Don’t let economic exclusion be the heritage of our children too

The following speech was delivered today by DA Leader, Mmusi Maimane, at the old Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE) building in Newtown, Johannesburg. Maimane was joined by DA Gauteng Leader, John Moodey, DA Regional Chairperson, Khume Ramulifho, and DA National Spokesperson, Refiloe Nt’sekhe.
My fellow South Africans
We are blessed to live in one of the most colourful and diverse nations in the world. Our strength lies in this diversity. We are greater than the sum of our parts.
We don’t want to be a homogenous society with uniform views on the world. We don’t want to speak one language, share one culture or practice one religion.
South Africa is like a bright garden, brimming with many different flowers. This is what makes us who we are, and we must celebrate this diversity.
On this Heritage Day, it is wonderful to see all this variety in our society – to see so many people embracing their own history and taking pride in their culture. It truly is a day where we get a glimpse into the worlds of our fellow South Africans.
Given our brutal history, where large sections of society’s culture and traditions were dismissed and oppressed, it is important that we reclaim our heritage. It is important that we say: This is part of who I am, and no one will take it away from me again.
But when we talk about our heritage, we cannot only speak about these unique cultural practices. Because we share a common heritage too. We have inherited something as South Africans that cuts right across race, language, age and religion.
Half a century of Apartheid rule – of the oppression of one race over another – has left us with a shared heritage that is as much a part of our identity as our cultures and our languages. And this shared heritage is the deeply skewed economy from which millions of our people remain excluded.
Our shared heritage is a society where a child’s opportunities in life are still determined by the circumstances of her birth.
We’re gathered here outside a building that has a profound symbolic meaning when it comes to this unjust society of ours. This building used to house the Johannesburg Stock Exchange – an institution that represented the exclusion of black South Africans from the economy.
It stood here as a monument to Apartheid’s biggest weapon: economic dispossession. It said that ownership of the economy was reserved for a minority and that resources were extracted for the benefit of some, not all.
It reminded black South Africans that while their labour was good enough to build the country, they themselves were not deemed good enough to own any of it.
All of this was meant to change after 1994. The political freedom that came with the right to vote was meant to be followed by economic freedom. Because only through full participation in the economy – through jobs and through owning property, businesses and shares – could people consider themselves truly free.
And for a while it looked like this would happen. As people’s daily lives improved and access to education and jobs improved, it seemed as though the promise of economic freedom would become a reality.
But ask most South Africans today, and they will tell you that this promise of economic freedom has faded to the point where it feels like a distant dream. They will tell you that they feel let down and abandoned by their government.
More than two decades into our democracy, the project of building a prosperous and inclusive economy has ground to a halt, because the people entrusted with this project have shifted their attention to other things.
They have turned their attention to ways of helping themselves to the money meant for the people. They have turned their attention to fighting off the factions that threaten their grip on power and wealth. And they have completely forgotten about the people.
The result is growing poverty, growing unemployment and growing anger.
Today, 55% of South Africans live below the poverty line. That’s more than 30 million of our people.
Today, more than 9.3 million South Africans can’t find work, most of whom are under the age of 35.
Today, South Africa has the highest youth unemployment rate in the world.
Today, South Africa has among the highest income inequality in the world.
That is our shared heritage. And it is the duty of each and every one of us to change this – to ensure that this does not become the heritage of our children too.
It is our duty to build an economy that is truly inclusive. Not the fig leaf of ownership that the current BEE model has provided.
Because if you strip away the wealthy cronies who got rich thanks to their ANC connections, you’re not left with a lot of black ownership of our economy. I mean real economic empowerment for ordinary South Africans.
It is our duty to fix our broken education system so that children can leave school confident that they have something to offer the world. We must give them the skills they need to make the most of every opportunity out there.
It is our duty to support and nurture every job-creating business, no matter how big or small. This means making it simpler to run a business and employ people. It also means investing in the sectors with the highest potential for job creation.
It is our duty to unite South Africans around shared values and to fight the scourge of racial nationalism wherever we encounter it. We cannot allow our country to slide back to a place where people are turned against each other because of the colour of their skin.
It is our duty to bridge divides between people; to build roads and transport networks that connect us.
It is our duty to step into each other’s worlds more often and really get to know our fellow countrymen and women. To learn each other’s languages.
And, above all, it is our duty to bring change where it is desperately needed. Each of us has the power of the vote, and with this power comes responsibility. We owe it to our country to use our votes to bring change.
And we owe it to our children to ensure that their heritage is a more just, inclusive country than the South Africa you see today.
A South Africa in which the place where you are born and the colour of your skin are not the things that determine your tomorrow.
A South Africa that no longer has white suburbs and black townships, or a white JSE and black enterprises.
A propserous South Africa that belongs equally to all her people.