if people voted for the DA, the “boers will come back”, by which you meant South Africa would return to apartheid. That is a dirty and scurrilous lie, and you knew it when you said it.

I hope you have put those views and that language behind you, because it doesn’t serve our country. It causes divisions while we should be uniting our people.

It takes a lot of effort to keep these fights going. Let us rather put all that effort into building a prosperous, non-racial, inclusive country.

Let us make ours a nation where people no longer feel threatened by criminals in their homes, their streets, and their schools.

Let us rebuild our police service into one than can protect our communities and make our neighbourhoods safe again. Let’s begin by shifting control of the police to our provinces.

Let’s introduce rural safety units so that farmers and farm workers can sleep well at night.

Let us give our military what they need to be able to properly protect and secure our borders.

Let us put our efforts into fixing the broken education that the majority of our children still receive. Let’s bring back accountability in teaching and let’s attract talent and passion to this crucial job.

Let us commit to meaningful land reform with full title for people.

Let us reconfirm that ours is a nation governed by the Rule of Law. That’s one law for all our citizens, no matter how rich or politically connected.

But most importantly, let us look to the future in everything we do.

Because if we don’t we will never progress as a nation.

Mr President, the task before you is not an easy one. The reforms our country so desperately needs are at odds with much of the ideology your party still clings to.

If you decide to put your country first, it could come at a cost to the ANC.

But I assure you, if we don’t make these reforms we will be left behind.

We’re part of the global economy. We have to be competitive and resilient if we are to get ahead.

We need a President who recognises this and can make the tough decisions that will move us forward.

We need a President who will fearlessly confront the enemies of our progress, including those inside his party or his alliance.

We need a President who plans future victories, and not one who leans on the crutch of past glories.

We need a President strong enough to introduce the reform that will save our country, even if that means taking on his own party.

The months ahead, before we go to the polls, will tell if you are such a President.

Thank you.

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