Speech by the UDM President at the SA Council of Churches Central Committee Meeting: On the road to the 2009 Elections (30 May 2008)

On behalf of the United Democratic Movement I want to thank the South African Council of Churches (SACC) for the kind invitation to compare notes on the state of our country.

Since 1994 South Africa has achieved many things both internationally and here at home. Yes South Africa was once a pariah, but we can gladly say that today we have been integrated into the global village. Here at home we can talk about the electrification programme and the housing programme, of not necessarily the quality of housing though. Nevertheless we cannot claim that there are no problems.

When people are called upon to look at the state of the nation, the temptation is to look through political and ideological glasses, and for some people it means to score cheap political points. But the things I have to say here today are a recognition of reality and I will recommend steps we can take to avoid a route towards a second revolution by the poor masses who feel that they have been left behind.

The issues we need to debate, whether we are talking about racism, xenophobia or crime, all touch in one way or another on the economic emancipation of our people. After the CODESA negotiations and the 1994 elections politicians were mandated to deliver to the people, and therefore we need to ask ourselves who has been benefiting from the new dispensation. Are the resources of the country being shared and utilised to the benefit of all?

These are the issues which have been dominating in our country, because if you talk of free education, good health or decent housing, these issues all hinge on the performance of our economy. In other words has the government used the ingredients at its disposal to bake a bigger economic cake to share among the people? The indications on the ground are that the ruling party has failed to deliver this.

Civil Society Institutions such as the SACC invested a great deal in the ruling party during the Struggle era, and unfortunately from 1994 they have been systematically sidelined. Let alone the majority of citizens without arms, who brought a well-equipped Apartheid Government with its military arsenal to its knees. And yet it is only in the past few years - due to pressure from the poor - that we have seen civil society starting to say:
This is not what we fought for.

In this fashion the fate of the nation and the control of Government landed in the hands of a small group of people. On the one hand it has led to bad policy and decision-making because a small group of people who do not consult cannot expect to meet the aspirations and expectations of the vast majority, especially if they completely lose touch with the masses.

The ANC Government has shunned stakeholders on the basis that the ANC has a mandate from the majority. Many laws were passed on controversial issues such as abortion. Some of your affiliates and other members of civil society have questioned the moral basis of these laws. Indeed on numerous occasions Government has been dragged to the Constitutional Court and found wanting when it comes to consultation and considering the views of the broader public.

On the other hand this concentration of power, influence and wealth in the hands of a few has led to the infighting in the ANC because, now, leadership is no longer about service but about access to immense power and wealth.

That is why we have witnessed the accusations and counter-accusations being flung to and fro by comrades in the past few years. The anger increasingly boiled over and came to a head at the Polokwane conference, where even ANC members said that the gap between the rich and poor is widening and it doesn't appear as if things are improving.

To add insult to injury the ANC infighting has disrupted service delivery from municipal level up to the highest echelons of the civil service. Even the National Intelligence Agency became embroiled in the mess.

We also need to be honest and acknowledge that corruption has been eating away at our democratic institutions, like a worm hidden beneath the surface but steadily destroying the core. Had it not been for the vigilance of civil society, the media and opposition parties many scandals would not have been exposed and today we would not be talking of the Arms Deal, Oilgate, Travelgate etc. Many of these scandals have implicated people at the highest levels of our institutions, people who were entrusted with improving the lives of all South Africans.

The question is how do we end this looting spree? That is the challenge.

To make things worse, those who are wanted by the law started clubbing together and arguing that their prosecution was political. They have come with all sorts of conspiracy theories, in the process portraying themselves as victims. The rank and file comrades are told to face the law, but when the crime-fighting agencies point out that the emperor is naked, they are warned: Don't you dare! People who showed independence and moral backbone were called names, blackmailed and ostracised. Today they are trying to close down the Scorpions because they dared to investigate the celebrated Struggle icons.

Surely we never thought it would come to this when we converged at CODESA and negotiated our democratic dispensation.

One of the main factors that have dented the performance and image of government institutions, has been this unwritten law of the ruling party that if they win an election it means that they must deploy their lackeys in all institutions. What it has meant is that often people without skills and capacity find themselves in positions of authority and service delivery suffers in the process. Many black and white South Africans are leaving the country, not because of crime only as normally reported, but because of this policy of nepotism. It has turned out to be nothing but an institutionalised corruption, for instance no self-respecting civil servant or manager would have approved the R11 million of taxpayer money that was donated to the ANC in the Oilgate scandal. Much like the Landbank has been used by ANC bigwigs to access loans for their companies that end up building them mansions instead of going to emerging farmers.

For some people to now say to South Africa and the world that only Mbeki is responsible for service delivery failures is nonsense - the ruling party in its entirety - together with its Tripartite Alliance partners - must take responsibility for their failures in Government.

What we have seen is that every year President Mbeki would propose a skeleton programme of action to the nation in the January 8 Statement and the State of the Nation debate. And indeed every February Minister Manuel would come to Parliament and allocate billions, thereby adding flesh to the skeleton programme. Across the board, political parties and civil society would welcome this budget as balanced. But then when it comes to implementing the policies and delivering the actual services, things go wrong. It is necessary to recognise that the people who have betrayed the Struggle, the poor and Mbeki himself are none other than the ANC "cadres"
appointed into various positions of authority.

We see now that some ANC leaders are masquerading all over trying to portray failures and unpopular decisions as belonging to Mbeki only. This is a blatant lie, the ANC makes collective decisions and the people who say these things now have served on the decision-making structures of the ANC and Government. When ANC Government policies are brought before Parliament not one of these people raised a murmur. These former praise-singers who have turned into enthusiastic critics are hypocrites who are trying to shift their collective responsibility onto a convenient scapegoat. This does not address the inherent problems in the ANC's thinking and policies and therefore when these newly recycled leaders come into power nothing will change.

The truth of the matter is that the citizens, civil society, Labour and Business would be making a big mistake if once more they leave everything in the hands of a political party. We know very well that the past fifteen years have been characterised by greed, corruption and unaccountability. All South Africans must therefore stop the rot.

Last year in Parliament I expressed the view that we require a National Convention to deal with various national issues. President Mbeki agreed and even suggested issues, such as social cohesion, which could be discussed at such a forum. I followed the matter up in writing with the Speaker without success. I again raised the matter in this year's State of the Nation debate, and once more President Mbeki pleaded with the Speaker and Parliament to pursue this proposal. It seems that the Speaker's heart isn't in it. An institution, such as the Human Rights Commission, should be tasked to prepare for such a National Convention, if the Speaker is unwilling.

This Convention would include all stakeholders such as Civil Society, Big Business, Organised Labour, Traditional Leaders, and not just the political parties. It would review the progress we have made since 1994 and identify whether there are any inherent defects, as well as clearly recommending the necessary remedies.

In Parliament I proposed that we should establish a multi-stakeholder steering committee to prepare for such a National Convention. I further listed the following issues that require urgent attention; the economy and unemployment, the crime situation, ethnicity and xenophobia, land as well as education. Nearly two years later these issues have escalated to crisis proportions and I can't help but wonder how much suffering we could have averted if only we had held this National Convention when I first proposed it.

As a nation we need to find consensus about the overall direction that our country is taking and establish the basic foundations upon which we are building our society; Governments may come and go but certain basic fundamentals we should all agree on and be adhered to irrespective of who is ruling.

Our economy has been producing jobless growth with an ever-widening gap between rich and poor, because South Africans have not agreed on a macro-economic policy which would address our backlogs and imbalances of the past.

At this Convention we can talk about another major challenge facing the nation: crime. Criminals are becoming heroes. Robbers and murderers in many communities are now becoming role models for our youth. We should not be surprised that such a culture will permeate throughout our society and even into legislatures. The basic idea of ethics, of right and wrong, of punishment for crime, is not being promoted. That is why we are faced with this massive crime wave.

This National Convention should be called before next year's elections so that the political party manifestos can be informed by the national consensus on the burning issues facing us. The voice of the nation must inform the future direction of our country instead of putting our fates into the hands of cabals and factions. Indeed there is a need for South Africans to avoid a one-party state. However, the important thing is that the resolutions taken at such a Convention would have to be coupled with timeframes. For instance, if we agree on a need to revamp the criminal justice system, or the electoral system, the Convention must set a timetable for when those processes must be finished.

In conclusion, I therefore call upon the SACC to seriously consider this proposal before it is too late, as I believe that it might be a cure for many of the ills facing our nation. We must always remember that South Africa was not liberated by one political movement; by all citizens of South Africa collectively.

In my capacity as Chairperson of the Multi-party Stakeholders Forum that has been negotiating with the IEC regarding electoral reforms, I wish to invite the members of the SACC to look at our progress thusfar since the Bryanston Conference of the IEC, which dealt with electoral issues, and where the SACC was also represented. For more information on our progress I have attached to my speech a document in this regard.

I thank you.

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