I am grateful to have this opportunity to speak to you on how I perceive the South African situation at the present time. Before doing so, I would like to pay tribute to the work of the Free Democratic Party (FDP) over the last six decades in helping frame Germany’s foreign policy, which can be described as both visionary and humanitarian.
In South Africa, we have been appreciative of Germany’s principled and constructive approach demonstrated by all administrations since the time of Konrad Adenauer. Perhaps a special mention is due here of the role of Hans-Dietrich Genscher. Having served in both SPD and CDU governments, Herr Genscher played a pivotal role in steering Germany towards reunification, just as South Africa was nudging towards the end of apartheid.
In an age when political ideologies are becoming increasingly blurred, the iconic Brandenburg Gate in this city serves as a potent symbol of the great divide of our time: the big difference in the world today is between open and closed minds.
In the Democratic Alliance, we describe this as the choice between what we call the ‘open, opportunity society for all’, and the ‘closed, crony society for some’.
On a lighter note, I like Bismark’s famous dictum: in a world of five states, it is always desirable to be part of a group of three. The international world order has become a little more complex since then. But my party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), and my country, are grateful to be able to call both the FDP, and Germany, friends and partners.
Where is South Africa today?
South Africa is, on one level, strong.
The majority of South Africans are fast reaching a common understanding of what it means to be a South African in the twenty-first century. Our flag – and sport teams - inspire patriotism. And people’s pride in one of the most beautiful and diverse lands on earth is replacing the old ethnic and sectarian divisions.
The big paradox of my country is that while the nation is strong, the capacity of the state is weak. The South African state, in recent administrations, has failed to implement the right sustainable interventions at the intersection of the economy and education.
While I do not believe in oversimplifying problems or setting up false comparisons, this stands in contrast to Germany’s buoyant economic performance in the financial crisis. I am not making a party political statement. I am simply underlining the fact that Germany enjoys a broadly defined national compact that is based upon a world-beating education system. This is a tribute to you, as much as it is to the two larger parties.
This is worth contrasting with unfolding events in South Africa. This week the ANC is holding their policy conference. Their policy discussions have largely hinged upon proposed far-reaching changes to South Africa’s economic compact called, in President Zuma’s phrase, the ‘Second Transition’.
It appears that many of the ANC commissions have rejected the concept, or expressed strong doubt about its validity. However, the ANC has not fully withdrawn their statement in March that presaged their policy conference that they would consider amending our human rights based constitution.
I said then that with a proven track record of success, not to mention the world’s admiration, it is difficult to understand why the ANC would consider amending the constitution at all.
The elegance of the South African constitution is that it provides for specific delivery mandates, and sets a benchmark by which parliament is duty bound to measure progress.
Our constitution has not failed South Africa. If amending the constitution is the answer, the wrong questions are being asked.
Furthermore, unfolding from this debate, dramatic changes to economic policy include proposals like a ‘super tax’ on the mining industry. This is a sector that is worth $2 trillion, and yet is lagging behind countries like Argentina and Australia. Such uncertainty imperils South Africa’s credit rating, and attractiveness as an investment destination. Sentiment and predictability, we know, are defining features of global economics.
South Africa’s growth rate slowed in the last economic quarter, as the EU, US and China remained mired in the global recession. We might only be halfway through the global recession, and there may not be the ‘soft landing’ we are all hoping for.
So what is the real story behind the ‘Second Transition’ and constitution-amending debate?
The President is being pummeled by three overlapping factors.
The first is he has to try and satisfy the power-hungry and unelected forces of Cosatu and the SACP. These forces helped bring him to power four years ago. Most people agree that the policy conference is therefore, in fact, a proxy battle for the leadership of the ANC.
Secondly, Mr Zuma and the government practise the art of ‘talking left, acting right’. I must be evenhanded here. He is not the first democratic leader to deploy this rhetorical trick. The difficulty is that it gives false hope by suggesting that the journey to full employment and prosperity can be seamless or made easily. The journey will be tough, and will require the full contribution of every citizen.
The third factor might be the most constructive and helpful: there is a dawning reality in some sections of the ANC that President Zuma’s administration has lost it way. The momentum of previous governments in working to banish poverty, joblessness, and reduce inequality is gone.
Taken together, it is hard not to conclude that the ‘Second Transition’ is an attempt to disguise what the present government has failed to do. It would be far better to say: ‘this is where we are today. This is what we have done right, and what we have done wrong. What can we do to fix what is broken?’
Among multiple challenges, the biggest problem in South Africa today, as it is in countries like Greece and Spain, is youth unemployment. Quite frankly, if we do not resolve this with the ‘fierce urgency of now’, our other public policy interventions will be half-baked. While most of South Africa’s social policy and economic challenges are historical (apartheid’s legacy of asset-stripping, racism, and spatial inequalities) this does not confer clemency upon South Africa’s leaders for not taking urgent action now.
In its annual report on youth employment trends, the United Nations (UN) forecast that the global youth unemployment rate will reach 13% this year, and stay at this level until 2016.
The figures are much higher in South Africa, and could rise because of the global environment. We currently have 4 526 000 unemployed people in South Africa. That represents an official unemployment rate of over 25%. This excludes the 2 335 000 people who have given up looking for work.
Until we fix our education system, I cannot see how we can substantially reduce unemployment or fix our lopsided economy.
The education departments of the Eastern Cape and Limpopo provinces are collapsing due to a failure of leadership and widespread corruption. We are witnessing the appalling image of thousands of dumped school textbooks in Limpopo, a province where school children have not received their textbooks six months after the academic year began. It is heartrending and wrong.
The DA in Limpopo last weekend inspected the dumping site, where a contractor is claiming that they are being paid by the provincial government to destroy the books. The minister of basic education seems powerless to stop this.
The DA-led Western Cape provincial government has been able to make impressive gains across government by maximising performance where we have the power of implementation. We can see this most notably in education and healthcare, which are concurrent competences that we share with the national government.
There is no reason why the people of Limpopo could not have the same kind of government as the DA is providing in the Western Cape.
As the official opposition, the DA has a responsibility to provide the alternative based on the strong likelihood that we will form a government within the next decade.
We are just about to launch our 8% Economic Growth Plan which, if implemented, we believe would catapult South Africa into the global economic super league within a generation.
When I became involved in the 8% Growth Plan, I quickly realised – as you know so well in Germany – that there is not a choice between rapid economic growth and the pursuit of social justice in South Africa. In fact, the latter is based on the former.
The 8% Growth Plan would fix South Africa at the intersection of education and the economy. To drive high growth, we will need a proper system for attracting foreign direct investment (FDI), then treat it predictably, have the appropriate infrastructure, and have a legal system that functions fairly. The ANC said yesterday that they were aiming for 3% growth, but this would not be enough to lift South Africa out of poverty, or provide life-changing opportunities.
Above this, we need a quality education system that responds nimbly to the demand side of the economy and global markets. This challenge is made difficult by a rigid labour law system which is inhibiting investment and imprisoning low-skilled people in the circumstances of their birth. Mobility – a foothold on the ladder up – in South Africa is hard to achieve.
The DA knows that access to quality education defines a child’s opportunities in life. While we know that some trees will grow taller than others, we believe all children must have a level playing field to start with.
Part of the solution lies in providing qualified teachers who work seven-hour days, better resourced classrooms, and enough textbooks. The other part of the solution is that South Africa needs an education system built upon discipline, respect, and an environment that encourages hard work and nurtures open and inquisitive minds. These are human qualities, and speak of leadership and public service. We need more than an education system that just teaches to the grade.
The present shambles explains why, in a domino effect, South Africa’s economy is constrained by a severe lack of skills, and we are lagging behind the rest of Africa’s impressive growth. We will have to do better in mathematics, the sciences, technology, and engineering, to be internationally competitive and attract FDI.
South Africa also needs a vibrant private sector. Development will only become self-sustaining when it is based on a private sector that creates jobs, opportunities and incomes for all.
The 8% Growth Plan also makes it clear that South Africa can only thrive when the right infrastructure is in place. This is why the DA speaks about the need for a ‘capable state’ – this is where South Africa needs fixing at its weakest point.
In summary, the lack of skills at the municipal level; widespread corruption; the impunity of those who fail to deliver; and the failure of those in charge to account for their mistakes are contributing to the collapse of governance. This is a question of a failure of political leadership from the top downwards.
I have spelled out what the DA would do. In the interests of South Africa, I hope the ANC will take up some of our policies and show bold leadership for the remainder of their term of office.
My message today, however, is one of hope, not gloom: the South African nation is strong, and the solutions to our present difficulties lie within our grasp. All we, the DA, ask for, is a chance to serve. There is nothing wrong with South Africa that cannot be fixed by what is right with South Africa.