The following speech was delivered by DA Leader, Mmusi Maimane, during the joint sitting for the debate on the President’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) in Parliament.
At the very moment a child will be born in South Africa. This child is born in a modern, hi-tech hospital – most likely the same hospital where her parents met her several months ago for the first time on a 3D scan.
They will soon take her home to a safe community where she and her family will be protected by private security. Later she will attend a good school where she will have access to a wide range of subjects that will prepare her for a fast-changing future.
Her path through school, then university and finally into a career stretches out ahead of her. Yes, she will have to work hard at every step of the way, but all the opportunities she needs in life will be there for her to take if she so chooses.
At the same time, another child is also born in South Africa. She is born in a clinic on the outskirts of a small town. Neither of her parents has a steady job. She will live in a poverty-stricken community gripped by fear and crime, with little option of escaping.
She will have no choice but to go to the nearest school, even though most of the children there don’t reach matric, and most of the teachers are regularly absent.
There is no path laid out for her to a future with a degree, a career and security. If she’s lucky enough to finish school, she might be lucky enough to get a job. Any job.
This, Honourable Members, is the reality of our country.
We live in two separate worlds, determined by the circumstances of our birth.
When we speak about inequality, it’s not merely an issue of income or wealth. It’s an inequality of opportunity. An inequality of dreams and possibilities.
We are a country of insiders and outsiders, and right now we’re making no headway in breaking down the walls between these two groups.
The image we were treated to by the President on Thursday evening of a future South Africa with hi-tech cities, high-speed trains and classrooms where children are taught to code and analyse data and no child goes hungry. While these may be experienced by some, the majority are left out and left behind.
Three stats released this past month paint the true state of our nation. The first was our record-high broad unemployment rate, which now stands at 38%.
The second was the contraction of our economy by 3.2% this first quarter – the highest in 10 years.
And the third was that our net investment has now fallen for the fifth consecutive quarter.
Read together, these numbers paint a picture of a country in deep, deep trouble. We no longer attract investment, which means we can’t grow the economy, which means that every month more and more South Africans join the ranks of the unemployed.
This is a crisis for us, but I believe we can turn it around if we act now.
Fellow South Africans,
Our priority should be to fix what is broken and build a South Africa where all can be guaranteed an equality of opportunity – be it in the classroom, on the sports field, or in the workplace. The DA is the party of equal shots, not equal outcomes.
To meet these urgent challenges we don’t need dreams. We need money, we need the right people and, most importantly, we need a plan.
And in order to do that, we don’t need to build new smart cities, Honourable President. We need to make our current cities smart.
We must broaden access and connect all young people to the information and the opportunities that still remain available to only a few.
And one place to start, Honourable President, is with our long-overdue spectrum allocation. The longer we delay this, the wider the technology and communications gap becomes, and the longer data prices will not fall.
Instead of a new bullet train, Honourable President, let us rather fix and protect the trains we already have – the trains that are meant to take thousands of ordinary South Africans to jobs and back home every day.
Let us put all our efforts into building a country where black children and white children, city children and rural children, all have quality education and equality of opportunity.
Without bold intervention, challenges don’t simply disappear, as history has repeatedly shown us.
By the end of the 19th Century, cities like New York and London were facing a crisis that seemed to have no solution. As these cities grew and developed, the tens of thousands of horses needed to transport people around had left the streets knee-deep in manure.
New York had to employ an army of workers to clear the streets every day. In London, The Times newspaper reported back in 1894 that every street in the city would be buried under nine feet of manure within 50 years if nothing changed.
Of course, this didn’t happen. And the reason for this is that a bold new solution, driven by new technology, had made the horse-drawn carriage obsolete.
Henry Ford’s new and affordable motorcar had replaced horses in the cities, the manure problem went away, and the course of history was changed forever.
Honourable Members, if we are to overcome our challenges here in South Africa, it will also require innovative and solutions – not doing more of the same.
But all President Ramaphosa could give us on Thursday was, to use another Henry Ford analogy, a faster horse.
We don’t need a faster horse, Mr President, we need a bold plan to steer us towards the South Africa of the future. A plan that responds to the three most important global drivers of the future, which are climate, technology, and disease management.
Fellow South Africans, the future is upon us
We must ask ourselves what kind of planet will our children inherit, will they be prepared with the right skills to step into this future, and can we ensure that our population remains healthy and resilient? These are the questions our plan needs to address.
Today we have floods in KZN and droughts in the Western Cape. This is the future we must plan for, and so before we build smart cities, we should build sustainable cities.
Elsewhere in the world countries are using smart technology to keep their people healthy and safe. Solutions like smartphone screening to detect cervical cancer. This should be part of our plan too.
I hear everyone speaking of the fourth industrial revolution these days, but I’m not sure they always know what this is. Giving our children tablets at school is not the fourth industrial revolution, but preparing them for jobs that don’t even exist yet is.
The overwhelming majority of all new jobs will not come from mining or retail, or even manufacturing. They will come from fields such as data mining, digital design, coding and a host of technology-driven micro-enterprises.
We need a plan that modernizes our economy for the future. Because if we don’t, we will meet the same fate as the Kodaks and Nokias – and soon, the Multichoices – of the world.
These companies seemed to hold invincible monopolies, but they failed to keep up with the changing world. They failed to modernise, and they got left behind.
Today hardly anyone uses a Nokia phone. Children don’t even know about Kodak. That’s how fast you become irrelevant.
We must have a vision of our place in the future. We must think big, and we must know where we are going.
Our vision is One South Africa for All in which each child has access to quality education, a modernized economy that puts at least a job in every home, access to healthcare and basic services for all, and where citizens live in safe communities free from crime and corruption.
A South Africa that is reconciled, prosperous, and a beacon of hope for developing countries across the world.
But that’s only one part of it. The other part – the more important part – is how we get there.
Doing what’s best for the country inevitably means the President will have to make decisions that will be met with resistance within his own party. That is why his SONA was devoid of any meaningful reform, because it would mean:
Standing up to powerful unions and alliance partners.
Upsetting the network of patronage that has been so good to so many cadres for so long.
Rethinking policy that hasn’t worked in decades.
And stepping out of a mind-set and an ideology that belongs in a different time.
None of this is easy, which is why it hasn’t happened. And so instead of real, tough reforms, we are stuck with yet more vague promises of a “faster horse”.
While our nation is in deep crisis, I believe we can turn it around if we act now. We can begin building a modernized African country comprised of strong individuals who are able to compete with the world’s best.
They say the best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second-best time is right now.
The same goes for the reforms needed in our country and in our economy. We could have used these reforms twenty years ago, but since that didn’t happen, we need to implement them right now. We need to plant the trees for our children’s future, knowing that we might not sit under those trees ourselves.
Today, propose seven reforms that will enable us to become the modern, inclusive country we all dream of.
The first reform is to our SOEs, and particularly to Eskom. The last thing we should be doing now is committing ourselves to a decade or more of bailouts for Eskom.
We must immediately split Eskom into two entities and open the market to more independent power producers – particularly solar power in our sun-rich nation.
Solar power is to the energy sector what Uber became to the transport industry, and we cannot afford to be left surprised and left behind.
We must allow well-functioning municipalities to buy directly from IPPs. Eskom requires us to move away from being coal dependent to other technologies.
While we’re splitting Eskom, we must also sell off SAA. It is a luxury we neither need nor can afford.
The second reform is to our education.
Let us introduce charter schools across South Africa, and particularly in our poor and rural communities. These are partnership schools between the private sector and public sector where children have access to schools less than 5km from home that have the best teachers, infrastructure and technology.
Not only will this clip the wings of the powerful and destructive union SADTU, it will also offer parents real choice. We can’t have our children bundled into taxis and sent far from home just to receive a decent education.
Yes, teaching our young children to code and analyse data will be crucial in preparing them for the future. But how can we do so in schools where ten-year-old children cannot even read for meaning? That’s where we must start.
The third reform is to our healthcare.
Forget about the NHI, Mr. President. It cannot work, it’s own pilot projects have shown this. Please stop it now before we waste further resources and time on an unrealistic pipe dream for which we simply don’t have the money.
You will find, in the DA’s Our Health Plan, a range of solutions that will make quality healthcare available to all South Africans without destroying our national budget. Solutions that provide access to free primary healthcare for all that can be rolled out quicker, cheaper and more fairly.
Let us also invest in smart healthcare technology, as this is the future of disease management and prevention.
The fourth reform is to our labour legislation.
If we want to make South Africa an investment destination once more, then we have no choice but to relax our labour laws.
Our current rigid legislation has not only driven investment away, it has also created two classes of citizen – the employed and the unemployed – and has made it near impossible for people enter the economy and find work.
Let’s relook at our tax structure and introduce tax incentives for people who create new jobs and setup a Jobs and Justice Fund so we can invest in research for economies of the future.
And let’s also relook the national minimum wage in its current form. We should be talking about sector specific minimum wages, as well as a possible op-out clause for young work-seekers.
The fifth reform is the building of a capable state.
If the shocking revelations at the Zondo Commission have confirmed one thing, it is that cadre deployment and monopoly politics are a one-way ticket to state capture.
Whether these deployments are to government, to SOEs or to Chapter Nine Institutions, the interests of the party always get put before the interests of the people.
Mr. President, you should lead by example and stop delaying and frustrating the Public Protector’s investigation in your Bosasa dealings.
Let the Public Protector do her work, and once the report is finalized, appear before a Parliamentary Ad Hoc Committee so that the matter can be dealt with in an open and transparent manner.
You spoke of trimming the size of the cabinet, Honourable President, but then you undid this by keeping on all the deputy ministers and, in some cases, doubling up on them.
It is entirely possible to cut the number of ministries even further to just 15, and to do away with deputy ministers.
The sixth reform is extending property ownership to millions of dispossessed South Africans.
Let us speed up the delivery of title deeds – both urban and rural – so that all South Africans can benefit from the freedom of owning their property. This will create certainty in the agricultural sector, providing more job opportunities for our people.
Both black and white South Africans must be able to access the benefit of owning private property as an economic asset that allows the transfer of wealth from one generation to another. Let’s give shares to South Africans so that they can hand over a future which was disrupted by our painful past.
And the seventh reform is to devolve the power over our police services to provincial governments.
If we want to keep South Africans safe in their homes and on their streets, we need to turn SAPS into a well-resourced, well-trained and highly professional crime fighting unit.
But more urgently, we need to put the police service in the hands of the government that is best-placed to respond to the needs of the community. And by this I mean the provincial government.
We must also do the same with our passenger rail services. Hand them over to provincial governments so that we can ensure that hard-working South Africans have a safe and reliable commute to work and back home.
These seven reforms will pull our country back from the brink and give us a foundation from which we can contemplate any future we can dream of.
Ten years from now I want to see a South Africa that looks completely different from what we see today.
DA governments are already forging ahead, and have begun innovating, modernizing and growing the cities, towns and province we govern.
That’s why where we govern, you’ll find unemployment at the lowest in the country due to our obsessive focus on city-led economic growth and innovation in sectors such as agro-processing and tourism.
Today the Cape Town-Stellenbosch tech ecosystem is the most productive in Africa, employing over 40 000 people – more than Lagos and Nairobi combined – and rightly earning the title of ‘Africa’s tech hub.’
In terms of renewal energy, more than 8 in 10 municipalities in the Western Cape already have laws in place to allow for independent solar energy generation and most of them are ready to sell clean energy back into the grid.
This is what city led economic development looks like and why we continue to take the ANC government to Court over the right to diversify energy and buy directly from Independent Power Producers (IPPs).
In terms of education, the DA-run Western Cape’s investment in the future of eLearning has seen over R1.4 billion invested over the past 5 years – delivering 1 160 refreshed computer labs, 28 870 devices for learners, 11 000 resources on our online portal.
To date, 70% of all teachers are trained in eTraining and over 80% of schools are connected to free internet. The Western Cape’s retention rate from Grades 10 – 12 is the highest in the country, at around 63% for the 2018 matric results. No other province managed to achieve a retention rate of over 50%.
In healthcare, the Western Cape is only province to have digitised patient records in public healthcare, spanning 54 hospitals, 300 primary healthcare facilities, and 13 million patient records. The province also is home to the eco-friendly Khayelitsha Hospital, which provides free access to healthcare for tens of thousands of poor South Africans.
The DA has already begun working. It’s now time Mr. Ramaphosa joins our efforts and collaborates with us at all spheres of government to build the country we all deserve.
Today I appeal to you to join with us in our plan.
Allow our governments to keep the lights on
Execute the plan for us to have trains that work
Devolve the power of police to a provincial competency so we can effectively fight crime
Free up small business to create work for our people
Sell off our beleaguered SOEs
And modernize and de-unionize our children’s basic education system
We have a plan, so help us with this plan, Mr. President.
If you’re prepared to do that, you will have an ally in me and in the DA. But if you can’t or won’t, then I’m afraid you’ll need to make way for a DA government that can and will create a better South Africa for All.