Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Online Letter
Dear friends and fellow South Africans,
This morning, amidst the bustle before the budget speech in Parliament, an IFP MP remarked that we seem to have learnt very little in the past two thousand years when it comes to the economy. He quoted Cicero, speaking in 55 BC - "The budget should be balanced: the Treasury should be refilled, public debt should be reduced, the arrogance of officialdom should be tempered and controlled, and the assistance to foreign lands should be curtailed, lest Rome become bankrupt. People must again learn to work, instead of living on public assistance."
Ironically this echoes much of what has been said in the public debate since President Zuma's state of the nation address a fortnight ago. Opposition parties have been unanimous in cautioning that the proof is in the pudding when it comes to the President's forecast of Government's output this year.
It was also Cicero who said, "Advice is judged by results, not by intentions".
We have eagerly anticipated today's speech by the Minister of Finance, Mr Pravin Gordhan, for the President indicated that the details regarding the billions of Rands he mentioned in the state of the nation address will be unpacked in today's budget.
To answer my colleague about what we have learnt when it comes to the economy, I feel that as a country we have made some progress. But it is far too little, and far too slow. In the past, the ruling Party advocated Socialism. Thus, we were all encouraged when President Mandela embraced the free enterprise system. I believe this was the ruling Party's Damascene experience.
Most of us believed that the free enterprise system was the best economic policy for South Africa, despite some of its shortcomings. It still is the only path towards sustainable job creation.
When President Thabo Mbeki announced the policy of GEAR, an acronym for Growth, Employment and Redistribution, I was still in Cabinet. I remember describing this in Parliament as a Damascene experience on the part of the ruling Party. And yet what happened? Immediately the tripartite partners of the ANC, COSATU and the South African Communist Party, rejected GEAR. We all saw them on national television jumping up and down, shouting: "WE DO NOT WANT GEAR! WE DO NOT WANT GEAR! ASIFUNI GEAR!"
Next we had ASGISA, the Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa. Cosatu now has its own economic policy. And let us not forget the current debate on the nationalisation of mines. It is a Tower of Babel situation on a matter which is critical to us.
In such a situation, when President Zuma promises to create new jobs, one asks the question, "Is he going to re-invent the wheel in the midst of so much dissension on the economy?"
I fear today's budget speech will offer little change from the present paradigm. Like any other South African, I would like to hear the Minister of Finance announcing less taxes, especially the many indirect and regressive forms of taxation, which penalize the poor more than the rich. I would wish the Minister to cut the extensive government waste, without rewarding constantly failing public companies and institutions with more money.
More importantly, I would wish him to direct expenditure towards the end point of service delivery, correcting the present budgetary imbalance where most of the money is spent at the top, or just by Government to run itself, with very little translating into actual services and goods enjoyed by the people.
I would also wish to see measures to concretize the President's announcement of a partnership with the private sector in job creation, which, in order to be viable, must be in the form of alleviating the burden of doing business and employing people, rather than more subsidies which create unviable and parasitical industries.
If our economy is to prosper, we must find common agreement on how to address poverty and joblessness. This has the potential of starting a revolution in our country, no matter how fervently the President denies it.
If such a revolution does take place, all the gains we have made so far to forge a common destiny will be lost.
We need a national consensus on how to address the economic policies that can liberate us from the trenches of economic enslavement. Achieving this successfully will have a domino effect on the other problems facing us, which are equally challenging to us as a nation. These are issues, such as BEE, which continue to divide us.
Deputy President Kgalema Mothlanthe and President Zuma himself have remarked that we need to have a national discourse on these issues. To my mind, the sooner we start the better.
Yours in the service of the nation,
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP