South Africa: Debate On the State of the Nation Address

press release




National Assembly: 12 February 2019

Honourable Speaker; Your Excellency the President; Honourable Members.

For nine years our former President came to this House and told us what a great job Government was doing. The disconnect between what he said and what we all knew to be true was staggering. So yours, Mr President, was a refreshing new approach.

Instead of telling us what a great job your Government is doing, you told us what a great job it is going to do. Watch this space, you said. Great things are coming.

The intentions you expressed last Thursday cannot be faulted. We would love to believe that they are all possible and will all be done. But if we are already borrowing money just to stay afloat, where will the money come from to do all these things?

It seems we've pinned our hopes on unprecedented levels of investment. But will investors come?

We aim to become a top global performer in terms of countries to do business with, but when we're so high up on the corruption index, how confident will investors be? We need their investment now, while we're near the bottom of the pile. We can't wait until we're at the top.

When it comes to the economy, journalist Claire Bisseker put it very well in last week's Financial Mail. She wrote: "After years of kicking the can down the road, it seems South Africa has finally run out of road."

Our economy was not "confronted" with a technical recession, Your Excellency. Disastrous leadership, corruption and State capture created a technical recession. It wasn't unexpected or unforeseeable. It was completely self-inflicted.

So we appreciate your admission that under the leadership of the ANC, things went severely wrong. There has indeed been a loss of trust between the people and their Government, and the needs of the poor, unemployed, marginalised and dispossessed have indeed been forgotten.

Mr President, you would have us believe that a line was drawn in the sand a year ago, and now everything is different. Is it?

What is so different now about the ANC that it will suddenly do the very simple things that needed to be done all along? The solutions you spoke of are not rocket science.

Of course we should manufacture goods that other countries need. Of course we should focus on labour intensive industries like agriculture. Of course we must make unused State-owned land available for housing and farms. Of course we must deal with SOEs. The IFP has been saying these things for years.

You have told us, Your Excellency, that you "plan to do things differently" and you would have us believe that in the past 12 months you have already done things differently.

Jobs? There was a summit. Health? There was a summit. Gender-based violence? There was a summit. No wonder you are so careful to emphasise that the investment summit wasn't just a talk-shop.

I remember the early debates of our democracy on the President's State of the Nation Address. We in the opposition warned time and again that summits and talk-shops were not enough. What South Africa needed was concrete action.

If we're really starting over, or picking up from where we left off ten years ago, let's heed the warning that was ignored back then. Talk is just talk. Show us through action.

How did it take 24 years to realise that 4000 schools still have unsafe, inappropriate toilets? That's more than two million children who were completely forgotten when it comes to creating a dignified life. We tell these children that education is the key to their future. But their school doesn't even have a toilet?

If this is the achievement of 25 years, it is hard to believe that just six years from now every school child will be working on a tablet with digital textbooks. It sounds good. But will it happen?

It is so tempting to be carried along with the narrative being woven, because ours is an incredible country and our people are resilient, willing to contribute and ready for change. So when you talk about an oil and gas discovery being a game-changer, and when you call this a brave new country, we want to go there with you Mr President.

You tell us that everything is about to get dramatically better. My question is this: what happens when it doesn't?

We have been pushed to the brink by broken promises. We have been disillusioned again and again. If now you promise the sun, moon and stars, and again fail to deliver, South Africa will go up in flames.

Righteous anger is boiling over in our nation. As you put it, the milk of human kindness seems to have gone sour. One cannot turn sour milk sweet again just by adding a few spoons of sugar. We need to trace back and figure out what went wrong.

It is not enough to say, "Something went wrong, but that's behind us now." If we don't pinpoint why, we will make the same mistakes again.

This year's theme is quite appropriate: "Following up on our commitments". There is one particular commitment that was never fulfilled, and I believe it is ground zero for the present social fragmentation.

On 19 April 1994, Mr Mandela, President de Klerk and I signed a Memorandum of Agreement. We committed to engage international mediation immediately after the first democratic elections, to resolve the outstanding issues from the negotiating table. It would allow our newly democratic South Africa to move forward into reconciliation and peace.

But that Agreement was never honoured; and the outstanding issues from the negotiating table remained unresolved.

For whatever is left of my life, that broken promise will be the knife in my heart.

I am thus grateful to hear you speak of social cohesion, Your Excellency. You are the first ANC leader to do so in a long time. And it comes at a point when reconciliation and social cohesion are critical.

I must sound a warning. Never before have we seen such a deluge of racial slurs and divisive talk from leaders in our nation. There are angry demagogues among us who pretend that social and economic justice will be achieved simply by wreaking vengeance for past injustice.

We can refer hate speech to the Human Rights Commission, but the damage has already been done. We are playing with fire. Those of us who want to build, plant, create and grow are pleading with you: stop tearing down this nation.

Your Excellency, we look forward to your address next week to the National House of Traditional Leaders. But to be frank I harbour little hope of hearing what needs to be said, because after 25 years there is still no legal framework to enable the cooperation so often spoken about. Traditional leaders are not fooled by this talk of cooperation. It simply doesn't exist.

Section 81 of the Municipal Structures Act is an insult to traditional leadership. It enables us to sit there and clap hands, but not to vote. There is a strong feeling among some of us that Government may as well do the honest thing and abolish the institution.

I am ashamed, as a black South African, that our Government has failed to do what even an oppressive colonial government did. Not a single traditional council or house of traditional leaders is allocated a budget. Yet we must 'cooperate' and fulfil our responsibilities in local government.

If indeed there is a line in the sand, show us.

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