Mmusi Maimane's SONA debate speech: A broken man, presiding over a broken society
Eleven days ago we lost one of South Africa’s literary giants, Professor Andre Brink. Our sadness at his passing is tempered only by the great literature he bequeathed us.
Professor Brink taught us a powerful lesson. He taught us that you cannot blame a faceless system for the evils in society. It is human beings that perpetrate wrongs against others. And it human beings that have the power to correct these wrongs.
We would do well to heed this lesson as we debate the State of the Nation today. Because, if we are to succeed as a nation, we need to start believing in the power of human agency. We need to resurrect the idea that the choices we make, and the actions we take, matter.
It is true that the uneven legacy of the apartheid system weighs heavy on us. It is a fact that black children still do not have the same opportunities as white children. This is a human tragedy that nobody in this House should ever accept.
Much has been done to redress the past, make no mistake. Life in South Africa today is certainly better than it was during apartheid. But we need to hold ourselves to a much higher standard than that.
We need to become the nation that President Nelson Mandela helped us believe we could become. A place of hope, prosperity, selfless leadership and mutual respect. And so the question we must ask today is: what is holding us back from achieving Madiba’s vision?
We can blame apartheid. We can blame the global financial system. We can even blame Jan van Riebeeck. But in our hearts, we know what the problem is. We have allowed those in power to become bigger than our institutions, breaking them down bit by bit.
We have allowed one powerful man to get away with too much for too long. This man is here in our presence today. Honourable President, in these very chambers, just five days ago, you broke Parliament.
Please understand, Honourable President, when I use the term “honourable”, I do it out of respect for the traditions and conventions of this august House. But please do not take it literally. For you, Honourable President, are not an honourable man.
You are a broken man, presiding over a broken society. You are willing to break every democratic institution to try and fix the legal predicament you find yourself in.
You are willing to break this Parliament if it means escaping accountability for the wrongs you have done. On Thursday afternoon, outside this House, Members of Parliament were being arrested and assaulted by your riot police.
A few hours later, inside this House, our freedom to communicate was violated by an order to jam the telecommunications network. Not long after, armed police officers in plain shirts stormed into this sacred chamber and physically attacked members of this House.
This was more than an assault on Members of Parliament. It was an assault on the very foundations of our democracy. Parliament’s constitutional obligation to fearlessly scrutinise and oversee the Executive lost all meaning on Thursday night.
The brute force of the state won. And the hearts of our nation broke. We knew, at that very moment, that our democratic order was in grave danger.
And what did you do? You laughed. You laughed while the people of South Africa cried for their beloved country.
You laughed while trampling Madiba’s legacy – in the very week that we celebrated 25 years since his release. Honourable President, we will never forgive you for what you have done.
Madam Speaker, I led my party out of this House on Thursday night because we could not sit by while our freedoms were destroyed right in front of us.
When we emerged from this chamber, we heard the President reading the cold and empty words from his prepared text.
They were the words of a broken man, presiding over a broken society.
For 6 years, he has run from the 783 counts of corruption, fraud and racketeering that have haunted him from before the day he was elected.
For 6 years, this broken man has spent his waking hours plotting and planning to avoid his day in court.
In this broken man’s path of destruction, lies a litany of broken institutions. Each one of them targeted because of their constitutional power to hold him to account.
A broken SARS, that should be investigating the fringe tax benefits from Nkandla, the palace of corruption that was built with the people’s money.A broken NPA, that should have continued with its prosecution of the President, without fear or favour. A broken SIU, a broken Hawks, a broken SAPS. And so we could go on with the list of institutions President Zuma is willing to break to protect himself and his friends.
This is why we are a broken society. Because the abuses do not stop at the door of the Union Buildings. The power abuse is happening at every level. We have mini-Zuma’s in governments and municipalities all over South Africa.
In Mogalakwena, I met a woman who had not been able to wash for days because there was no water.
The lack of water in Mogalakwena is not a system failure. It is a failure of local politicians to put the people first. In this community, service delivery has come to a standstill as ANC councillors wage a factional war over access to the spoils of power.
Local police officers with a duty to serve the community have been co-opted by factions to intimidate residents and supress protest. As the war rages on, rubbish piles up in the streets, sewage pipes continue to leak, and the taps run dry.
All because of these broken men, presiding over broken towns and cities. They learned from the best.
In Atteridgeville, I met a good man running a hospice that is struggling more and more each day to care for the sick because all their money goes to fuelling a generator. This is their last line of defence against an electricity crisis that plagues them on a daily basis.
The daily struggle of this community-funded organization is just one example of the devastating impact this electricity crisis is having on households, businesses, schools, hospitals, and countless other facets of society.
Where is the accountability from this broken man who claims to be our President, when all he can offer is more of the same? All he does is promise to keep bailing out Eskom and secure its monopoly over our power supply.
Load-shedding is a crisis that will take our economy to the brink of economic shutdown. Our economy has lost R300 billion since 2008 because, without a stable electricity supply, manufacturers cannot produce, investors are driven away and jobs are lost.
That is why Mr President when you stand here and promise the same jobs every year that never materialize, we simply cannot believe you. On Thursday the President said that the NDP’s ambition to grow at 5% by 2019 is at risk as a result of slow global growth and domestic constraints. How then are other SADC countries growing at an average of 5.6% facing the same external pressures? The answer is our real constraints are because of the policy failures of this government.
In his 9 point plan he failed to address the need for solid economic infrastructure. He left the electricity monopoly with Eskom. Gave the broadband monopoly to Telkom. And left SANRAL to toll our roads in Gauteng. The legacy of this will be more government bailouts and failing infrastructure, leading us to more job losses, more debt and a broken state.
The broken man who broke our economy.
Despite all his past promises, what President Zuma failed to tell us last week was that, today, there are 1.6 million more South Africans without jobs than when he took office in 2009. Living, breathing human beings robbed of their feeling of self-worth, and their ability to provide for their families.
From Ikageng, to Nelson Mandela Bay, to Soweto, I met unemployed youth who have lost hope of finding a job. They are the victims of an unequal education system that serves the interests of a powerful teacher’s union over learners, and where poorer schools go without textbooks, desks and proper classrooms.
The consequence, as parents in Riverlea told me, is that crime and drugs continue to enslave our youth, and druglords operate freely in our communities.
This is the state of our broken society, battling under the burdens of unemployment, crime, power cuts, and an unequal education system.
South Africa may be a broken society under a broken President, but the spirit of our people is a lot harder to break. We are still standing as a people today because South Africans were able to free ourselves from the worst forms of oppression under Apartheid.Today we have a Constitution and a Bill of Rights that is admired across the world.
We have an obligation to future generations of South Africans to make sure we continue the fight for a fairer society, where there is greater opportunity for all to live a better life, and where the rights and freedoms granted to us by the Constitution are protected. But on Thursday we received a criminally weak account of the State of the Nation from a broken President. We can have a stable electricity supply in South Africa, but a war-room is not going to solve it.
The President knows what needs to be done to keep the lights on: break the Eskom monopoly. As long as they are in charge of the national grid they will act to prevent any meaningful contributions by independent power producers to our electricity supply.
He must also abandon the R1 trillion nuclear deal – future generations will pay for this in electricity price hikes while we wait over a decade to see any power. And of course the secrecy behind this deal means there is scope for corruption on a mega-Arms deal scale.
We can and we must have a more equal education system, where schools are properly resourced, teachers are well-trained, and there is commitment and leadership from school principals.
There are many hard-working educators out there, but the President ignored the need to hold principals and teachers accountable when they fail our children.
We believe it is possible for entrepreneurs to flourish, with an economy that grows at 8% and creates millions of jobs if we make the right choices.
But the government’s ideas are stale. We need economic infrastructure that is reliable. We need tax incentives for established business people to participate in mentorship programmes. We need a National Venture Capital Fund to fund start-ups. We need to rollout Opportunity Centres where advice and support is readily available. We need a real Youth Wage Subsidy that benefits even the smallest of businesses.
We believe it is possible for our country to be a place where the streets are safe and communities are healthy places to raise families, where the police properly managed and trained.
But while our communities are being over-run by druglords and the President said nothing about crime! Where are the specialized anti-drug units? Drug crime has doubled since they were taken away.
People don’t trust the police, but if the SAPS is going to have its integrity restored, it needs to start with the national police commissioner.
Our crime-fighting institutions such as the Hawks, the NPA, and the SIU must be led by people committed to fairness and justice, and free from interference by powerful political interests.
We believe it is possible to realize a vision of South Africa where every effort is made to redress the legacy of Apartheid through a land reform programme that truly benefits those who were denied access to land.
All the President has offered us is a populist proposal to ban foreign land ownership. This will only kill investment and jobs.
The 17.5 million hectares of fertile soil in communal land areas must be unlocked for reform purposes. State-owned land must be fully audited and used to fast-track redistribution to deserving beneficiaries. And farmworkers must become farm-owners in partnership with commercial farmers, through the NDP’s system of identifying and purchasing available land on the market. But we all know, Mr President, that half the people sitting behind you don’t support the NDP and will not implement it.
Only through bold reforms that go to the heart of the problem will we meaningfully redress the legacy of restricted access to land.
Madam Speaker, the tide is turning in our country. As Professor Brink wrote in his most celebrated work, A Dry White Season:
“The image that presents itself is one of water. A drop held back by its own inertia for one last moment, though swollen of its own weight, before it irrevocably falls… as if the water, already sensing its own imminent fall, continues to cling, against the pull of gravity, to its precarious stabilty, trying to prolong it as much as possible.”
Madam Speaker, change may seem slow, but it is coming. There is a swell starting to build and, when the wave crashes, it will sweep this broken man out of power. When that happens, we will be there to start fixing this broken society, and unleash the potential of South Africans.
That is why the party I lead in this Parliament will not join other parties in breaking down our institutions. Because one day, when we are in government, we will want those institutions and this Parliament to hold us to account.
And so we will work within the institutions of democracy to hold this government to account, and we will continue creating opportunities for all where we govern. We will work tirelessly to build a truly democratic alternative in South Africa. We will restore power to our people.
I thank you!