The best parts of the election manifesto launched by the Democratic Alliance (DA) in the last weekend in February are its simplest ones. They include "scrapping the mining charter in totality", opposing the ruling party's national health insurance plan, "immediately" placing South African Airways" (SAA) in business rescue, and rejecting expropriation without compensation. Full or partial privatisation of state-owned enterprises (SOEs) will be implemented.
A school inspectorate will be established, "foolish" government plans to give banking licences to SOEs will be opposed, and applicants for public service jobs will be made to write entrance exams. Housing vouchers will be introduced, and land reform will make people owners rather than "life-long tenants". Title deeds will be given to urban housing beneficiaries, while a DA government would work with traditional leaders to give ownership to those living on communal land.
A DA government would work with private medical aids to extend coverage from its current level of 16% to above 50%, while also developing a new funding mechanism for those not covered by private medical aids. The importance of trade liberalisation is recognised, along with the need to "minimise the role of the state".
Apart from being sound in themselves, these ideas clearly differentiate the DA from the African National Congress (ANC). But the manifesto does not live up to its promise of "doing something radically different" to create more employment. Promises of "exemption" clauses, "opt-outs", and "new" minimum wages are no substitute for the necessary comprehensive liberalisation of the labour market without which the DA's vision of "a job in every home" will not be achieved.
The proposal to lower corporate taxes for manufacturers to 15% is undermined by being made conditional on labour absorption, skills training, and corporate social investment. The idea of introducing "sector specific manufacturing incentives" is straight out of the Rob Davies rule-book. The promise to reintroduce South Africa's bilateral investment treaties with various countries is undermined by the requirement that this will subject to "conditions to ensure skills development and industry development". Nor does it make sense for a country desperate for investment to offer incentives to investors only if they "meet a minimum employment threshold".
Noting that South Africa's formal small business sector is much smaller than previously thought, the DA promises to help create more small businesses. There will be exemptions from labour and black economic empowerment (BEE) legislation for companies with annual turnovers below R30 million. However, despite the shortage of entrepreneurs, the DA's "overhauled" BEE system will reward only the creation of black ones.