Mister Speaker, Mister President, Deputy President and Honourable Members,
State of the Nation Address debates give South Africans an opportunity to participate in discussions about issues that affect our country.
We should therefore not underestimate the value of this important democratic practice in strengthening our democracy. Elsewhere in the world such opportunities do not exist.
Mister President, allow me to apologise in advance for not being able to stay for the entire duration of this debate. I have to go to Pretoria to finalise the submission of the Defence Force Service Commission (DFSC) to the Portfolio Committee on Defence.
I also need to prepare for my trip to Bloemfontein to attend the National Defence Force Day celebrations.
I hope you understand Sir, because you assigned me this task.
The 2014 State of the Nation Address debate takes place at a time when South Africa marks 20 years of freedom. This gives us an opportunity to reflect on the progress made and the challenges facing South Africa today.
We acknowledge the good strides made since the attainment of our freedom.
We also fully concur with you, Mister President, that South Africa is a better place to live in today than it was before 1994. However, contrary to popular belief, many South Africans do not have a good story to tell about our twenty years of freedom.
Millions of South Africans in townships, rural and peri-urban areas still do not have access to land, houses, water and sanitation.
Even in instances where services have been delivered the quality of the final product leaves much to be desired. As we speak, Government has to demolish and rebuild thousands of poorly built RDP houses around the country.
There is also a general lack of maintenance of the existing infrastructure in many previously disadvantaged communities, which negatively affects the delivery of water and electricity.
The real State of the Nation
While the UDM acknowledges the impact of colonial and apartheid legacy on the South African economy, twenty years into our democracy there is clear evidence that poor economic policy choices, economic mismanagement and corruption have negatively affected our economy.
Furthermore, over the last twenty years we have witnessed growing levels of tension and mistrust amongst the three main role players: government, labour and business. On the one hand, this mistrust has discouraged big business from investing billions of available cash in our economy.
On the other hand, it has often resulted in illegal and violent strikes, which negatively affect the economy, depress the currency and investor sentiment.
These strained and often volatile industrial relations have resulted in high unemployment rates. Millions of South Africans are unemployed – the majority of which are youth, while others live in abject poverty.
Rising food prices and fuel costs have added to the misery by making it difficult for many South Africans to make ends meet.
What adds insult to injury is that our education system fails to give our children the basic education they need to be economically active.
In the meantime, levels of inequality increase at an alarming rate. The high levels of inequality are a direct result of corruption and policies that allow the rich to accumulate obscene wealth at the expense of the poor and marginalised.
The most painful irony however is that of a former liberation movement that espoused egalitarian principles during the struggle years only to preside over the most grotesque and ever-worsening levels of inequality.
Government has over the past 20 years taken decisions that have caused the country much embarrassment. Some of these decisions and transactions, which were laced with corruption include, but are not limited to, Sarafina II, the Arms Deal, Hitachi/Chancellor House/Eskom deal, the Dina Pule saga, the IEC and the South African Police Services’ (SAPS) lease agreement scandals, Nkandlagate scandal and so on.
While talking about the Nkandlagate scandal, Mister President, we have noted your media comments over the past weekend regarding government’s spending of millions of taxpayer’s money on your private property.
There is no doubt that this scandal has brought the country into disrepute.
You keep telling us that you had no knowledge of these improvements, but you never tell us what steps you have taken to solve this fiasco.
Mister President, had it not been for the media that exposed this scandal, there would have been no Public Works and Public Protector Investigations.
We are concerned that in cases where senior ruling party leaders are caught with their hands in the cookie jar junior officials are made to take the blame.
Even former President Nelson Mandela admitted to the widespread existence of corruption in the ruling party when he said in August 1998 that: “We have learnt now that even those people with whom we fought the struggle against apartheid’s corruption can themselves be corrupted.”
Mister President, it seems other South Africans have a different story to tell.
No one can dispute that: “Corruption destroys the gains of our freedom!” It also chases away the investors.
Bearing this in mind, Government needs to take active steps to promote and entrench a culture of good governance.
To root out corruption, the UDM believes that Government should introduce courts that are dedicated to handle corruption cases.
Government should restore the powers of the accounting officers and ensure that there is no political interference. The role of political heads should be confined to that of oversight.
The bleak picture I have sketched above about the strong prevalence of institutionalised corruption, reminds South Africans to never again put their eggs in one basket.
Fellow South Africans,
Over the past few years South Africa has been shaken by violent service delivery protests. People protest to register their dissatisfaction with Government’s dismal service delivery record.
In most protests, lawlessness is regrettably celebrated, as both private and public properties are destroyed.
What adds fuel to the fire is that the political leadership both at national and provincial levels does not make time to engage communities during protests. They instead rely on councillors and the police to extinguish the fire.
We therefore join you, Mister President, in condemning the use of violence by all parties during protests.
We will meet again when the new administration delivers its State of the Nation Address and its programme of action for 2014.