Our unemployment crisis requires action, not talk
5 September 2019
There is no doubt we are a nation in crisis. As we speak, large parts of Gauteng are a war zone as attacks on foreign nationals continue unabated.
Women and children are being raped and murdered every day.
Truck drivers have become sitting ducks in ongoing attacks and children disappear from their homes.
Enough is enough.
We are a country at war with itself.
And in the background to this chaos, the massive shadow of unemployment hangs over our society. Almost four out of every ten South Africans can’t find work.
How did we reach this point?
It’s simple: We are in this situation because of a leadership crisis.
Our country is burning and our people feel they have nothing left to lose because we have a government that cannot lead.
It cannot agree on policy, it cannot implement whatever it has agreed on, and it cannot hold anyone accountable for this inaction.
Five years ago there were 8 million South Africans without work. This was considered a massive number, and clearly our biggest crisis.
Today, that number has breached the 10 million mark, and there is no sign of it slowing down. Soon it will be 11 and then 12 million.
By then, the powder keg that is now beginning to spark across Gauteng will have erupted nation-wide, and debates such as these will be too late.
We need to fix this right now. We need to immediately set in motion the reforms that can shock our economy back into life.
Not set up commissions. Not open dialogues or embark on roadshows. We need action.
And so I table our economic recovery plan.
To start with, we have to all agree that only economic growth can pull us from the fire.
This means focusing all our efforts on the things that will make South Africa a more attractive option for investors, and an easier place to be an employer.
It also means identifying every area where we can plug the massive hole in our fiscus, and we should start with our SOE’s.
We must split Eskom into separate generation and distribution entities right away, and allow more Independent Power Producers to sell power into the grid.
When it comes to SAA, we must immediately place it under business rescue with a view to selling it off. We cannot continue to bail it out at the expense of poor South Africans.
Then we need to set up a government-wide review on spending in order to prioritise all future spending. This includes curbing the Public Sector wage bill.
It also includes walking away from disastrous policies like the NHI, EWC, National Minimum Wage, nationalisation of the Reserve Bank and now also talk of prescribed assets.
These policies will repel investment, they will lock out more people from the labour market and they will cripple our national budget.
We must also admit that BEE was never about broad-based inclusion, and we must scrap it entirely. We need a redress plan centred on inclusive growth to ensure real broad-based participation in the economy.
As part of this plan, we’d like to see the creation of a Jobs & Justice Fund to provide start-up capital for SMME’s.
Redress should also be about reversing one of Apartheid’s most damaging legacies – the destruction of wealth transfer. And one of the best ways to achieve this is to give more people title to the land they live on.
Honourable Members, many young people aren’t just unemployed, they are unemployable thanks to poor education and and a non-existent skills pipeline.
Is it not time to set up a national civilian service for young people so that they can learn skills through internships?
When it comes to declaring South Africa open for business, the first thing we must do is to relax our labour legislation to create an environment in which businesses can create jobs.
We must pass the DA’s Jobs Bill, which contains a wide range of incentives for foreign companies to invest in South Africa.
We also need to look at tax incentives for our big job-creating sectors like manufacturing, tourism, mining and financial services.
Of course government must also start paying all businesses on time and in full.
And let us place the police under the control of provincial governments to better protect citizens and businesses.
Honourable Members, many of these steps can be implemented right away, and would have an immediate positive effect on the economy.
But it seems we’re not the only ones who think so. The Treasury document released last week by the Finance Minister contains some of the reforms we have been calling for.
It is by no means a comprehensive strategy for growth, but it has practical steps we can take right now to kick-start the economy and start rolling back unemployment.
It is a document we support, and have already put into action in our own governments.
But, Honourable Members, a plan is not enough.
This ANC government has never been short on plans. Every few years there’s been a new one, from GEAR, to the NDP, to the New Growth Plan.
What government has been short on, however, is action – the courage to make tough choices. And we all know what those choices are.
You can’t speak of curbing spending while granting the public sector increases of 11% per year for a decade. You need the courage to say no.
You can’t speak of tightening the belt while continuing to keep SAA in the air through endless bailouts. This is of no benefit to poor South Africans.
You can’t speak of overhauling education without taking on SADTU and limiting their destructive power over our children’s future.
You can’t speak of cleaning up government if you’re not prepared to prosecute those inside your own party who were responsible for the looting.
You can’t begin to build a capable state if you won’t abandon cadre deployment and dismantle the patronage system it created.
Any plan is only as good as the intention to follow through on it. You need the courage to act and make tough choices.
Regardless what Treasury says, its document is most likely dead in the water because the ANC is a fundamentally divided party, and therefore it cannot act.
Remember, the party that wrote this document is the same party that also proposed the NHI, EWC and prescribed assets.
These things are polar opposites, and South Africans need to know this.
They need to know that the reason for our crisis is not because there is something wrong with us as a nation, but because we have a government paralysed by factions and fights.
We need to reform our politics.
We need to reform our economy.
And we need to reform our society.
The ball is now in your court, President Ramaphosa. You know what needs to be done. And you know you have an ally in the DA if you choose to act.
The question is: Will you have the courage to do so?
Enough is enough. It’s now time for action.
Issued by Mmusi Maimane, Leader of the Democratic Alliance, 5 September 2019