Debate: State of the Nation - contribution by UDM Member in the National Assembly (15 February 2010)

Mr Speaker, Mr President and honourable Members,

Mr President, I believe the Hon. Holomisa has already informed you in person of his travels abroad this week to Korea for an international conference of the Universal Peace Federation, and then joining the other members of the Interim Defence Force Commission on their trip to the United Kingdom. He regrets that these previous commitments were confirmed before this debate was moved to today.

We thank you for heeding our call for more time to participate in parliamentary debates. We hope that a fairer dispensation will soon be established for all debates.

At the outset we wish to pay tribute to that great South African, Nelson Mandela. We join you Mr President, along with the rest of South Africa, in celebrating the 20th anniversary of his release from prison. This event, followed by millions of South Africans and people from all over the world, ushered in an era of hope and regeneration.

Our task is always to measure ourselves against that sense of hope and promise.

Therefore a State of the Nation address should be about telling it like it is, and then saying how government will address the challenges facing us. Mr President, we feel that your address did not meet these criteria.

An honest assessment of the state of the nation is this: the backlogs and imbalances of the past remain with us. Economic policy at the moment is failing to expand the economy and thereby increase the share of every South African in that economy. There seems to be no consensus about the type of economic policy required or the instruments that are needed to grow the economy.

Currently we have various policy positions being announced and contradicted by different individuals in the ruling party and tripartite alliance. There is no agreement. Some people talk of the developmental state, others of nationalisation, others of a free market. It is a disjointed approach with no direction.

The UDM has argued repeatedly that we need to come together as a nation and find common agreement on broad economic policy. Our proposal for an economic indaba should not be dismissed lest we face the perils of widespread dissatisfaction boiling over into a genuine nationwide uprising.

We would suggest that there is a need in your reply, Mr President, to clarify your position on the spat between your ministers who speak against nationalisation and leaders in Luthuli House disagreeing with them and threatening them with disciplinary and political repercussions within the party. We need clarity.

Infrastructure is falling apart. Maintenance has been sorely neglected. Much of the country’s infrastructure is managed by parastatals. We are disappointed that no reference was made to the poor state of these parastatals. The leadership and financial crisis faced by most of the parastatals need to be acknowledged and urgently addressed. Working infrastructure enables economic growth, whereas dilapidated infrastructure impedes economic growth. Take for instance the financial and medical cost of using the roads, which is escalating because of the poor state of the roads. Major highways, including the N1 in Johannesburg and the N2 in the Eastern Cape are riddled with dangerous potholes. Not to speak of the preposterous situation in smaller towns and rural areas. The infrastructure maintenance units that had been phased out need to be brought back. This would create permanent jobs and reduce government expenses; infrastructure maintenance is cheaper than infrastructure replacement.

Service delivery protests expose the rifts within the ruling party and its alliance partners, as well as the rift between the elite and the poor. Whilst it is fine and well to speak about the police enforcing order in these communities, it would be better, Mr President, to speak to the leaders of the tripartite alliance; nine out of ten times it is they who are leading and instigating these protests to displace councillors and mayors they dislike or to pursue other political agendas. Mr President, you can help the police and the communities by disciplining members of your political alliance who are using the poor as cannon fodder for their political schemes.

Linked to the question of service delivery, is the issue of people grandstanding and seeking cheap publicity. We regularly see the Minister of Human Settlements speaking of demolishing admittedly-inferior government-built houses, but where are the new better structures?

Could you Mr President, also take the country in your confidence and explain the proposed tariff increases for Eskom to build power stations, related to the Hitachi deal? The ruling party is heavily invested in that contract, which depends on Eskom imposing tariffs that would cripple the economy. Can we trust your Cabinet to make unbiased decisions in the best interests of the country, when the ruling party stands to benefit directly to the tune of billions from this Eskom deal?

Taking the abovementioned into consideration, our assessment is that the state of the nation is not positive, nor are we convinced that this Government is prepared and able to deal with the challenges that face us. Since this Government was elected we have not seen any significant delivery and the newspapers have been filled with the type of cars the leaders drive, and in front of whose homes those cars are seen.

I thank you.