The following speech was delivered by John Steenhuisen MP today during his True State of the Nation Address.
Members of the diplomatic corps
Members of the media
It’s good to stand here in front of you, in person, after what we’ve been through the past two years. When discussing matters of great importance, it’s really nice to be able to look each other in the eye.
It’s also wonderful to see South Africans back in public spaces again – to see people enjoying our beaches, restaurants, theatres and sports venues, and children finally returning to full-time schooling.
It remains critical that what is left of the heavy-handed response to the pandemic be abolished so that jobs and our economy can make a full recovery. The State of Disaster must end right away to remove the threat of uncertainty that still hangs over businesses trying to make a comeback.
Everything we do this year must be focused on retaining and bringing back jobs by helping businesses survive.
The impact of the past two years on our society – particularly on poverty and inequality – has been enormous, and I think we are yet to see the full scale of this.
The lockdown restrictions were particularly devastating because they were implemented after a decade of state capture, which wiped out any gains made in reducing poverty post-1994.
An epidemic of relentless corruption, facilitated through the long-standing ANC virus of cadre deployment, hollowed out the state and destroyed the economy.
The last two years of lockdown restrictions have seen poverty and inequality accelerating through joblessness and widening disparities in education.
The riots in July last year – allowed to play out unchecked by the state and rooted in the same epidemic of corruption – took poverty and hardship to another level. Indeed, the epidemic of corruption remains largely unchecked.
The result? By the third quarter of last year, only 36 percent of the working-age population was in employment.
As time passes, we’ll get a clearer picture of just how much these pandemic restrictions have worsened our situation, but it’s not likely to be a good one. And so we are going to have to make a conscious effort to reverse all of those things as best we can.
The Covid-19 pandemic has now become endemic, and it is far more benign than a year or two back. It will be around, in some shape or form, for a long time to come, but so will a lot of other diseases and risks.
We have to remain rational and sensible. Our approach must be one which does not create more harm than it prevents.
When the virus was new and no one had any certainty about it, it was understandable to err on the side of caution. But it soon became evident that many of those interventions were not necessary, and many of them were profoundly harmful.
The harm done by keeping children out of school far outweighed any possible health benefit to them.
The harm done to the hospitality and tourism sectors by imposing alcohol bans along with curfews far outweighed the benefit.
It took government too long to admit these things, and the harm was allowed to continue long after we knew that these interventions were not necessary.
Arguably the most important aspect of dealing with the pandemic is the ability to change your views and reassess your actions as you discover new information.
But this is not something that only applies to the coronavirus pandemic. It is true for most things in life. Progress is only possible if we constantly reassess what we know. If we learn the truth about something, and this is different from what we once believed, we need to be able to change our course.
This most certainly applies to the ANC in government and the epidemic of corruption it brings.
Because today, in 2022, there can be no more doubt about what the ANC has become: A self-serving organisation whose goal is not governance and leadership, but power and accumulation.
The cadres deployed by the ANC to institutions of state have spread like a virus, crippling those institutions from within.
The job-killing bouts of load-shedding we continue to experience are but one result of a captured and corrupt state whose harms will take decades to reverse – and cannot be reversed under the ANC who refuse to abandon the corrupt practice of cadre deployment.
The actors of state capture have by no means been neutralised, and are still working to undermine our democracy. Despite clear evidence emerging from various sources, including the Zondo Commission, implicated ANC politicians and cadres have been largely untouched by the law.
Ominously, the bulwark of our democracy, the judiciary, remains under threat from within the ANC itself, as well as from a Judicial Service Commission dominated by political actors allied to the corruption epidemic.
Just last week some of our most distinguished judges were subjected to the most appalling and undermining questioning by JSC members aligned with the forces of corruption and violence destroying our country.
The JSC requires urgent reform to remove the influence of politicians, and the DA will table a Bill to this effect.
But this is only one part of the change required.
As we have seen in the Gupta leaks, the Zondo report, and countless exposés, the ANC today is closer to a crime syndicate and a terrorist organisation than a political party, and its mutated variant, the EFF, is following a similar but even more extreme playbook.
Our country will not survive the destruction caused by their greed and their internal warfare much longer.
Some of us have known this for a long time, others are just realising it now. But as a country, we can no longer deny that the party of national government – the ANC – bears no resemblance to the liberation movement that took office in 1994.
The question now is: What will voters do with this knowledge?
Thankfully, this question has already been partly answered in the Local Government Elections of November last year.
For the first time since 1994 the majority of voters chose not to vote. In a country in which voting is a hard-won right for the majority and is commonly equated with voting for the ANC, this is a profound shift.
Crucially, most of those who did vote chose parties other than the ANC.
With two years to go to the next national election, this sea-change presents a crucial opportunity to dramatically change the trajectory of our country.
The 2021 elections showed that an ANC government is no longer an inevitability and there is a real chance of replacing it with a coalition built around reform, accountability and the rule of law.
But such is the speed and scale of the looting and destruction, that we may have this one chance only. Our country is being stripped bare, liquidated and set alight as we speak.
Now, I don’t want to spend this entire address painting the bleak picture of exactly where we stand as a nation, because we already know this.
In a few days’ time, President Ramaphosa will stand up in the front of the Cape Town City Hall – the new temporary venue for parliament after the devastation caused by the fire in the National Assembly – and he will set out his version of the state of our nation.
He will most likely offer up a raft of new multi-point plans, new task teams and new commissions, along with solemn promises that this time he and his government are really serious about tackling unemployment, crime, corruption and service delivery.
Just as they were last year, and the year before, and the year before that.
He will likely blame the pandemic for most of our woes, and what he can’t pin on Covid he will chalk up to global conditions or apartheid. I know this because we have seen this movie many times before.
Without fail, as we move further away from SONA and its lofty promises, the same script plays out year after year.
None of the promised economic reforms materialise. None of the energy reforms materialise. None of the big new investments materialise. And not one ANC cadre or politician implicated in corruption is convicted by the NPA.
And every year our country slips further and further towards a failed state.
If you want to know the true state of our nation, don’t take the president’s word for it, and don’t take my word for it either. Go see for yourself.
Take a drive through the towns and villages of provinces like the Eastern Cape, the Free State, Mpumalanga, Limpopo or KZN, and even some of our largest cities in Gauteng. The scale of the decay you’ll encounter is just staggering.
Potholes, cracked pavements, litter, uncollected refuse, sewage spills, broken streetlights, broken traffic lights, dry taps, electricity substations stripped bare, train stations carried off piece by piece, schools vandalised, hospitals only partly operational and long queues at clinics, police vehicles sitting unused and unusable at police stations.
Outside of the Western Cape and DA-run towns, very little in our country is working and large parts of it resemble a war zone.
And along with this you will find the heartbreaking scene, repeated in every city and town, of thousands and thousands of men and women without work and with very little hope of changing this.
Don’t let the president tell you this level of unemployment and desperation is normal and that all countries took a knock in the past two years. There is nothing natural or inevitable about our jobs numbers and the inability to make that graph head back in the other direction while economies across the world are recovering.
This is nothing less than a self-made catastrophe.
And this catastrophe started long before anyone had ever heard of Covid-19. Don’t let him sweep his failure to implement reforms, attract investment, grow the economy and create jobs under the Covid carpet. Because he will try to do just that.
These failures were baked into the country long before the pandemic hit.
The state of our nation is that of ANC government failure on every single front. A ruling party so preoccupied with fighting enemies within its own ranks and clinging to power that it has absolutely no capacity to do its job.
And so, one by one, every critical function of the state has simply seized up. Our state power utility cannot supply sufficient electricity. Water infrastructure is collapsing. Sewage treatment plants no longer work. The rail network has all but collapsed.
That is the true state of our nation.
But amid all this destruction and decay, there are islands of hope. DA-run provincial and local governments show that things can be different.
Over the past two years, in every wave of the pandemic, the DA-run Western Cape made sure there were always enough hospital beds and there was always enough oxygen, while the DA-run City of Cape Town delivered chronic TB and HIV medication to people at home.
Only in the Western Cape did school feeding schemes continue to feed children during hard lockdown and school closures. Only in the Western Cape did crèches continue getting subsidies.
This is the DA difference, and this DA differences saved many, many lives. Consider that age-standardised excess mortality during the epidemic in the Western Cape was the lowest in the country, and 30 percent lower than the national average.
This is what governments should do in a pandemic – retain and ramp up services, not cut services, destroy jobs and restrict people’s freedoms.
The DA difference is that people lucky enough to live in well-established DA municipalities, like Cape Town, Overstrand, Stellenbosch, Swartland, and Midvaal can at least rely on local government delivery such as fire services, street lights, refuse removal and local road resurfacing.
The DA difference is that public money is spent on public goods and not simply stolen.
But so many other critical functions are in the hands of national government, or national government-controlled state-owned enterprises, so these islands of hope risk being swamped by a sea of national failures.
And so, the DA difference is now also about protecting people from national government failures.
Where we govern, we know we have to step in where national government has failed, particularly on critical issues such as providing electricity, public transport and effective policing. Not least because these things enable job-creating businesses to start and to thrive.
But this DA difference doesn’t only benefit the residents where we govern. It also shows what a post-ANC country could look like, and that is of interest to all South Africans.
The City of Cape Town and several other DA-run municipalities in the Western Cape are planning to protect residents from Eskom’s collapse by buying electricity directly from independent producers.
When that happens, people will be able to see the benefits for themselves, and they will realise that we don’t have to stick to the ANC’s outdated model of one massive state-owned supplier.
Already, Cape Town routinely shields its residents from one stage of load-shedding through the well-maintained Steenbras dam hydro-electric scheme.
DA-run metros are also taking on more and more law-enforcement responsibilities to prevent crime and produce safer communities. This will show people that the most effective policing happens when it has been decentralised and brought closer to communities.
We’re already seeing evidence of how this DA difference saves lives. While murders in every other province spiked last year by an average 6 percent and 13 percent in the first and second quarters compared to 2019, in the DA-run Western Cape murders actually dropped.
This is because of fewer murders in areas such as Delft where there has been additional local government policing through the provincially-funded LEAP programme, which targets areas with high murder rates and insufficient policing numbers.
The City of Cape Town is also challenging national government for control of the Metrorail passenger trains. If it succeeds in this challenge and manages to turn this failing service around and integrate it with rapid bus and taxi transport, hundreds of thousands of commuters will return to safe, affordable rail transport.
That’s what we mean by the DA difference.
With just two years to go until the critical 2024 elections, DA-run governments will serve as living, breathing evidence of how people’s quality of life can improve dramatically under a different national government.
And that quality of life is first and foremost about jobs. Because a functioning state enables a jobs-creating economy. When people have jobs they have personal freedom, dignity, choices, and the chance to realise their own potential.
While expanded unemployment has increased by one-fifth across the country compared to 2019, the DA-run Western Cape still has the lowest rate of 30 percent, compared to 46.6 percent for the country as a whole.
The DA difference is life-changing in every way. It is clean running water, flushing toilets, reliable electricity and regular refuse removal, all of which combine to foster an environment where jobs can grow.
The DA difference is that more children stay in school all the way to their matric exams. The DA difference is that more children get a solid meal at school and so are able to concentrate better. The DA difference is fewer children going hungry and malnourished. The DA difference is better educated children, with a better chance of escaping poverty and hardship.
The DA difference is accountable governance with clean audits. Not for its own sake, but so that public money gets spent on real services for the public, to make their lives easier and better, rather than being stolen.
The DA difference is that more people have a chance to own their own home with the title deeds to show it. This means more people can access loans to start a business. It means more people have something to pass on to their children and grandchildren.
The DA difference is safer communities and better public transport.
To date we have mainly been able to demonstrate this DA difference in local and provincial government, but we are most certainly a party waiting to step into national government. Our vision for South Africa also addresses the country’s broader challenges of unemployment, inequality, crime and corruption, housing, migration, the energy crisis and protecting the environment.
Our existing Economic Justice Policy contains proposals that speak to a number of these issues, and includes interventions to combat school drop-out rates, teacher absenteeism and malnutrition and stunting in children.
The document also sets out measures to address the legacy of migratory labour systems, proposals on shared parental leave as well as measures to address the culture of low savings among South Africans, to name but a few.
During the course of this year we will release a further series of policy positions which we envisage to be part of the foundation of a new policy approach for a realigned government in 2024.
We now have two years to make our case and convincingly demonstrate the DA difference in the places where we govern. Two years to show people that there are two distinct parties of government in South Africa that have two very different approaches to almost every aspect of governance and the state.
One that still believes that people should live at the mercy of government and depend on an all-powerful state, and the other that believes in the ingenuity and creativity of people to realise their dreams, given the chance.
One that still believes in centralised control under an all-powerful president, while the other believes in decentralisation and nurtures diverse and principled leaders from all walks of life.
One that believes the only way to create jobs is by making government and the state even bigger, while the other believes that government needs to get out of the way so that businesses big and small can flourish and employ people.
Dependence and control versus freedom and dignity. Those are the choices.
But what we also need to be clear about over the next two years is who exactly we’re up against. The enemy of growth and progress is the ANC, along with its variant, the EFF.
Our opponents are not all the other parties like ActionSA, the IFP, The Freedom Front Plus, Cope, UDM and ACDP, and we cannot allow ourselves to be drawn into skirmishes with them.
We all have a common opponent in the ANC. And, for the most part, we all agree on more issues with one another than any of us do with either the ANC or the EFF.
So the DA doesn’t need to get 51% of the vote to topple the ANC. We only need to keep them with the EFF below 50%, and then ensure that we are at the heart of a coalition government that can implement proper reforms and clean out the rot in the state.
We also have to do this now, because we are fast running out of time. At the rate at which the ANC is destroying our country there might not be much to save in another five years’ time. Or worse, democratic change at the ballot box may no longer be possible.
The challenge of holding at bay national failure as much as we can, and of reversing decades of ANC decline where we newly govern, is immense. It will require clear principles and diverse skills where we govern in partnership with our allies.
But the DA is resolute. And as a party of principle and of diversity, we will bring all of our experience of governing and of managing coalitions toward the liberation of South Africa from the ANC’s corruption, chaos and decay. There is no other way out.
South Africans have shown that they are ready for a post-ANC future – a better, more prosperous, more inclusive future – but perhaps some still can’t quite see the way.
The only way is through political change, and the DA has an excellent road map to reach this destination.
We invite South Africans from all over the country who have not already done so to turn their disillusionment with the ANC into participation in the DA and other parties committed to constructive change.
There is a far better alternative for our country, but this alternative can only be shaped by your participation.
Join us in creating a new future of hope.