This has so far been a year of thorough and vigorous debate on economic policy in South Africa, and rightly so, given that the three biggest challenges facing our country today are all economic - the terrible triple challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality.
We have seen the release of the National Development Plan, the New Growth Path, the ANC’s policy conference (which dealt mainly with economic issues), and most recently the launch of the DA’s own economic plan – the DA’s plan for 8% Growth and Jobs.
That so much attention has been given to the subject reflects the extent to which everyone is aware of the crisis. Indeed, it is no overstatement to say the most important priority of any government in South Africa today must be the question of how to get the economy growing fast enough to create jobs. That (together with significant improvements in our education system) must be the major goal of policy. We must get the economy and education working for everybody, especially young people, who are most excluded at the moment.
We believe that the DA’s plan for Growth and Jobs has taken the most important lessons from countries that have made great strides in reducing poverty and including people in the economy. It is not dogmatic or filled with populist rhetoric. It takes the best evidence-based policies, combined with the cutting edge policy thinking, and applies it to the South African social context.
And that is the offer we will be making to South Africans in the 2014 elections. It is the offer we are putting before voters. Voters can accept our offer by voting for the Democratic Alliance. Then if we win the national election, we can implement our Jobs Plan.
In an election, people get different offers from different political parties, and ideally, in a mature democracy, voters compare the different offers of the parties, and compare the results of similar policies internationally and then decide which party they are going to vote for.
Also, voters must consider which policy makes most sense. The ANC has been unable to present an economic policy that it (the ANC) can agree on. The New Growth Path and the National Development Plan are at times completely contradictory. The ANC’s policy conference made not a single mention of the NDP, and seemed to endorse the New Growth Path – but the Presidency continues to trump the NDP as the policy plan behind which the government will rally. The truth is that the ANC is simply too divided to agree on an economic policy.
Hopefully at Manguang, the ANC will come up with its own package that it can put before the voters, and then the voters will have a choice. It is not the choice of a better yesterday. While we have to confront the tragedy of our apartheid past and factor it into our plans for the present so that we can build a better future, we must now enable young people to own that future. That depends on education and the economy. And that is why the choice that faces voters is the choice about which plan will lead to the growth we need to supply jobs and empower young people with the knowledge and skills to do those jobs, so that we can reduce inequality, and ultimately beat poverty.
And on this campus, you get to make that choice already. Today marks the official launch of the DA Student Organisation’s re-election campaign at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. It is a huge source of pride for us in the DA that we have been able to lead the SRC at this campus, and that we have done such a good job in the past year. The DASO-led SRC here at NMMU has an impressive record of working for the poorest students on campus, an ethos we live by wherever we govern.
They have achieved so much in the last year for poor students:
I don’t think anyone can argue that such a record is not impressive, and I congratulate DASO’s Yusuf Cassim, the current SRC President, for the brilliant work his team has done over the last year. When we say that the DA is a party of government, we include the DASO-led SRC at NMMU.
Right here at NMMU the DA is working to include everyone in shared prosperity, to expand opportunity and to build a better South Africa.
And so you, as students at this campus, are going to have to make that choice – the same choice South Africa will make in 2014: are we going to make a choice for a better future for all South Africans, for a future in which you and your children, and their children, will be included in the economy? Or are we going to be stuck in the past and fail to learn from the examples of other countries, enabling a small ruling clique to tighten their power, to speak in rhetoric that promises everything and delivers nothing, that is populist and that deliberately divides people?
That is the choice we face, and it is going to be a make or break choice for South Africans.