“The Coming State Of The Nation Address –
What South Africa Really Needs To Hear”
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP
President Of The Inkatha Freedom Party
Kelvin Grove, Cape Town: 20 January 2016
Despite having served on 22 occasions as Acting President of the Republic of South Africa, I have never had the onerous privilege of delivering a State of the Nation Address. I have, however, debated with four different presidents over the course of 21 years on 25 State of the Nation speeches. For six of those, I was part of the Government of National Unity, and for another six was still serving in Cabinet as Minister of Home Affairs. None of that stopped me from saying what needed to be said.
Thus, as I speak to you today on an alternative SONA, my focus will be on what South Africa really needs to hear.
Let me first thank you, however, for the invitation to address this prestigious Club of intelligent men and women. When the Secretary General of the Cape Town Press Club, Mr Donwald Pressly, wrote to invite me, I was reminded of the long and happy relationship we have had in the service of empowering South Africans.
Mr Pressly, like all his colleagues in the media, has the ability to empower people with knowledge. Media practitioners are able to move our citizens away from assumption and speculation, towards truth and facts, thus enabling them to make better decisions and become more effective participants in our social compact. It’s a great responsibility.
People like me have the responsibility of moving our citizens away from division and hardship, towards unity and self-reliance, thus opening their horizons and empowering them to make their contribution to society. It makes sense then for political leaders and members of the media to work in harmony, for our goals are complimentary.
Unfortunately, in reality, there is more enmity than amity. Our media has been more effective even than the Public Protector in rooting out corruption and weakness within South Africa’s political leadership. But there is nothing nefarious in this. It is simply that political leaders are not fulfilling the responsibility they carry. They are not empowering South Africans, they are not promoting unity, and they are encouraging dependence on the State. The moral compass has long been lost, and many political leaders have no idea where true North lies.
In February 2012, I responded in Parliament to President Zuma’s State of the Nation Address with a clarion call against corruption. I was quoted extensively in the media and one newspaper printed my entire speech under the headline, “What South Africa really needs to hear”.
A few months later, speaking at a Social Cohesion Summit, I warned that race would become our next national question. Sadly that has come to pass, as the divisions between our various peoples are being highlighted more and more, not only by the Penny Sparrows in our midst, but by politicians with an agenda of revolution.
I disagree with the President that we are blowing this out of proportion and that there are only four or five racists in South Africa. But I also disagree with Mr Malema who believes that all whites are racists.
The truth is that when we foisted cultural hegemony on a newly democratic country, to serve the image of a rainbow nation, we never actually healed the rifts, hurts and divisions between our people. We just papered over them. And although we have had 22 years to get used to one another, it is all too easy to divide us again with a few irresponsible statements.
I remember warning right from the start of our democracy that we should see our diverse nation as a salad, rather than trying to reduce all the ingredients into one flavour of soup. Just as it was irresponsible then for leaders to ignore people’s differences, it is irresponsible now for leaders to capitalise on them, opening up social divisions.
I am not alone in reading the times and the mood of our nation and drawing conclusions about our state of wellbeing. Surveys do that all the time. If we are to embrace any one of those surveys in isolation, we could either believe that the majority of South Africans are confident that all races will enjoy a happy future, or we could believe that the majority of South Africans distrust the President and are dissatisfied with government’s performance. Depending on what you read, it is possible to be both optimist and pessimistic about the state of our country.
I like to be something in between: realistic. In my experience of 22 years in Parliament, I have listened as the State of the Nation Address becomes less and less meat, and more and more fluff. It comes across now as little more than an exceptionally expensive PR exercise for the ruling party.
But then much is changing in Parliament and I am seeing things I never expected could happen in such a dignified setting. I fear that when we meet again on the 11th of February we must anticipate a repeat of the theatrics that marred last year’s SONA. People are talking less about what the President might say, than about what the EFF might do. Unfortunately, the EFF has successfully goaded the DA into playing a different game, and we may well see one-upmanship delivering further chaos, if not at SONA then certainly as we approach the 2016 elections.
So what is it that I am looking for in the State of the Nation Address? Quite simply, honesty. Honesty about the economy. Honesty about the mistakes Government has made. Honesty about how long it will take and how little is being done to fix the problems that weak leadership has created. I want the President to be honest about the depth of the economic crisis we find ourselves in, and about the fact that we didn’t arrive here by accident, but because of the poor economic policies and the dithering by political leaders.
There is far too much that the President doesn’t say during SONA, which needs to be said. But there are also things he says that by now have no meaning, like “we are making enormous strides”, “we are hard at work”, and “we will deliver results soon”. The ANC is known for making empty promises that are unsupported by any evidence or logical plan. How could the President announce, for instance, the imminent creation of 500 000 jobs, when the economy was about to lose a million jobs? Have the actuaries in the Presidency been replaced with fortune-cookies?
Since before democracy, when the placards went up promising jobs and houses for all, I warned the ANC not to lie to our people. They deserve better. If we had said to our people that the road ahead was going to be tough and it would take a long time to meet everyone’s needs, I believe South Africans would have rallied and shown enormous patience, because at last we were on the right track. But when the ANC promised them an overnight utopia, the scene was set for inevitable frustration, resentment and social divisions.
I am reminded of how Prime Minister Smuts described black South Africans when he spoke to international audiences. In Oliver Walker’s 1948 book titled ‘Kaffirs Are Lively’, Smuts is quoted as saying, “The African is the only happy human I have ever come across. No other race is so easily satisfied, so good-tempered, so carefree. If this had not been the case, it could hardly have survived the intolerable evils which have weighed on it like a nightmare through the ages.”
Speaking in San Francisco at a meeting of UNESCO, Smuts compared the black man to “a patient ass”. Despite the disparaging language, it was a keen observation. Our people are enormously patient. If an ANC Government had told them the truth from the start, they would have understood.
But by now our people have no reason to believe what is said from the podium during SONA, for not only do they have experience of 22 years of empty promises, but they also know that corruption is pervasive in Government. As I warned in 2007, the fish rots from the head.
Thus when the President announces that this much money will be spent on infrastructure development, it is impossible to calculate how much of that money will make it into the pockets of family and friends of government officials, and dodgy tenderpreneurs. We will make no headway in development until every cent is properly accounted for.
The IFP knows this well. We entered democracy with 19 years’ experience of administration in the KwaZulu Government. Throughout that time, not a single allegation of corruption was ever levelled against my administration. We understood the toll that corruption would take and we actively guarded against. Officials in my government knew that I would never tolerate, overlook or condone any abuse of power.
For ten years after 1994, the IFP governed the province of KwaZulu Natal. Our three Premiers, Dr Frank Mdlalose, Dr Ben Ngubane and Dr LPHM Mtshali, continued in the IFP tradition of active vigilance against corruption. The record of our governance shows that this paid off. Public funds reached the programmes they were allocated to.
In contrast, the present Government is losing billions of Rands to what the Auditor General calls “unauthorised, irregular, wasteful and fruitless expenditure”. In 2013, the South African Institute of Race Relations kindly translated the astronomical figure of R24,8 billion, which had been lost by provincial departments, into terms we could all understand.
R24,8 billion could have built 400 new schools, or 120 Nkandlas. It could have built 24 state-of-the-art children’s hospitals. It could have built 550 new prisons, ensuring that overcrowding no longer prompted lenient sentences and early parole. Or, of course, it could have funded the studies of every single university student.
Corruption in Government is just one of the cousins of incompetence, cadre deployment, mismanagement, drawn out disciplinary enquiries, vacant positions, duplication of roles and a general skills’ deficit. This is coupled with a lack of political will. There can be no other reason for the excruciatingly slow progress we are making under an ANC Government.
In the first ten years of administering KwaZulu Natal, an ANC Government managed to build just 33 schools in the province. That pales in comparison to the 6000 plus schools built under the IFP’s administration, even on the shoestring budget afforded by the apartheid state.
Politics plays far too great a role in the decisions of our Government. It was illogical for the ANC to shut down teacher training colleges when it took over KwaZulu Natal. But those colleges were opened by the IFP, so they had to go. Instead, they opened FET institutions, which have been fairly disastrous. The pass rate is poor and academics want the National Certificate Vocational Programme to be scrapped completely. Minister Nzimande has admitted that students use the National Students’ Financial Aid Scheme as a social grant, only appearing at FETs on the day that allowances are being paid.
A huge question mark hangs over education in our country. The Fees Must Fall campaign is just the tip of the iceberg. Based on the Annual National Assessments, many of our schools are passing learners who remain functionally illiterate. They are unfit to enter the labour market, and have no choice but to pursue further education. Yet they are poorly equipped to cope at tertiary level.
For the IFP, education has always been a priority. We placed it before politics, even during the liberation struggle, declaring that education was a tool of liberation. In doing this, we ensured that education was a uniting force among our people.
The apartheid Government allocated a pittance to KwaZulu. We received less per capita to educate our citizens than any of the self-governing territories. I therefore approached amakhosi and our people urging them to embrace the IFP’s philosophy of self-help and self-reliance. Whatever our communities were able to raise, my administration matched, Rand for Rand.
The Divine Life Society, led by the late Swami Sahajananda, was inspired to assist, as was the Indian Education Committee under Professor Fatima Meer, and the Lockat Family Trust. Together we built thousands of classrooms for black children. This speaks not only of the IFP’s commitment to education, but of our ability to go beyond the rhetoric of social cohesion to actually embrace each other. The Indian community had some of the poorest people, yet still they helped us.
The IFP is determined to change the debate on racism through actions that bring people together. Our approach is the opposite to that of the ANC, which cast education aside. It is not difficult to see how a party that burned down schools and urged learners to abandon their classrooms is now struggling to create an ethos that values education.
Any amount of lip-service can be paid to education as an “Apex Priority”. But the fact is, the President is still held to ransom by SADTU, to the point that he won’t declare teaching an essential service. Teachers are free to abandon the classroom and strike, no matter what the consequences for our children.
COSATU and the SACP, the ANC’s tripartite partners, wield far too much influence over Government. I was in Cabinet when President Mbeki introduced GEAR as our macro-economic policy. We all hailed it as a step in the right direction, pleased that the ANC’s socialist tendencies were finally changing. But GEAR was immediately abandoned when COSATU started marching in the streets, chanting “Asifuni GEAR! Down with GEAR!”
I worry that the same fate will befall the National Development Programme, which was widely welcomed by every stakeholder; except the tripartite partners. The NDP would be a great legacy for South Africa, but it too might well be abandoned under pressure from trade union bosses and a party that has never once been tested through a democratic election.
I am not one to oppose for the sake of opposing. In every SONA debate for the past 5 years I have said that the IFP will support Government where Government does the right thing, and we will support the President when the President does the right thing. But when they don’t, we will speak truth to power and loudly oppose it.
I have given my advice freely to the President, but it is just as freely ignored. In 2012, for instance, during the Presidency Budget Vote Debate, I advised the President to appoint a trained officer to the positon of National Police Commissioner after corruption had ended the careers of our last two Commissioners. He ignored my advice and the rest is history. Too often what South Africa needs is sacrificed on the altar of what the ANC wants.
Thus our dreams of turning our welfare state into a developmental state lack both a roadmap and political will. It will take skills to develop South Africa, skills that can only be gained through education. South Africans need to be empowered to make their contribution, but instead they are kept dependent on social grants and government hand-outs.
For years the electorate of South Africa has been fed the lie that a National Democratic Revolution will provide everything that our economy and government so clearly can’t. Our people are angry and frustrated. They will easily embrace the idea that it is time for the next phase of the revolution, whatever that might mean.
I respect the people of South Africa. These are the people I have given my life to serve. I believe in the power of goodwill, and the capacity of our people for understanding and rallying together when they are treated with dignity. What South Africa really needs to hear on the 11th of February 2016 is a large dose of honesty.
Whether one reads the palpable mood of the present or the outcome of surveys like AfroBarometer, it is clear that many South Africans want the President to admit he has let us down. Not the economy. Not the drought. Not the global downturn. But the President himself.
That may well be what is needed to begin restoring the dignity of the office of the President in the eyes of our people.
Friends, I trust I have given you material for many questions. Please feel free to ask and I will answer to the best of my ability. Once again, I thank you.