When you neglect the main arteries into communities, you kill the local economy
Note to Editors: The following remarks were delivered today by the Leader of the Democratic Alliance, John Steenhuisen MP, during the "Real State of the Nation Tour" in the Free State. Steenhuisen was joined by DA Free State Provincial Leader, Patricia Kopane MP.
3 February 2020
Fellow South Africans
While much of our conversation these days centres around the terrible state of our national economy, and what this means for the future of millions of South Africans, we dare not lose sight of the impact of local economies on the communities that make their living there. And when local economies suffer, the effects are felt in real time
This road here, Moshoeshoe Street, is the lifeline that runs through these communities. Thousands of people earn a living off this main thoroughfare, and they in turn support thousands more at home. Each small business located along this road is absolutely critical to the economic survival of several families. And as you can see from the terrible state of the road, they have been badly let down by their government.
Contrary to what so many in the ruling ANC believe, South Africans don’t want to live at the mercy of the state. They don’t want handouts. They want to be able to stand on their own two feet and live a life of value, independent of government. And so the best thing any government can do is to allow people to live their best lives – to provide opportunities and to remove obstacles. This is particularly true at local government level.
But what we see here in Moshoeshoe Street is a government that has no intention of providing opportunities and removing those obstacles that may hamper the enterprise of its citizens. The chronic state of disrepair of this, the most important artery running into this community, speaks of a government that has long ago given up on the people. And the impact of this has been devastating.
Many businesses along this road have had to shut their doors in recent years because it is simply too difficult to make it work. The traffic and parking issues during business hours as a result of the poor state of the road are killing businesses here. A bottle store owner called Mr Ndi told us of the nightmare that plays out in front of his store every day as cars plough through what used to be his parking to avoid the chaos of the street. He says the pavement is non-existent. As a result, people have simply stopped coming to his store.
And his story is no exception. We spoke to a Mr Lebitsa who used to run a food business on Moshoeshoe Street, but had to close it down when it became too hard to do business. And Miss Grace, the owner of a local salon here, told us her business has struggled to attract and retain customers because of the state of the street.
This is the reality of trying to stand on your own two feet and make a living under a government that is not on your side. And there is no hope of it improving under the ANC government here. After years and years of mismanagement, Mangaung has finally been placed under administration – a trend we’re seeing in ANC-run councils across the country. When the local looters have brought the municipality to its knees, the provincial government has to step in and manage it by remote control.
Amid all this turmoil, nothing gets done. Road improvements and investment infrastructure in the Metro are non-existent. A tender for the widening of a section of Moshoeshoe Street in the area of the Home Affairs building was approved, but as with so many other things in this Metro, the contractor was not paid and the project was abandoned part-way in, causing even greater disruption.
It is little wonder then that communities such as these, which depend on a vibrant and functioning main road in order to survive, are struggling to make ends meet. Their wellbeing is way, way down the list of things this Metro should but simply won’t get round to.
This is not good enough. If we want South Africans to build an economy that will put our country back on its feet, then we must start by building local economies that can flourish and sustain the people of those communities. And this requires local governments that know where to intervene and where to get out of the way. It also requires local governments with the skills and expertise to manage all the complexities of running well-functioning towns or cities.
Every single metric and stat have shown that it is only DA-run local governments that understand the crucial role a government must play in freeing up local economies to thrive. And it is only DA-run local governments that appoint people on merit rather than on their loyalty to a party, to create a state capable of delivering services and proving people with opportunities to get ahead in life.
The more South Africans that live under such a caring and capable government, the stronger our local economies will become. That is how we can start to turn the tide in this country.
Issued by John Steenhuisen, Leader of the Democratic Alliance, 3 February 2020