STRAIGHT TALK: Facing up to our challenge

The American writer and civil rights activist James Baldwin once said: “You cannot fix what you cannot face.” We would do well to remember these words as we set about restoring people’s trust in the Democratic Alliance.

It is no secret that we have had our challenges. Last year, we learned that the voters of South Africa are more discerning than they are sometimes given credit for, and – for the first time in our history – the DA went backwards in an election.

The reasons are numerous and were covered extensively in a report commissioned by the party leadership. I am not going to rehash that here suffice to say that we have learned many lessons from the last three or four years. What’s important is that I am ready to face up to the challenge of fixing the DA.

This work has begun in earnest since I was elected interim leader in November 2019. The DA of 2020 already feels worlds away from the DA of 2019. We are beginning to develop a clear sense of political direction for the party. We are finalising a range of big, bold policy ideas for discussion at our policy conference in April. And we are gearing up for an historic federal congress in May where we will elect a new leadership team.

We are also winning the battle of ideas in Parliament. While other parties disgracefully used gender-based violence as a political football in the National Assembly last week, we were offering reasoned critique and workable policy alternatives. Every single DA speaker in the State of the Nation debate distinguished themselves and our party.

The proof of our growing credibility lies in the number of DA policies that have now been taken up by the government. For example, in President Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address, he finally relented to DA pressure on the electricity crisis. We have said for years that we need to add grid capacity from renewable energy, gas and hydro, that we urgently need to open bid window 5 for renewable energy, that we need to allow commercial and industrial users to produce their own electricity and that we need to let municipalities procure their power directly from producers. And, in his speech, the President announced all of these things.

Just look at Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s budget tabled this week. Of course, we don’t agree with everything he said – he needed to be much bolder on underperforming State-Owned Enterprises such as Eskom and SAA and he needs to do more to rein in spiraling debt.

However, Minister Mboweni did exactly what the DA has been pushing for. He offered some relief to overburdened consumers with a number of tax cuts, and he has pledged to cut government expenditure – particularly on the bloated public service wage bill. This has put himself firmly in the cross-hairs of the ANC’s alliance partners and he should roundly be applauded for this. We will be watching with interest to see whether he and the President have the courage to follow through.

Importantly, for the DA, we are starting to get real results where it counts – at the ballot box. In this regard, I could not be prouder of the Democratic Alliance Students Organisation (DASO) and its recent string of victories in Limpopo. On Monday, DASO won nine seats during SRC elections held at the Vhembe TVET College. This follows DASO winning the majority of seats during an SRC election held at Mopani South East TVET Campus earlier this year. At this campus, DASO contested four positions, winning all four.

The significance of these victories (which, naturally, went unnoticed by the media) is that these voters are young, black South Africans freely choosing the Democratic Alliance. This is a far cry from the fevered imagination of those commentators who write us off as a “white party”. If these so-called analysts could spend one day outside of their elitist bubble, they would see just how hollow this hackneyed descriptor is.

It seems that there is no shortage of commentators out there who feign concern for the DA, only to drag us down at the first opportunity. The most spectacular example came this week with the publication of three-month old polling data to “prove” that the DA was in terminal decline. What those who publish this nonsense don’t seem to realise is that every time they do it, they damage their own credibility and not the DA’s.

Make no mistake, when it comes to rebuilding a politically party, the road is arduous and littered with potholes. But there can be no short cut for the hard work and long hours that are required. History is our best lesson when we look back at what it took to rebuild the then-DP after it’s nightmare election in 1994 where it achieved only 1,7% of the vote.

A man by the name of Tony Leon stepped up to the plate. Within five years he increased the DA’s support five-fold to overtake the National Party as South Africa’s official opposition party. There was no particular secret to his success – he made sure that the party knew what it stood for, and he got everybody pulling in the same direction.

These are the same crossroads we find ourselves at today, nearly 20 years later. We need to keep broadening our appeal to more and more voters, and we need to stand up for those voters that loyally have stood by us for so many years. I can promise you; we will never again take these voters for granted.

We are prepared to face our challenges in order to fix them. And I am buoyed by the brilliant team I get to work with every single day — the activists, the councillors, the MPLs and the MPs. I know that, together, we will once again emerge victorious.

STRAIGHT TALK: SONA and Ramaphosa: the night and knight of delusions

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In his address to the nation, Ramaphosa admitted that “our country is facing a stark reality”. Although he went on to sugar coat that reality, he admitted that our economy is stagnant, unemployment is deepening, and our public finances are under severe pressure.

He then noted: “We have a choice. We can succumb to the many and difficult and protracted problems that confront us, or we can confront them, with resolve and determination and with action.”

He is right. That is exactly the choice we have. Yet although he claims to be confronting the challenges, he is not.

If I were president, this is what I would do to confront our challenges:

  1. Set in motion the steps needed to resolve our energy crisis: 1) break Eskom’s monopoly entirely by opening the energy market to full competition, allowing companies and households to generate and sell electricity unhindered by the state, 2) sell off Eskom’s power stations to pay off its R450 billion debt, 3) free Eskom’s leadership to drive operational efficiencies. 
  2. Revive investor confidence by decisively walking away from expropriation without compensation and instead commit to undertaking an adequately fund land reform process as the Constitution demands. 
  3. Decisively cancel national health insurance and instead implement the DA’s Sizani Healthcare Plan which is full of practical solutions to our country’s massive healthcare challenges and won’t require additional funding or tax increases. 
  4. Unequivocally drop any notion of forcing pension funds to be invested into state-owned companies.
  5. Make a firm commitment that the Reserve Bank will not be nationalised. 
  6. Make bold changes to our labour legislation to unleash entrepreneurship and job creation. At the very least, small and medium business must be exempted from all but the Basic Conditions of Employment. Nothing could do more to create jobs for the 70% of young South Africans who want a job but can’t find one. 
  7. Commit to ending SADTU’s stranglehold on our basic education system, so that teachers can be properly trained, monitored and incentivised. 
  8. Do away with cadre deployment and BEE and instead commit that appointments and tenders will be on merit so that public money can be spent efficiently in the best interests of the poor. 
  9. Devolve SAPS powers to the provinces and metros as per international best practice.
  10. Commit to reining in the public sector wage bill, by freezing wages for all managers and administrators for three years and reduce the number of such managers earning over a million rand a year by a third. 

Some of these are quick wins and others will take time, but all of them must begin now.

Ramaphosa did not commit to taking a single one of these steps. Anyone who thinks he is confronting South Africa’s challenges is delusional. He did throw us a few bones: the commitment to add additional energy to the grid and to back the DA’s long-fought proposal to allow municipalities to procure their own power from independent producers. Both are in the ANC’s interest, since load-shedding is eroding their support and the DA has taken them to court to allow the latter and is bound to win the case.

But mostly he dished up delusions: a state bank when the post bank is already unable to do its job; a sovereign wealth fund when the government already spends R1000 million more per day than it gets in taxes; a smart city when most municipalities are bankrupt or dysfunctional or both; coding and robotics for kids who can’t read; a capable state with cadre deployment.

In all his big policy decisions, he is forced to choose between keeping the patronage taps open and building populist support for his party on the one hand and generating inclusive growth for South Africa on the other hand.

The fact is, he’s chosen to save the ANC rather than South Africa. That’s why he’s clinging to populist policies that undermine any investment credibility in the economy. He knows, for example, that NHI is unaffordable and won’t make any difference in improving healthcare.

Ramaphosa told us he chooses to confront our challenges. The fact is, he lied.

Either Ramaphosa is not the leader we hoped he’d be, or he doesn’t have the mandate from his party to confront South Africa’s challenges. Either way, it makes no difference.

It’s time for South Africans to wake up. Even if you think Cyril’s a great guy, it’s time to stop putting your hope in the ANC to save SA. It’s not going to happen.

That’s why we need to build a new majority in SA that can make these bold reforms. The DA will be at the forefront of this charge.

Invest in a stronger democracy

STRAIGHT TALK: SONA and Ramaphosa: the night and knight of delusion

Long and well-spun as it was, Ramaphosa’s state of the nation address can be distilled down to a single naked fact: it didn’t deliver the reforms we need to reverse South Africa’s slide into bankruptcy. It didn’t even come close.

“Gradually and then suddenly” was Hemingway’s description of how you go bankrupt. We’re entering the “suddenly” phase, with our credit set to be junked soon after Mboweni delivers his budget speech later this month.

Yet Ramaphosa missed his Rubicon moment to fix the fundamentals.

He failed to administer even the basic CPR required to stabilise the patient. If the DA were in government, this is the shock treatment we would have delivered last night.

  • Solve our energy crisis by committing to 1) break Eskom’s monopoly entirely by opening the energy market to full competition, allowing companies and households to generate and sell electricity unhindered by the state, 2) sell off Eskom’s power stations to pay off its R450 billion debt, 3) free Eskom’s leadership to drive operational efficiencies.
  • Rapidly revive investor confidence by decisively walking away from expropriation without compensation, national health insurance, nationalising the Reserve Bank, and forcing pension funds to invest in state-owned companies.

And Ramaphosa denied our economy the treatment – long prescribed by the DA – that would nurse it to long-term health:

  • Make bold changes to our labour legislation to unleash entrepreneurship and job creation.
  • Stand up to SADTU to end their stranglehold on our basic education system, so that teachers can be properly trained, monitored and incentivised.
  • Do away with cadre deployment and BEE so that the appointments and tenders are on merit and in the best interests of the poor. This would do far more to fix our health system than will NHI.
  • Devolve SAPS powers to the provinces and metros as per international best practice.
  • Commit to reining in the public sector wage bill, by freezing wages for all managers and administrators for three years and reducing the number of such managers earning over a million rand a year by a third.

Though not nearly enough to arrest South Africa’s slide, we welcome the commitment to add additional energy to the grid and to back the DA’s long-fought proposal to allow municipalities to procure their own power from independent producers.

But mostly, we were dished up delusion: a state bank when the post bank is already unable to do its job; a sovereign wealth fund when the government already spends R1000 million more per day than it gets in taxes; a smart city when most municipalities are bankrupt or dysfunctional or both; coding and robotics for kids who can’t read; a capable state with cadre deployment.

It would be funny if it weren’t ruining millions of lives and destroying our future.

Ramaphosa’s problem is that for every major policy decision confronting him, he must choose between his party and his country. Either he goes the route that provides patronage and populist support to his party (NHI, EWC, SADTU etc) or he goes the route that generates inclusive growth for South Africa.

He chooses the ANC over South Africa every time.

It’s time for South Africans to wake up. Cyril is not the knight in shining armour that came to save us. We need to build a new majority for reform in South Africa. The DA will be at the forefront of this charge.

STRAIGHT TALK: 30 years on, South Africa needs another reset

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When FW De Klerk announced the unbanning of the ANC, SACP and other organisations on 2 February 1990 – thirty years ago this week – South Africa’s “reset” button was pressed and a new era of political freedom ushered in. It required immense personal courage from De Klerk and Mandela, both of whom placed country over party.

But economic freedom did not follow. Instead, the number of unemployed has risen from 3.7 million then to 10.3 million now. This is a major national crisis and far worse is yet to come as Eskom follows SAA into a death spiral, battered by a corrupt, incapable state. Our economy teeters on the brink of collapse.

Looting, bailouts and mismanagement have spun national debt out of control, yet our government continues to spend almost R1000 million more per day than it earns. That is why it is targeting people’s property, pensions and incomes, causing ever more capital and skills to flee our shores. We’re caught in a low-growth, high-debt trap and the situation has become highly combustible.

South Africa urgently needs another “reset”. We need sweeping structural reforms – a radical change to the “rules of the game”. The DA is not alone in calling for this change. Finance Minister Tito Mboweni warned last month: “If you cannot effect deep structural economic reforms, then game over!”

It’s five minutes to midnight. Moody’s is set to downgrade our credit to junk status soon after Mboweni delivers his budget statement later this month. This will raise the cost of future borrowing and accelerate our decline, just as a loss of confidence in SAA has accelerated its descent. As it fell to De Klerk and Mandela in 1990, so it falls to Ramaphosa now. On Thursday 13 February, he will deliver his third State of the Nation Address. This is his Rubicon moment. He can continue to choose dithering over decisiveness and keep playing by the current rules of the game – in which government plays an ever-greater role in the economy and “transformation” is achieved by BEE, EE, EWC and political patronage – or he can change the rules of the game to unleash private enterprise and entrepreneurship.

The current rules are failing South Africa unequivocally and dangerously: inequality and poverty are both growing.

This week, the Democratic Alliance released a draft document titled “Values and Principles” ahead of our policy conference on 4-5 April. It is intended to be the social contract between the DA and the people of South Africa, and the solid foundation on which all in the DA can work towards a common purpose.

It is also the basis for a new set of rules for South Africa, one that would lead to an open, opportunity society for all. It envisages a social market economy in which participants (businesses and consumers) rather than government decide on what to purchase, where to invest, and how much to produce.

Mining Minister Gwede Mantashe’s announcement at the Mining Indaba this week that the government is now preparing to allow mining companies to generate their own electricity speaks volumes. It is simply crazy that we need permission from government to be self-reliant.

Mantashe also proposed a new state-owned power generation company. This is mad, bad idea. South Africa needs an energy market that is open and competitive, in which everyone capable of producing energy can do so and sell it to anyone who wants to buy it, at whatever price they agree upon.

There are plenty of Independent Power Producers in South Africa who are ready and willing to generate electricity, thereby diversifying our energy mix, and making it more reliable and cheaper. Open, competitive markets should be the norm in our society and the DA’s draft document provides the basis for establishing this. I invite you to read it and give us feedback. We have set up an online portal for public submissions, which will go live on Friday.

The path Ramaphosa chooses for South Africa in his address to the nation next week will define his legacy. Whether or not we “reset” South Africa will define our future. I believe the values and principles set out in our draft document hold the key to greater equality and real transformation in South Africa. Poverty and unemployment have been coded into our system and we can code them out with a new set of rules. It’s time to join the DA in building these.

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STRAIGHT TALK: February is the month to fight EWC

The ANC is trying to sneak expropriation without compensation (EWC) through as a benign tool of transformation. Make no mistake, it’s a potent weapon in a kleptocracy’s arsenal to subjugate and steal from the people of South Africa.

Yesterday in parliament the opposition successfully compelled the government to extend the closing date for objections to its Section 25 Amendment Bill (to enable EWC) from 31 Jan 2020 to 29 Feb 2020. This means we can unite and fight EWC for a month or suffer its consequences for decades.

The only way a successful society can operate is on the basis of secure private property rights and the rule of law. Anyone who cannot see that these core values are now at stake is frankly naïve. The EWC bill proposes cutting out the courts by transferring decision-making control around which property can be expropriated, and at what price, from the judiciary to the state. At the stroke of a minister’s pen, our title deeds could become worthless.

Amending the Constitution and legislation to give the state unchecked power to grab land and other property is a very, very bad idea. We all need to grasp the depth and scale of the risk and act swiftly. Zimbabwe’s story could be South Africa’s too if we don’t act en masse during the month of February. Hindsight is the best source of insight: we either learn from Zimbabwe’s path, or we follow it.

The state can be legally compelled to act in the national interest if society expresses its interest loudly enough in a public participation process. So, there are four actions I urge you to take during the month of February: 1) write an objection and email it to section25@parliament.gov.za; 2) sign the DA’s petition against EWC; 3) put pressure on your bank or home loan provider to object to EWC; and 4) get others in your community to do the same.

The ANC claims the purpose of EWC is to enable and accelerate land reform. But the real objective is to bring all land under state custodianship and control, to be used as a patronage tool to shore up its power and secure its access to public resources. Only the very naïve could believe otherwise.

Consider the case of David Rakgase, a poor, 78-year old, black Limpopo farmer who has had to take the state to court to compel it to sell him the land he has leased and farmed for over two decades. He won, and the state abandoned its appeal in favour of contravening the court’s judgement by offering to sell it to him at 9 times the price instructed by the court.

EWC will undermine confidence in title deeds and investment. Far from being pro-poor, EWC will be profoundly anti-poor as agricultural investment dwindles, land becomes unproductive, food shortages set in, and unemployment soars yet higher. EWC will not help the poor any more than BEE, employment equity or rigid labour legislation have. Inequality and unemployment have never been higher.

And that’s just the start of it. There’s plenty of scope for creep. After all, land is just one form of property and further changes will only need to be legislative rather than Constitutional, meaning that only a parliamentary majority of 51% will be required.

It’s already clear that scope-creep is the ANC’s modus operandi. By their own admission, the original proposed amendment (published for public comment on 6 December 2019) giving the courts control to decide on compensation was just a ruse. They’d always intended to bypass the courts.

In driving EWC, the ANC has sought to scapegoat first the Constitution and now the courts for its own abject failure to execute an effective land reform programme over the past quarter century. As no less that former president Kgalema Motlanthe pointed out in his High-Level Panel Report to Parliament, Section 25 in its current formulation in no way impedes meaningful land reform. Rather, corruption, mismanagement, lack of funding and lack of political will are the real impediments.

In other words, the ANC government itself is the obstacle, and this latest amendment proposes to vest even more power in it.

The DA-run Western Cape has a 72% success rate in agricultural land reform projects compared to an estimated 10% success rate nationally. Our urban land reform record is consistently strong, with DA governments having given out well over 100 000 title deeds in urban areas.

The DA is unequivocally opposed to amending the Constitution and we will use every mechanism at our disposal to fight it, just as we are fighting prescribed assets and the nationalisation of the Reserve Bank and healthcare.

Indeed, it would be a grave mistake to view EWC in isolation. This move is exactly in line with the ANC’s overall strategy of achieving state control over every aspect of our lives so that their feeding frenzy can continue.

Nationalising the Reserve Bank and healthcare and hanging onto failing state-owned enterprises whatever the cost to the nation, including forcing pension funds to “invest” in them, are all part of the same broad agenda of theft.

These lead not to transformation but to economic ruin. The fastest, indeed only, way to transform our society is to throw open the doors to individual ownership, enterprise and entrepreneurship by embracing the values on which these depend: the rule of law including respect for the Constitution and private property rights; a market-driven economy; and a capable state that delivers to all. These are the DA’s values and vision and our offer to South Africa.

STRAIGHT TALK: My vision for SA and the DA

This is my first weekly newsletter as leader of the Democratic Alliance. I have assumed this position at a perilous time, when our country is slipping backwards and faces the real prospect of becoming a failed state.

So I’d like to use this opportunity to set out my agenda for the DA, essentially to answer the question: What are the most effective things the DA can do to help fix South Africa and get the country back onto a path to prosperity? As I see it, there are two overriding imperatives.

First, where we already govern, we must do so to the very best of our ability, prioritizing delivery to the poorest communities. Doing so will have consequences that extend far beyond the lives of those we serve and the borders of our municipalities and the Western Cape. If DA-run areas are fixing, building, working, growing, innovating and thriving, it will reignite trust in the DA and hope in SA. This is essential, because I believe the party has a central role to play in fixing South Africa.

The DA has long been associated with good governance. The Western Cape is a well-run province by any standard and I am confident of further improvements, such as from Premier Alan Winde’s safety plan. Yet we have seen a decline in the quality of services delivered by some DA governments over the past few years. While I am DA leader, good governance will be a non-negotiable top priority.

To this end, we are working to ensure that every single DA-run government has the most capable and committed leadership available to us. Good governance starts with good, values-driven leadership at all levels of the party, by individuals who place service to others over self-promotion. I’ve taken action to replace the dysfunctional Mayor of George and will take similarly swift action against any other DA mayors or public representatives who act against the interests of the people they were elected to serve or who fail to perform to the high level expected of them.

The DA is in talks with all signatories to coalition agreements with the party, including UDM leader Bantu Holomisa, because together we have enough seats in council to take back Nelson Mandela Bay Metro from the ANC and reinstate good governance there. The UDM enabled the ANC to get into government there in the first place, so it is not an easy conversation to have. But, to my mind, the need to return NMB metro to good governance for the sake of those who live there should be uppermost.

The second overriding imperative for the DA is to build a new majority in South Africa. Ours is an incredibly diverse nation, yet I firmly believe most of us share the same core values of a non-racial society that upholds the Constitution and the rule of law; an economy that is market-driven; and a state that delivers to all rather than to a connected few. It is these values that will put South Africa on a path to prosperity.

At first glance these values may seem obvious to you, but in fact they imply some sweeping reforms that will cause short-term pain before they produce long-term gain.

True non-racialism, for example, requires that we reject race-based policies in favour of policies that treat people first and foremost as individuals, rather than primarily as members of a group. A market-driven economy requires a far lower degree of state intervention in our economy than we currently see in South Africa today. And a state that delivers to all requires government to stand up to those vested interests (unions etc) that currently benefit from the status quo, a system which favours incumbent employees and large firms while placing high barriers to new entrants to the economy.

The challenge is to get all those who share these values to work together, since we are all located in different parties, including in the ANC. We’re also located in different mindsets and many of us differ strongly on other issues despite our shared core values. Yet South Africa’s current catastrophic situation requires us to muster the same sense of urgency and the same sense of “common cause” as in 2016 when the country united, albeit temporarily, against state capture. The DA has a central role to play in this.

Our nation stands at a fork in the road. One way is the path of populism and short-cuts and appealing-sounding socialist solutions. It seems attractive to many at first glance. But ultimately it will collapse our economy and immiserate our society, locking people into dependence on a corrupt, incapable state. The process is already underway, with policies such as property expropriation without compensation, national health insurance, asset prescription and nationalising of the Reserve Bank already on the table.

The other path puts power back in the hands of people and communities. It leads to a free society, in which individuals have the freedom and opportunities to make their own living and their own choices. This path leads to enterprise and innovation and growth. It has tremendous power to transform our society, to reverse apartheid patterns of deprivation and inequality. Not through the intervention of the state into every aspect of our lives, but through the aggregated efforts of millions of free people operating in an enabling environment. It is the path to prosperity and the DA under my leadership will strive to build a new majority who will choose this path.