Parliamentary Debate: State of the Nation address by Mr Bantu Holomisa, MP (UDM President) (9 February 2009)

His Excellency the President, Madam Speaker and honourable Members,

We would like to thank President Motlanthe for making the effort to address some of the shortcomings of the Government's performance, as well as your commitment to announcing an election date shortly. The truth is that we have witnessed much political turbulence in the past year. We should try to emerge from these coming elections united in our quest to recapture the lost ground and to regain our moral standing on the world stage.

Let us talk about solutions. On the economic front we face our biggest challenge, namely unemployment. People expect jobs in a growing economy; indeed, a person's dignity is tied to having a decent job.

Our economy, which we inherited in 1994 from the old regime, featured a huge infrastructure disparity. In certain cities and areas there was first world infrastructure, whereas many townships, neighbourhoods and rural areas had little or nothing. When people cued in 1994 to vote they had a legitimate expectation that this infrastructure inequality would be addressed. But 15 years later they wonder how much longer they must wait, because it is still not addressed.

Another problematic aspect of our economy is our dependence on imports. For example, this country used to be an exporter of food, but today we import.
Yet we have an abundance of natural resources; in the Eastern Cape we have 38% of all the water in Southern Africa, but there are hardly any irrigation schemes or dams. Look at how the previous Government built irrigation schemes along the Oranje River to uplift the Afrikaner, turning that region into a major agricultural producer. We urgently need such interventions to stimulate the economy and turn our natural resources into wealth for all. It is a lesson that can be applied not only to agriculture, but also to minerals beneficiation, manufacturing and industry. We should stop exporting our riches as raw materials.

There is a need to gather as a nation in an Economic Indaba - like we had gathered for a political indaba called CODESA - with a view to find consensus on a macro-economic policy. In this way we can agree on our priorities and to what extent the state should intervene in the economy. It is a pity that the last fifteen years we have spent a lot of time arguing whether the current economic policy is right, when the majority of citizens have been locked out of the economic mainstream.

In light of the global economic meltdown, can we still say that the fundamentals of our current economic policy are going to sustain us for the next 20 years?

These are the types of questions such an Economic Indaba would answer.

As I have said before, there is a tendency to label people as 'leftist' when they call for the Government to do more for the people of this country. But when the Afrikaners were uplifted by their Government, it wasn't called 'leftist'. When the developed countries of the world subsidise their local agriculture and industry with trillions of dollars it is not called 'leftist'. Just recently the governments of the US and Europe have intervened in their economies to the tune of hundreds of billions of dollars to rescue private banks. They have not been labelled 'leftist'. It is ridiculous to suggest that our government should fold its arms when millions of South Africans are wallowing in poverty, because to uplift them would be so-called 'leftist'.

When I spoke from this podium on previous occasions about the need for Government to do more, some Ministers accused me of proposing outdated policies. I wonder what their thoughts are now, when Government intervention is becoming fashionable.

Talking about jobs, we welcome your intention to spend more on creating jobs. On this front we believe that we need to review the Extended Public Works programme. In this country we used to have maintenance units which employed people to maintain buildings, roads and similar infrastructure. It is an area that can provide thousands of jobs for unskilled people and teach them new skills. Furthermore it saves Government and the taxpayer money because maintenance is much more cost-effective in the long-term than continuously replacing infrastructure once it has fallen into complete disrepair.

Another area that requires our urgent attention is the threats to our environment. For instance, desertification is marching from all corners of the country towards Pretoria. There is a need for a greening programme, that should involve agriculture, with a view to eliminate poverty. It is long overdue that we place the issue of the Environment high on our national agenda; for instance the Members of this house and the MPLs in the legislatures should regularly come together in a non-partisan fashion to assist with greening programmes.

The other point that we need to address is the question of crime and corruption. Nobody can believe your Government, Mr President, when it promises to act against corruption. Simply because we all know that your predecessor as Head of State, as well as his deputy, could not finish their terms as a direct result of the Arms Deal. Which is only one of many corruption scandals that have plagued this Government.

Shabir Shaik went to jail, and so did Tony Yengeni, but when the law enforcement agencies wanted to pounce on other leaders the ruling party attacked and destroyed independent institutions. Indeed, some people are portrayed as 'victims' of justice without being cleared by the courts of law. Such things damage the image of our country and it undermines our credibility as a champion of NEPAD, which is underpinned by the ethics of good governance.

Crime, especially violent crime, continues to be a scourge. We take note of the successes and failures of the law enforcement agencies, particularly in terms of intelligence gathering and detective work. It is necessary to focus on these weaknesses. A skills audit is required to identify where we need additional skills. Part of this process must include the appointment of highly-trained and skilled people to head our law enforcement agencies; people who understand crime-fighting and who will command the respect of the people they lead. It is this leadership we must produce a suitable doctrine to inform our law enforcement agencies on how they should operate within a democratic constitutional dispensation.

The question of Education remains a high priority. The Department needs to train and employ more teachers. There is no uniformity in school buildings and teaching materials. In cities you will find that a school has laboratories and computers and many teachers. Yet in townships and rural areas you will find nothing even remotely like that. We need equality, if we are serious about improving Education. There should be minimum basic standards for the facilities and materials when a school is built, and there should be maintenance. Far too many schools look dilapidated.

In conclusion, allow me to turn to the quality of service delivery, especially at local government level. We dole out billions to municipalities but this is the place where service delivery is worst. We see in many municipalities a complete lack of skills and capacity. They have vacancies in critical posts like engineers, architects and the like. As a result they become the target of unscrupulous 'consultants' who charge a fortune yet produce nothing. It is time for Government to deploy skilled people to local governments and to ensure that all the vacancies are filled.

Finally, we wish to bid farewell to leader of the DA in Parliament, the honourable Sandra Botha, as well as the former DA leader, the honourable Tony Leon. We also bid farewell to several Ministers and indeed any other MP who might not return, or who might cross to other parties. We enjoyed engaging with you over the past five years in this House. May this culture of robust engagement continue in the future in order to strengthen democracy.

I thank you.

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