This year’s SONA will be delivered in the face of the greatest suffering we have seen since the end of apartheid.
Over the past year, tens of thousands of lives have been lost to the COVID-19 pandemic and millions of livelihoods destroyed. The pandemic has pushed our society to its limits, more importantly, it has exposed the worst of our government. Yet, South Africans remain a hopeful and resilient people, but who are tired of empty promises and many more broken ones.
To counter a healthcare system that was already producing horror stories of child births in the corridors and deaths in the waiting rooms, government instituted lockdown restrictions to increase the capacity in our healthcare system. To hire more medical professionals, increase bed capacity, oxygen tanks and ventilators. But this was not to be. While we were in lockdown, businesses closing and over 2.8 million jobs lost, the ANC government failed to honour these sacrifices. Instead, our people continue to suffer, and ANC cadres continue looting and getting rich.
While our government was focusing on alcohol, cigarettes and open-toed shoes, other governments were getting in line ahead of us to procure the vaccine. COVID-19 offers yet another opportunity to put into even sharper focus what we already knew: that our country cannot succeed if the ANC remains in power.
We cannot afford more rhetoric that does not present a plan to see our country make progress once again. Today, I speak to the majority of South Africans to say what you need to hear the most but will not hear during the SONA.
Despite all the negativity, corruption, and the challenges we face, we CAN and MUST build an inclusive, and more prosperous South Africa. Hope is not lost.
I do not say this lightly, or without reason and resolve.
The first order of business is that we need to beat COVID-19.
We need to procure enough doses of the vaccine, manage its distribution effectively, and vaccinate enough of our people. Until then, we will be subjected to a 3rd, a 4th and probably a 5th wave of infections further overwhelming our health facilities and cause many preventable deaths. We need real leadership to dismiss false information about the vaccine and tell South Africans the truth.
South Africans want an inclusive, prosperous, and shared future.
ActionSA asked South Africans to come forward and share their vision for the kind of country they want to live in. In reading their many responses I am reminded people of all races, men, women, young, old, regardless of religious, or sexual orientation – most of us want to build a prosperous South Africa, where every citizen is valued.
Like Myburgh le Roux, Solly Ahmed, Sagalo Boitumelo, and Aphane Porlaido who want to live in a country healed from its past, in a more equal, safer, and corruption-free society full of opportunity not just on paper, but also a lived reality of all South Africans.
Why then, if we so many of us share this vision for our country, do we live without it being realised?
It is because for South Africa to succeed, the ANC must be out of government. It is just that simple. The project to fix South Africa is not only about our colonial and apartheid past, it must also reverse the damage of the last 27 years of ANC government.
We CAN get South Africa working and move our country forward.
The next part of our plan is to fix the economy.
First government’s budget must be cut to the bone. It must start with the President showing leadership, reduce his cabinet, and every government department. All the ridiculous non-essentials must be cut, and more funds redirected to providing economic relief and tax cuts to citizens and their businesses. Unprofitable and unstainable SOEs must either turnaround or go. We cannot continue rescuing financial blackholes like SAA.
Labour laws must be relaxed to make it easier for businesses to hire the unemployed. We are approaching the day where there are more unemployed South Africans can those with jobs. We cannot continue to placate labour unions at the expense of the unemployed.
Business skills must be taught at schools, FET colleges and vocational schools need to mushroom, and government must make it easy for small businesses to establish and grow.
We must remove the ANC from as many municipalities as possible.
There is no better place to start than in our cities and towns. I know this because I had the privilege to serve as the Mayor of Johannesburg.
I know what it means to run a coalition because, like it or not, coalitions are the future of South African politics. I know that it is possible to take billions of Rands from government luxuries to instead fix our roads and electrify informal settlements. To take abandoned buildings used by criminal syndicates and offer them to the private sector to build world class affordable accommodation.
To expand our metro policing abilities so they can become a real force to fight crime and put in place anti-corruption units that pursue the corrupt. I know all of this to be possible because, along with 7 other parties, we implemented these changes in Johannesburg in just 3 years.
We redirected over R2 billion from international travel, self-promoting advertising, conferences and the like and increased the budgets to fix Johannesburg’s broken infrastructure.
We responded to the Maziko family in the Princess informal settlement, whose family suffered from respiratory illnesses, and extended the clinic hours of City Clinics throughout Johannesburg. And to a Soweto family, whose son was an addict, and built the first city-operated drug rehabilitation clinics.
We re-surfaced over 900kms of broken roads; built the biggest electricity sub-station in the southern hemisphere; distributed nearly 8000 title and afforded them the dignity that comes with owning their own home. We increased facilitated investment into the City from R4.5 billion to R17.3 billion and initiated the biggest inner-city rejuvenation in modern South Africa.
Small business owners were supported, and artisan training saw young tilers, plumbers, electricians, and bricklayers graduating.
If one truth can emerge from this year’s SONA, let it be to get South Africa working. For South Africans to realise that they are the solution and not parliament, but us.
We must believe that our country can be fixed. We must come together in our hundreds; thousands; and millions and start the hard work of getting South Africa working.
Herman Mashaba is President of Action SA – This piece is an extract of his speech delivered ahead of the 2021 State of the Nation Address. A copy of the full speech can be accessed at www.actionsa.org.za.