The following Alternative State of the Nation Address was delivered today by Democratic Alliance (DA) Leader, Mmusi Maimane, at East Bank Hall in Alexandra, Johannesburg.
Today you’ve come here for a speech on the state of our nation – the South Africa of 2018 with its criminal president, its runaway corruption and its forgotten people.
I’m sure many of you are wondering what I can possibly tell you about the state of this nation that you don’t already know.
If you follow the news, you will know all about the problems that landed us in this mess.
You will know how callous the ANC was in turning a blind eye to the corrupt activities of its leader, only to wake up and realise he is holding them and the whole country to ransom.
You will know the extent of the irreparable harm the Gupta gang has done to our country with the help of our president.
You will know how their corruption and theft has destroyed state companies like Eskom and Prasa. How they took thriving companies out of business, destroyed and corrupted state officials, and even thought they could control the Reserve Bank and the South African Revenue Service.
You will know about the threat of the trillion Rand nuclear deal. You will know what junk status means and what a recession is.
So what else is there to add about the state of this nation?
But here’s the thing: I’m not going to tell you about this South Africa. I want to speak to you about another country.
The people of this country carry an ID that says they’re South African citizens. They vote. They qualify for grants. They have rights, enshrined in the Constitution of the country.
But they might as well live a million miles from those who have jobs, own property and have a quality education. Their lives could not be more different.
Over 30 million people, or 55% of our population, live below the official poverty line. If you are poor in South Africa, then none of these things that I have just mentioned really matter to you.
When you’re struggling to survive, you don’t care what the ratings agencies said about us. You might not care how much money was stolen from Eskom. You might not care which cabinet ministers were appointed by the Guptas.
None of this has any influence on your own life.
Even if these things change – if the recession ends, if the Eskom board is replaced, if the ANC elects a new president – nothing changes for you. You’re still without work and you’re still without hope.
When you’re poor, all that matters is getting through the day. And then getting through the next one.
Poor people in South Africa don’t follow their dreams. They spend their days following the sun around the house.
I met a woman in the Eastern Cape who had no food to feed her family, and yet she boiled a pot of water on the stove every evening. When I asked her why, she said she wanted her children to go to bed with the hope that there would be food.
This woman lives in another country.
It’s a country in which almost nine and a half million people can’t find work. Most of them are yet to turn thirty. They search every day for jobs that don’t exist. They stand in lines of thousands for a handful of vacancies, for which someone has already appointed people behind closed doors.
Just 18 months ago, this figure was 8.9 million. Every time new jobs data is released, it goes up by another hundred thousand, give or take. That’s like a small city joining the ranks of the unemployed every few months.
But let’s put aside this number for a moment. Because this country isn’t made up of a nameless mass. Living in it are ordinary people – girls and boys, men and women from rural villages, informal settlements and inner city slums.
They live in corrugated shacks and in mud homes, in crumbling RDP houses and in crowded city buildings.
They are individuals with their own unique identities. They have their own fears and they have their own dreams. If we don’t see them for the people they are then we will never understand the country they live in.
It’s the young man who rises above his challenges and makes it to university, but has no way of surviving once he’s there. No money for food, no money for books and nowhere to study.
It’s the grandmother living in a single-roomed shack who now has to do what she did 40 years ago, all over again – raise small children by herself on a grant that barely covers basic groceries.
It’s the hungry little boy who walks 10km to school because that’s where he’ll eat his only meal for the day.
It’s the teenage girl in her township home trying to figure out how she is going to raise a child without a job, without matric and without the child’s father.
It’s the man who sits by the side of the road with his tools, along with dozens of other men, hoping that maybe this week someone will stop and offer him work.
This is a country where four young children die of malnutrition every day.
It’s a country where teachers can’t pass the exams in the subjects they teach. Where primary school children can’t read and where almost two-thirds of them won’t pass matric.
This is not the country of their dreams. They would give anything to go to a good school, to find a job and to own a house.
But they can’t, because they are trapped in the prison of poverty, and they cannot see a way out.
Today, in this audience, are ten young South Africans who have shared their stories of frustration and despair with me. Young men and women who cannot find work no matter how hard they try or how qualified they are.
They will be joining me in Parliament next week during the SONA debate. I want the members of the House to look them in the eye and explain to them why they remain excluded after all these years.
Fellow South Africans,
These stories are not new. Since the dawn of our democracy – and long before that – many of our people have struggled to survive.
We’ve always had hungry children in mud schools.
Our townships have always been ravaged by crime.
There’s always been daily hardship in communities so remote, no one seems to know or care about them.
We’ve always had two South Africa’s – one for the insiders and one for the outsiders.
None of this is new. But what is new is the fact that we’re no longer making progress. We’re no longer winning the fight.
Twenty-four years ago South Africans went out to vote in our first ever democratic election. The result of this vote put us on a brand new road.
We didn’t know exactly where this road would end or how long it would take us to get there, but we did know we were headed in the right direction.
We had a leader who cared. And when he spoke about the possibilities of our country, we wanted to be that country.
We felt like we were one united people pursuing one common destiny.
And we wanted the rest of the world to believe in our potential too. We wanted them to come here with their dollars and their pounds and their yen, to invest in this sure thing that we had going.
Our good fortune would be their good fortune, and this rising tide would lift all our people out of poverty and despair.
They would have houses – dignified homes with separate rooms, solid roofs and running water.
Once-forgotten communities would have roads, lights, electricity, taps and toilets.
We were impatient to get to a time when black and white would live as neighbours – their children sitting side by side in the same classroom.
We wanted this world where things would no longer feel wrong and unfair. Where everything from business and sport to crime and poverty no longer had a colour.
We believed that the dignity of ordinary South Africans would be restored. That every man and woman would have the chance to find work, and would stand proud and independent in the world.
We wanted to be that one country.
But somewhere between then and now things changed. We lost that certainty that everything would work out right.
Nelson Mandela used to obsess about preparing young South Africans for a better tomorrow through education and reading.
He called our children “the rock on which our future will be built,” and he never stopped talking about preparing them for this future.
Today we can barely speak about the gift of a good education because we know ours is just about the worst in the entire world.
Back then we vowed to heal our wounds through reconciliation and redress. We would find the good in each other and make amends.
Today those old wounds have been opened up once more by people who have no interest in unity. People who don’t care what damage they do, as long as there’s a bit of power and money to be had.
Our road that once looked so promising is now filled with potholes, and our journey has ground to a halt.
So what do we do now? Do we simply fill in these potholes with quick-fix solutions until we can pass over them again?
Because if this is what we want for South Africa, then we don’t have to change much.
We can just carry on down this road and hope that things will improve.
We can hope that the same old government under a new president will somehow cleanse itself and, to use the buzz word, “self-correct”.
We can hope that the corruption that has become such a part of our society will disappear overnight, and that our government will suddenly become caring and accountable.
We can hope that, without making any change ourselves, our future will somehow change. That’s an option.
But that’s not what I want for my country. I want much more, for my children and for all our children.
I want a secure future for all South Africans. I want to know where we are headed. I want to choose that road.
But for that to happen we can’t remain on this broken, potholed road. We’re going to need a new road. A new beginning with a fresh plan around which we can build our dream nation.
Fellow South Africans,
This new beginning exists. Many of my colleagues have been working tirelessly at putting together a plan to set our country on a new road.
It is a plan with an obsessive focus on bringing millions of excluded South Africans into work. To make them part of the country many other South Africans take for granted.
This plan starts with the early childhood development of every single child, and then guides them through a basic education system that will prepare them to step out into the world with confidence.
This means quality schools in every community, and not just for those lucky enough to live in the right areas.
It means teachers who can and want to teach, and are proud to send their own children to these same schools.
But even the best plan in the world will mean little if it is not felt and shared by all South Africans.
If you are not deeply unsettled by the injustice in our society, then you cannot be part of charting a new course for South Africa.
This unfairness is what motivates us at the DA, and so our plan deals comprehensively with the topic of justice.
Justice through real empowerment for ordinary South Africans, not the crony enrichment scheme of this ANC government’s BEE.
Justice through schools of excellence in our townships. Justice through share ownership for workers. And justice through title deeds for dispossessed people in rural communities and townships.
We are also obsessed with helping young jobseekers get a foot on the first rung of the jobs ladder.
Not everyone will qualify for university. Not everyone will go to a college, or get an apprenticeship. Many young South Africans will be excluded from these options, but this doesn’t mean they should be excluded from work opportunities.
One of the most exciting parts of our plan is the introduction of a voluntary year of National Civilian Service for unemployed matriculants.
This will be a programme that will allow school leavers to serve their country or community for a year in healthcare, education or policing, and receive a monthly stipend while doing so.
They will become teachers’ assistants in schools, administrative assistants in clinics and hospitals, and they will join police academies and go on patrols.
Top performers throughout the year will receive funding to study in these fields, and use this year as a springboard for their careers.
No young person should ever feel like there are no options for them, and this year of public service will go a long way towards broadening these options.
But we don’t have to wait till we’re in national government before we can start opening opportunities for young people.
Two weeks ago we launched an initiative called Vukuzakhe – which means “get up and do it”. This is a programme that will connect thousands of young jobseekers with internship opportunities.
From our side, we will list all the internships offered by DA governments on this portal, but we have also challenged the private sector to match our offers.
It’s all about getting a foot in the door. It’s about showing young people that there are options for them out there, and showing employers what these young people are capable of.
Our young people are entrepreneurs. We must establish a national venture fund to assist small businesses. Then we must reduce tax for those who make things so that they can hire more people and trade.
Our governments are already hard at work. We have a programme, in our Metros, to subsidise the travel of young jobseekers.
Herman Mashaba, Solly Msimanga and Athol Trollip will continue in our new governments to ensure that we help Metro police in their fight against drugs in our communities.
Fellow South Africans
Yes, I am very concerned about the state of our nation. I am very concerned that we are losing ground in the fight against poverty and unemployment.
I am concerned for the elderly whose anxiety grows every day, not knowing whether they will be paid their social grants.
But we don’t have to accept this. We don’t have to accept that millions of poor, young South Africans must remain trapped in another country.
We can make a fresh start. We can become one nation with one future.
But this will only happen if we’re prepared to make some tough choices.
Some of us will have to make tough choices at the ballot box.
Some will have to make tough choices about how they conduct themselves in business.
Some political parties will have to make tough choices about coalitions and alliances.
And perhaps no one will face tougher choices than the new President of the ANC.
Mr Ramaphosa, congratulations on your election in December. I hope this marks the start of an era of cooperation and partnership between our parties.
Now, more than ever, we need to set aside our differences. We cannot allow petty politics and point-scoring to threaten the safety and wellbeing of our people.
The only way we’ll defeat the crippling drought in the Western and Eastern Cape is if we work together, with no hidden agendas, across all levels of government. Millions of South Africans are counting on us.
The people of these provinces are a part of this country and they are entitled to the best service we can give them. I’m asking you to do what is right in this crisis situation.
Beyond the drought we want to engage, in a constructive way, with government’s plan for our country. But to do this we need to know which plan that is.
Which SONA will be presented in Parliament on Thursday – Cyril Ramaphosa’s or Jacob Zuma’s?
And if it’s Jacob Zuma’s, then what is the point? Why are we wasting our time?
Fellow South Africans,
We need a new beginning. We don’t need false hope and empty promises.
Many people look at the ANC that Mr Ramaphosa inherited – at the corrupt people elected around him – and they say little has changed. It’s the same organisation with a different head.
That’s my impression too. Individual leaders are not messiahs. Only a strong and capable state can deliver a better life for our people.
And whether it’s Jacob Zuma or Cyril Ramaphosa at the helm, the quality of this ANC government does not make for a capable state.
If Mr Ramaphosa wants to prove me wrong, then he knows what he must do.
Someone once said “It’s not a principle until it costs you something”. Well, he now has a chance to show us his principles.
His choices will be tough. In many cases he will have to take a hard line against people in his party and his alliance for the sake of our country.
I know it is not easy to take a stand against your own people. I’m doing it in my party, and you have seen the effect this has had on us. But I know it must be done, in the interest of the people.
These are some of the choices the new ANC President will have to make:
The first choice is about Jacob Zuma. It is not possible to have a fresh start for South Africa and Zuma’s old ways. It has to be one or the other. Jacob Zuma must be removed right away.
And I’m not talking about letting him down gently either. There can be no deal for amnesty. He must face justice, like any other person accused of crimes.
Along with Jacob Zuma, the system that allowed our country to be plundered through state capture must also be broken down, starting with the appointment of a truly independent head of the NPA.
This will need to be followed by new independent individuals to head up SARS, SAPS, State Security and the key ministries of Finance, Public Enterprises and Mineral Resources.
The next choice is probably the most important one Mr Ramaphosa will ever make. It’s about putting our children first. It’s about standing up to the South African Democratic Teachers Union and stopping them from protecting teachers who can’t and won’t do their jobs.
Four out of five Grade 4 children in South Africa cannot read well enough to understand what they’re reading, in any language. And the reason they can’t read is because no one is held responsible for not teaching them.
This is the greatest injustice in South Africa. If you’re committed to a fresh start for South Africa – if you claim to care at all – then this is where you begin.
Then Mr Ramaphosa is going to have to make a choice on our Constitution. Will he protect it, or will he carry on scapegoating it for his party’s failure to deliver justice to our people through land reform?
No society can advance without secure property rights. You cannot talk about growing our economy on the one hand, and expropriating land without compensation on the other. It’s either or, and Mr Ramaphosa knows this.
Will he be brave enough to stand up for the principle of private property? Will he admit that the Constitution is our best guarantee of a fair nation with shared prosperity? Or will he instead defend the corrupt system that failed our people?
We must protect the Constitution and kill corruption, not protect corruption and kill the Constitution.
These are some of the choices before Mr Ramaphosa.
If he chooses to put South Africans first, we will work with him to build this country into what it can be. But if he fails to act, then his party will pay dearly in 2019.
Either way, we don’t have time to tinker with failed plans. We need an entirely new beginning, and we need it now.
Fellow South Africans,
Over the next 18 months all of us are going to have to think very carefully about the kind of country we want to live in.
The days of passive politics are over. One-party dominance in South Africa has come to an end, and now every election will have everything to play for. Every vote will count.
To borrow the words of Chinua Achebe: “Every generation must recognise and embrace the task it is peculiarly designed by history and by providence to perform.”
That’s why we all have to become active participants in this democracy. We have to fight for the future we want. We have to talk about it to our friends and family.
And if we have ideas on how to achieve this future, then we have to share these ideas with people. Be an activist.
This is your country, and next year’s election is the best shot you will ever have at securing the future you want.
If that future sounds like the country I described today – the united South Africa that we almost lost – then let us work together to get it back.
Let us not rest until we have enough people on our side.