Speech by Bantu Holomisa, MP in the National Assembly Debate: State of the Nation  (13 February 2006) 

Madam Speaker, esteemed guests, Honourable President and Honourable Members,

Let me thank President Mbeki for an issue-driven speech that touched upon most of the pressing concerns facing this country. Indeed, I think we should heartily welcome his repeated references to unity, partnership and joint initiatives.

The President's appeal for unity and Madam Speaker's theme for the year of deepening the debate, indicate that we as South Africans have not yet found each other on a number of issues. We normally notice this with some of the emotional and controversial laws that we have passed in this House. Sometimes I get the feeling that we are leaving our population behind. Perhaps the electoral system we have, plays a role in this. To deepen this discussion it will have to be inclusive as much as possible. Perhaps it might not be a bad idea to form a steering committee composed of all South African stakeholders to begin to identify areas where we need to deepen the debate as a nation. Such a process should culminate in a National Convention where resolutions would be taken. Those that require the attention of this House can come to this House; those that require the attention of the Executive will be referred to the Executive. This is the type of action that I believe is required, we cannot simply talk of unity and deeper debates if it doesn't result in something concrete. I'm sure there are many issues that the public want us to debate and address. For instance, the floor-crossing that was introduced merely to accommodate the ex-National Party political orphans. Yet it has taken years for the public's views to be heard, and it will take years more for the debate to actually happen and the necessary changes to be made.

Why do we as South Africans yearn for unity when it should go without saying that we are all united in our citizenship and commitment to democracy? Because we live in a divided country. We have a history of being divided, and today we continue to find not only some of the old divisions, but also new divisions.

Black versus white. Rich versus poor. Healthy versus sick. Rural versus Urban. Suburb versus slum. Victim versus criminal. Employed versus jobless. Government versus people. This should not be so, and it need not be that way.

With all these divisions it is easy to fall into a defensive mentality, and to adopt an attitude of "us versus them". This is the reason why so much of our national debate has become trapped in the same shallow clichés and stereotypes.
Take for instance the issue of crime and the whole FNB saga. It demonstrates that we are still miles apart and divided regarding approach, even when we agree that something needs to be done. FNB and others might legitimately feel that government should be petitioned to ensure that crime is the top priority because it undermines business, job creation and foreign investment. On the other hand, others might ask but where was this concern in the 1990's under the De Klerk government when thousands were also massacred in violent crimes. Indeed, others would argue that FNB's approach is nothing but a corrosively subliminal rejection of Black Rule. From my experience with FNB, it is a pity that they find themselves in this situation because FNB had long taken risks in the past of providing services to the progressive forces when it was not politically correct to do so. FNB had also built a home for football, which was considered a pariah sport for blacks by the Apartheid regime. Also it should be remembered that FNB is one of the main sponsors of the 2010 Soccer World Cup. I am sure when their actions hit the international newswires, the prophets of doom who think we can't host the World Cup, jumped up and down and said: "You see, we told you so, look at their main sponsor." Perhaps with hindsight, their decision not to proceed has prevented further division and polarisation of society around the issue of crime.

If we are seeking to deepen the democratic debate then we must discover once more that sense of unity that pervaded the nation after the first democratic elections.

In the cause of seeking that unity, and of deepening the debate, allow me to expand upon some of the important issues that the President raised. Here are the things that I believe Government can do right now to improve the state of the Nation:

Firstly, on crime, recognise that a crime-fighting operation must be managed by crime-fighters. A review of the police management structure is required; we need experienced police men and women at the highest level. Just as we wouldn't appoint anybody but a career soldier to lead our soldiers in defence of the nation, so we should not expect anybody but a career police officer to lead us in the fight against crime. It is hard to sustain unity of purpose when we do not have faith in the person leading us.

Another aspect of crime that seems to have fallen by the wayside as we battle against arrogant, violent and organised criminals, is that there is a complicit market involved in most crimes. If violent crime is a beast, then this is its soft underbelly: the members of the public who buy the stolen and illegal goods. It is they who provide the criminals with an income by being willing to buy that cheap cellphone, or car part, or DVD, or cigarettes, or branded clothing or banned substances. We should arrest and sentence these people to embarrassing community service. Hardened criminals might be difficult to reform, but I suspect that the misguided buyers of illicit goods will respond positively to community service and the threat of prison. In this way we can begin to make crime less profitable by destroying the market for stolen goods. If we speak of being unified as a nation against the criminals, then the nation must understand that consorting with criminals will not be tolerated.

Whilst we call on Government for drastic action we need to consider all the factors that fuel violent crimes. The fact is that firearms are the common denominator in the many violent crimes that are committed in this country. We need to consider how we can drastically reduce the number of firearms that are on our streets. Perhaps it is time to say that firearms should not leave the home or property of the owner, so that it is only the police and security forces that can legally bring guns onto the streets. I agree with President Mbeki that we need to better regulate the private security industry and that only those with valid reasons should be allowed firearms. We could then ask the SAPS with the assistance of the Defence Force to hold regular random roadblocks to search for firearms. I am certain that the public, if they stood united behind this initiative, would assist the authorities and we could begin to remove the licensed and unlicensed guns that are used in violent crimes. Such an initiative would require a give-and-take from society, and certainly a great deal of patience will be required with the roadblocks, thus it should perhaps be run on a trail-basis for 6 to 12 months and then re-evaluated.

It has been proven beyond any doubt that international crime syndicates are operating in our country. Whilst many foreign visitors, migrants and refugees come here to make a positive contribution, others become part of these criminal networks. We must send a strong message to all our foreign guests that they are here on our grace and should not abuse our hospitality.

Secondly, on the economic front many programmes were announced in the past twelve years which would eliminate poverty. Some of these programmes were directed at the under-developed areas of the country, in order to bring their services and facilities in line with other areas thereby enabling the economy of those areas to grow. Indeed, the Minister of Finance in previous years has doled out billions to local and provincial governments in those areas. But in many instances this money is either not utilised or the final product - school, road or clinic - is not finished. To crown it all, there is infighting among the councillors about who will personally benefit from the spoils of these tenders. The end result is that the economy is affected, and the poverty alleviation programmes take a backseat to greed. We therefore call upon Government to take action.

Another important issue is that an economy in which people cannot communicate cheaply and efficiently cannot grow. Every year, Mr President, you assure us that cheap efficient telecommunication is a priority. Alas Telkom squats over the market like an uncaring behemoth that rakes in massive profits whilst being the biggest obstacle to the services President Mbeki promises every year. It is these monopolies and quasi-monopolies that hinder growth and exploit the average consumer.

The banks are on a massive credit extension spree that appears reckless and further worsens the lack of a culture of saving. Two things can be done in this regard, raise the percentage of liabilities that they must hold in reserve with the Reserve Bank, and de-link home loans from the prime lending rate to encourage this economically vital form of ownership and investment.

The many measures that you have announced, Mr President, along with the many helpful suggestions that we are adding, depend upon the commitment of the Members of Cabinet and the Directors-General that you have appointed. It is a sad fact that many of the commitments you have made before, such as on telecommunications, have stalled in the hands of the people responsible for that line-function. The people you've appointed have had ample time to prove their ability to deliver; those that have not should have the courage to step aside to allow others to take their portfolios forward. There is little use in us reaching unity of purpose here, if it does not result in delivery. Finally, Mr President, the matter of the Arms Deal was not raised in your speech, even though it undoubtedly impacts upon the state of the nation in various ways. At this very moment, both the German and British governments are reportedly in the process of investigating bribes running into tens of millions of Rands allegedly paid to South Africans to influence the Arms Deal. New revelations that were not tested or properly investigated by the South African authorities continue to come to light. How much longer must South Africa drag this millstone of embarrassment and impropriety behind it? It is still not too late for a full and independent Judicial Commission of Inquiry to identify the culprits and punish them and thus remove this blight on our political, corporate and ethical life.

I thank you

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