Address by the UDM President at Community meetings: Matiyane Village, Phunda Maria, Sibasa and Thohoyandou (30 August 2008)

Ladies and Gentlemen

There is a growing realisation that we are on the verge of a major crisis due to escalating food prices. Fuel and energy prices are rising inexorably and interest rates are following suit. What this means is that the rich have to radically tighten their belts, whilst working class households totter ever closer to the edge of poverty, and the poor will literally die of hunger.

The situation is replete with many ironies. Years of economic growth and self-imposed "fiscal discipline" - when the ANC Government told the poor they have to be patient a little longer - are now coming to an end. And it is those same poor people who will suffer more now than ever before.

The economic and social policies of the past decade have contributed to the crisis we are facing now, and ironically there are vast tracts of arable land lying fallow. Land that could be providing the food and the jobs we so desperately need, but that is currently simply being used for nothing. The crisis has been exacerbated by the macro-economic policies of the ANC Government, which meant the withdrawal of agricultural subsidies to conform with the standards of the Developed Countries. Even though those countries - including France and the USA - continue to this day to pump trillions of taxpayer money in subsidies to their farmers, recognising that it is the duty of any government to support its local economy.

How did we come to this point? The urban bias of Government policies, coupled with neglect of rural areas under Apartheid, has led to the widespread migration of people to the urban centres. People abandoned their land and their farms to chase the opportunities and jobs promised by the cities. Thus the rural economy and social network unravelled.

The ANC Government prioritised urban housing and services, leaving nobody with any doubt that the "better life" they were promising was only for city-dwellers. Sadly many of the rural people who chased their dreams to the cities now find themselves trapped in squatter camps, poorer than before, because now they don't even have subsistence farming in the newly found "homes" to provide them with food.

Meanwhile the ANC has actively undermined and belittled the role of Traditional Leadership, thereby threatening the one social institution that is best placed to understand and promote the needs and aspirations of rural people. It has discounted the positive role that most Traditional Leaders play in their communities; hence we see the problem of low allowances being provided for Traditional Leaders.

The ANC has also devised a Local Government system that usurps the duties of Traditional Leaders without actually fulfilling those duties.

The ANC has also introduced property tax in rural areas without consulting properly, and in a fashion that means people are being taxed for services they are not receiving. One is left with the distinct impression that rural communities are being milked for revenues by Local Governments who are focussing all their spending on urban areas in their jurisdiction, in other words the rural communities - who are often poorer - are cross-subsidising the richer urban areas.

It is clear that more than 14 years after achieving democracy we still have not resolved the Transformation and Economic Growth debate. It may appear to be a chicken-and-egg story. The question is then asked: Which comes first? But the bottom line is that we cannot transform the country if there is no growth in the economy.

We have to accept as South Africans, especially as black South Africans, that the people who provide job opportunities in this country are from a minority of predominantly white businesses. The majority of our population, approximately 40 million people, continue to look towards this small economic cake for wealth and opportunities. 40 million people have not been participating properly in the economy. The key therefore is not to merely re-divide a small economic cake, but rather to expand and grow the economy.
In other words we need to make the majority of our population active economic participants and wealth-creators.

When people talk about transformation they tend to think that you need to accommodate only a few ANC-connected blacks in current white businesses, as long as they can access government tenders.

I remember vividly, as if it was only yesterday, when I was still herd boy, how people were tilling the land, and people helping their neighbours who lacked the means to plough. Back then the climate favoured agricultural production. But later we saw years of drought that led to a decline in agricultural production. And people started vandalising fencing meant for grazing land and livestock roved all over in a desperate search for grazing. These factors led to greater poverty.

However, the solution to our poverty and household food security is intertwined. Government should recognise firstly that the urban bias of its housing and other policies is unjustified and should institute rural subsidies.

But these subsidies should be aimed at revitalising the rural economies by encouraging agricultural enterprise. What I am proposing is a temporary scheme whereby fallow land, such as the vast tracts falling under traditional leaders, should be rented by their owners to the government, who in turn will provide it to people willing to farm using modern and effective methods. Government assistance and subsidies should help these farms become productive and pay for the rent and involvement of knowledgeable farmers as well as the rental of the necessary equipment. Once these farms have fulfilled their subsistence role, they can find reliable markets for their surplus produce. In the long run these farms will become viable economic entities that can survive without Government subsidies. These farms will then be able to pay their own wages, employ locals, and make use of other local businesses to rent equipment from or to process their produce. In this way we can provide jobs, feed the poor, increase the national production of food and revitalise the rural economy. The UDM therefore believes there is a need for the Government to do more for the rural people of South Africa, the practice of using the rural people only as voting fodder in elections and then forgetting about them, must come to an end.

It is critical that we recognise that a responsible government cannot depend on market forces alone, and sit back while the economy and the quality of life of all its citizens are destroyed. In the final analysis, the needs of every South African citizen are rooted in the need for to a decent job and income. Therefore massive unemployment is at the root of every significant challenge facing South Africa today.

The economic choices need not be as stark as either extreme leftwing socialism, or extreme neo-liberal capitalism. In a globalising world no responsible government can allow itself to be caught in this ideological trap at the expense of its citizens. That is why supposedly staunch capitalist countries practice some form of state intervention, and vice versa why many supposedly firm socialist countries have introduced some form of open markets. The challenge of our time is that Government must do more.

Allow, me to say a few words on the current state of the nation and the political roots of many of the challenges facing us. The signs of corruption began to emerge around 1997 and was crowned by the desire of the ruling party to invest billions of Rands on arms and weaponry instead of using it for social security. The rest is history, as we all know, today our country is stagnating. Today we don't know who is actually in charge of the country; is it the party in Government or their head office outside Government? And this confusion is replicated throughout the country between PECs and provincial governments, and similarly between branch structures and Local Governments. It is open warfare between competing factions. This is where the stagnation comes from and why service delivery has ground to a halt.

This confusion has also affected the institutions of our democracy. There have been attacks and manipulation of the Scorpions, the public broadcaster, the judiciary etc.

The main reason for all of this is not because of ideological differences between the comrades, but simply a struggle for who will have access to state power and the opportunity to loot the nation's resources.

Indeed the comrades who started to eat from the table of the Arms Deal, Oilgate etc., are fighting with their backs against the wall, even demanding that their cases must be struck off the court rolls or that the institutions investigating them - such as the Scorpions - should be disbanded. The judges of the Constitutional Court have been dubbed as a bunch of counter-revolutionaries. This campaign is characterised by war-talk with the clear intention of blackmailing the courts, the Government and indeed the whole country, with the message: You dare to charge us, and we will cause havoc.

It is for this reason that we now see in the media that there are calls for a so-called 'political solution' to save Zuma from his dilemma. The people who are arguing about a deal fail to acknowledge that this person claims to be innocent. Why a deal if he is innocent? Why should we convert the whole country into a kangaroo court with ad hoc rules to suit one person, when we have established democratic institutions to deal with such matters.

I thank you.

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