The following speech was delivered by DA Leader, Mmusi Maimane, during today’s debate in Parliament on the State of the Nation Address (SONA).
Fellow South Africans
On Friday night, we all stood up to applaud the President after his State of the Nation Address.
And I’ll be honest with you. It felt good.
It felt good to be a member of this august House, with its dignity restored.
It felt good to be a member of the opposition, knowing that our efforts over the last decade have not been in vain.
Most of all, it felt good to be a South African.
It felt good to be a citizen of this beautiful, exciting country with all of its challenges, with all of its hope in the face of adversity.
When I looked up to the gallery and I saw President Mbeki, I was reminded of his timeless words when we signed our Constitution into law. We are all Africans – every single one of us.
And when I saw former Deputy President FW de Klerk, I recalled the spirit of reconciliation that still runs deep in our veins as we celebrate Madiba’s 100th year.
Nelson Mandela’s generosity of spirit, and his extraordinary leadership when faced with tough choices, inspired so many of us to take up the fight for a free, fair and prosperous society.
We may sit on different sides of the House, but I hope that all of us are here because we want to build a South Africa we can hand over to our children.
Fellow South Africans,
We are presented today with a unique window of opportunity.
We have removed a corrupt and broken President from office. Our task now is to fix the broken country he left behind.
President Ramaphosa has promised the people of South Africa a ‘new dawn’.
I really believe that this is what he wants for South Africa. It is certainly what we want for South Africa.
And I want to pledge my support, and the support of my party towards the realisation of this goal.
We live in a democracy. A democracy is a contest of ideas for a better society.
Democracy carries with it the implicit acknowledgement that humans make mistakes, that we are fallible and that nobody has a monopoly on truth.
Democracy is not war.
It is not a fight to the death between people who look different or think differently.
We are not enemies; we are opponents.
When we differ, we must say so. And we must be robust in our disagreements if necessary.
The time has come to fix South Africa, together.
President Ramaphosa faces a difficult task and he needs our help.
We need to do everything we can to make sure that his ‘new dawn’ is not a false dawn.
Our President has inherited an education system in which militant union interests are placed before the interests of our children.
He has inherited an economy where millions of young people cannot find work and have given up looking for work.
He has inherited a broken and corrupt state that has been captured to serve the interests of a few at the expense of the many.
And he has inherited a governing party that is deeply divided, severely limiting his room to move.
We understand these constraints. And we understand why he was unable to present a meaningful agenda for reform on Friday night.
Summits, workshops and conferences may be enough to buy the President some time, but they are not enough to fix South Africa.
To fix what is broken, we need to move from talk to action as quickly as possible.
We need to move beyond the policy paralysis that has held our nation hostage.
We need our President to make the tough choices that can put us back on the right path again.
This starts with education.
We have to acknowledge that our school system is in crisis. It is not possible to read the latest global test results without having a sinking feeling.
Four out of five of our boys and girls cannot read with meaning by the end of Grade 3.
The message is loud and clear: we have failed to set our children up for the future they deserve.
Learners in our poorest schools cannot compete with their peers in the richest schools. This is only reinforcing inequality.
There is no single reason for the failure of our school system. But, if we were honest, we would acknowledge the role of SADTU in it.
Minister Motshekga’s Ministerial Task Team found that six out of nine provincial education departments have been captured by SADTU bosses, and that education is failing in these provinces because of SADTU’s toxic influence.
And so your first tough decision, Mr President, is to end state capture by SADTU – the same powerful and militant union that helped you rise to the Presidency of the ANC.
When students leave school, they need to find work. But half of all our young people under the age of 35 are unemployed.
We support the President’s call for more internships and apprenticeships. On-the-job training is a powerful means to up-skill our young people and prepare them for the world of work.
But the fact remains that we need to create meaningful work for them to do. And this means growing the economy at the rate required to absorb young people into the labour market.
How do we do this?
We start by making it easier for young people to access jobs by confronting the nepotism, bribery and corruption that stands in their way.
A year of national civilian service in public sectors like education, healthcare and policing could help thousands of school leavers gain crucial work experience, and possibly kick-start their careers.
We also have to carefully monitor the impact of a national minimum wage on the employment prospects of young people.
And to make sure that young jobseekers are not left behind, we need to consider wider exemptions for small businesses from minimum wage legislation, and even exempting new, young entrants in the labour market.
The President re-committed government to the National Health Insurance in his address.
Now, we share the goal of affordable, quality healthcare for all.
But the question is whether we can afford to double healthcare expenditure at a time when our budget deficit has ballooned to 4.3% of GDP.
Sometimes the toughest choice of all is to abandon something that you have invested a lot of time and effort in.
The truth is that the NHI undermines our excellent, world-class healthcare sector.
It will cause an exodus of South Africa’s brilliant nurses and doctors who are in high demand the world over, and it is entirely unaffordable even for nations far wealthier than us.
Mr President, we cannot discuss healthcare without confronting the deep pain and sorrow of the Esidimeni tragedy.
I am the uncle of a disabled niece who lives in our family home in Gauteng. She could easily have ended up in one of those facilities. When I think of that possibility, I can only thank God it did not happen.
What happened to those people has rightly been described by Minister Motsoaledi as a crime reminiscent of Apartheid.
I hope, sir, that we can work together to ensure that every single official and politician involved is held to the fullest account.
One of the reasons such a tragedy could happen is the disconnect between what some officials earn, and what they know about their own departments.
Many officials, like those culpable in the Esidimeni tragedy, earn big salaries but refuse to take any responsibility for their failures.
We need public sector salaries that reward accountability and delivering good services.
At R587 billion this year, public sector wages are more than half our entire budget, and way above other emerging economies. This is simply not sustainable.
The President has to resist the pressure from the public sector unions and curb this wage bill.
I also welcome the President’s commitment to reduce the size of his Cabinet.
At 35 ministries, each with a deputy minister, ours one of the most bloated governments in the world.
We have already done the homework on this.
It is entirely possible to cut our Executive down to 15 ministries, with spending priorities that promote economic growth and job creation.
This would save us around R4.7bn each year.
Now I know this is difficult because there is patronage to dish out. But let me make this easier for you, Mr President. Why don’t you start with all the Ministers who have proven themselves to be compromised?
Show South Africa you are really serious about fighting corruption in your party and fire Bathabile Dlamini, Faith Muthambi, Mosebenzi Zwane, Malusi Gigaba, Des van Rooyen, David Mahlobo, Lynne Brown and Bongani Bongo.
If we want to undo the damage of the state capture project, then we must acknowledge what led us there in the first place.
It is easy to write off our crisis as the evil work of one man in cahoots with foreign benefactors. But the truth is more uncomfortable.
State capture would not have happened without the ANC’s policy of deploying cadres to state institutions.
It was deployed cadres who hollowed out our State Owned Enterprises to enrich a few individuals close to the former President.
And it was cadres deployed to the commanding heights of the criminal justice system – the NPA, the Hawks and SARS – who looked the other way.
This corrupt system is not the work of one man, nor is the removal of one man enough to destroy it.
If you want to destroy it, you must put an end to the ANC policy of cadre deployment.
That means confronting the perpetrators of this corrupt system that still sit in this House, and who occupy senior office at Luthuli House, some of whom were also responsible for the Vrede dairy farm theft.
It also means removing from office those cadres deployed to serve the interests of this corrupt system – cadres like Busisiwe Mkhwebane and Shaun Abrahams.
It was encouraging to hear the President cast doubt on the nuclear deal at the recent World Economic Forum. And I was hoping he would slam the door shut on it in his SONA speech.
It is vital that we make our position on the future of nuclear deal very clear. We don’t need a new nuclear build project, and we don’t have the R1,2 trillion it will cost.
This may seem obvious, but it’s another tough choice for the President. Too many powerful people have a vested interest in securing a nuclear deal. And so the pressure will be on to forge ahead.
Be strong, President Ramaphosa. Reject the nuclear deal and put your weight behind the neglected renewables project so we can move forward into an era of clean, affordable energy.
You are one of the few people who can proudly claim co-authorship of our Constitution.
All of us in this House pledge our allegiance to it, and we owe it our eternal protection.
On Friday, you reaffirmed the soaring words of its opening pages: that South Africa belongs to all who live in it.
Bold leadership requires that you resist the pressures in your party to undo the rights enshrined in our Constitution, including property rights.
These same property rights underpin the entire economy, as you well know from your own successful business career.
The dispossession of land through the 1913 Native Land Act was Apartheid’s original sin. Its consequences are still felt in our society today and, make no mistake, must be addressed.
We can correct this injustice in a way that respects the rule of law and in which the rights of current and future land owners are protected.
We can speed up land reform by rooting out corruption and inefficiency.
And we must trust emerging black farmers with real land ownership, and not just as permanent tenants of the state. Let those who work the land, own the land.
Like the 77 year old Mr David Rakgase, a farmer from Northam in Limpopo whom I went to meet in October last year. Mr Rakgase has been leasing land from the government for over 20 years.
His short-term leases mean he can’t get any money to invest in the land he lives on, and government will not let him own it.
Mr Rakgase is ageing and frail, and he’s losing hope that he will ever own his farm. The way he has been treated by the government shows the sham of land reform policy.
This doesn’t need a constitutional change to fix. It just needs political will to implement.
We can have a thriving, growing, diverse agricultural sector whose wonderful produce fills the shelves all over the world.
But we absolutely cannot have this if farmers do not know if or when their land will be taken from them without any compensation.
Expropriation of land without compensation is incompatible with a growing, flourishing economy. You can have one or the other, but never both.
That is why our neighbours in Zimbabwe who pursued such disastrous and destructive policies in the past are now reversing those and rebuilding their economies.
This is a hard choice you must make, Mr President, and I hope you will stand up for the integrity of our nation’s founding document which you had such a pivotal role in writing.
As the President may well know from his time in the previous government, nothing threatens our public finances more than badly-run State Owned Enterprises.
The greatest applause during his speech on Friday was when he promised to end cadre deployment on the boards of SOEs, and committed to appointing competent, experienced people.
I applaud him again for this commitment.
But while that is great progress, it is not enough to fix our SOEs. Boards don’t shield you from corruption, as we’ve seen recently in various private sector scandals.
The governing party has been dogmatically committed to the state retaining control over every SOE, no matter their performance.
Bold leadership requires that the President confront this dogma and acknowledge that there is no benefit for the public to keep paying for failing companies.
What is of benefit to the public is the better products and services at lower costs that open competition can deliver with the right safeguards.
We must be willing to part ways with SAA. It should be broken up and sold, as has been done countless times around the world successfully.
And we must end the Eskom monopoly on the generation of power, and boldly embrace independent power producers and renewable energy sources.
Last week we lost a dear friend, a fellow opposition leader, a Prime Minister, an activist, a husband and a father – Mr Morgan Tsvangirai.
We mourn his passing, and I personally will miss him dearly.
He offered wise counsel and support to me, and I regret that with all that happened last week, I was not able to speak to him one last time.
Morgan was beaten nearly to death many times for his political activism, and never once wavered in his commitment to his fight.
I recall Morgan’s words on the night of the rigged 2002 Zimbabwe election when he said to voters:
“What the people of Zimbabwe now deserve is a celebration… But the forces of darkness may yet try to block your path to victory. As I address you, it is sad that this regime still seems intent on defying your will. Whatever may happen, I as your loyal servant am with you all the way. They may want to arrest me and at worst kill me, but they will never destroy the spirit of the people to reclaim their power.”
Here in South Africa, we deserve our own celebration. A corrupt and broken leader has fallen.
But our joy is tempered by the knowledge that a corrupt and broken system remains.
Our job now is to fix what is broken, to uplift the spirit of the people of this country.
This will require soul-searching from all of us, but especially those on the ANC benches.
Mr Zuma did not rise to power and stay in power by himself. He was aided and abetted by many of you here.
And so the question is: Under President Ramaphosa, can the ANC reform itself?
Time will tell.
Mr Ramphosa, you are not just the President of a particular party. You are our President, and I am proud to call you that.
We will support you when you do what is right, when you make the tough choices required to improve the lives of our people.
But, when you make mistakes – as surely you will – we will fulfill our patriotic duty and hold you to account.
And we will continue to govern to the best of our ability where we are in power, and to offer South Africa an alternative national government of the future.
Our fight will always be for those left out – the unemployed and the poor.
May we enter into a new era of mutual respect, robust debate and shared loyalty to all the people of this beautiful land.
I thank you.