Dear friends and fellow South Africans,
Is the state of our nation merely a matter of perceptions? As a South African citizen, deeply involved in the details of our economy, society and politics, I find there are days when I feel optimistic about my country, when the pulse of enthusiasm for what we have achieved and what we are capable of beats strongly in my veins. But so too there are days when I feel the weight of concern bearing down on me, when I hear of yet another murder, yet another scandal, yet another failure of our Government.
Still, no matter what kind of day it is, my patriotism never flags. I have never lost confidence in my beloved country. I have, however, lost confidence in my country’s leadership. That doesn’t make me unpatriotic. In fact, if anything, it fires my patriotism even more, because I am not willing to allow my country to be led by people who put self-interest first, at the cost of appropriate policies, appropriate response, and even at the cost of lives.
It is no surprise that our country’s leaders want us to see the glass as half full, rather than half empty. But as I pointed out in the State of the Nation debate, it is insulting to South Africans to pretend that the real state of the nation does not exist, for the sake of portraying a nicer, more acceptable version. Our President is particularly prone to overstating and understating the facts, to shape reality according to the purposes of the ANC.
Yesterday, during the opening of the KwaZulu Natal Provincial House of Traditional Leaders in Ulundi, I was gratified to hear His Majesty the King of the Zulu Nation calling a spade a spade, when he lamented the high incidence of rape and violence against women and children. The King called it what it is; “a plague”.
That was the very description I used during the State of the Nation debate, reacting to the President’s passing mention of the rape and murder of women and girls “in recent times”. I advised the President that treating the matter so lightly would not solve a scourge that has been plaguing our nation for decades.
I applaud the King for speaking the truth so candidly. It was in sharp contrast to the opening of the National House of Traditional Leaders in Cape Town, at which the President said, “We dare not portray our beautiful country as an inherently violent place to live in. South Africa is a stable, peaceful country.”
While that is a manipulation of the truth, one can understand why the President chooses to promote this version of reality. But why would the President, in the same speech, choose to overstate a matter that serves only to divide our people and create racial disharmony?
The President stated that “white households earn six times more than African households” and that the income of the average white household is R30 430 a month.
These figures are contradicted by the recently released “South Africa Survey” of the South African Institute for Race Relations, which indicates that the median monthly income for white earners is R10 000 a month. There would have to be three full-time employed workers in the average white household to bring in R30 430, which is unrealistic.
The Survey highlights the important point that the greatest inequality is not between workers of different races, but between people who have an income, and the unemployed. It may be facetious to draw a comparison, for instance, between the President and someone living on a social grant. But for the sake of illustration, consider this: At the beginning of this month, the Disability Grant increased by 5% which is about the same percentage increase of the President’s salary last year. But that amounts to R60 a month extra for a disabled citizen, and R16 666 extra for the President.
One can always manipulate statistics to reflect a specific reality.
But why would the President deliberately seek to reflect a picture of gross racial inequality, almost two decades into democracy?
I am not saying there is no economic disparity. According to the South Africa Survey, median wages of white earners are four times as high as those of black earners. But when we discuss economic matters in terms of race, we have a responsibility to look at the real facts and figures, and the real reasons behind those facts and figures.
The Survey also indicates that, on average, skilled workers earn six times the amount of unskilled workers, and that the highest earners are white men over the age of 55, in other words people who have been working for more than 30 years and have acquired skills.
It is easy to play on people’s emotions, comparing what a skilled person earns after working for 30 years, with what an unemployed person, with no experience, subsists on. But it’s a dangerous game. In fact, immediately after I warned the President during the State of the Nation debate that rape deserves more than a passing mention, I warned that he should resist driving a wedge between our people on the basis of race by making it increasingly impossible for some segments of our society to do business, find jobs and provide for their families, all in the name of BBBEE.
I admire Minister Trevor Manuel for saying, during the 2013 Government Leadership Summit, that Government must stop blaming Apartheid and start taking responsibility for service delivery failures. Our Government, he said, has “run out of excuses”. I certainly agree.
There is, undoubtedly, a legacy from our past. But the legacy of income disparity between races is vastly overshadowed by the greater legacy that the ANC is always reluctant to talk about; the legacy of violence, born from the ANC’s call to make South Africa ungovernable and the ANC’s implementation of a People’s War.
During Apartheid, the ANC taught young people to reject education as less important than politics, and to reject authority and the rule of law. That left South Africa with a legacy of entitlement, violence and lawlessness. That very legacy created people like the former ANC Youth League President, a young man who declared that education is less important than politics, that leaders are worth killing for, and that the mineral wealth of the country should be handed over to “the people”. He also declared, through his actions, that you don’t need to pay taxes.
I am not concerned about Mr Malema himself, who is no longer a figure in politics. I am concerned that the ANC, more than 15 years into democracy could produce and elevate a leader like Mr Malema. It says so much about what they value, and what they don’t.
I value seeing things as they really are and admitting to failures. I value basing perceptions on facts. I am a patriot because I see all the flaws and weaknesses and challenges of our country, and still believe we can turn the corner and become stable, peaceful and prosperous. Not because I like to believe in a fairy-tale, but because I know this country has a leadership outside the ANC that still retains integrity and moral values. It is a leadership South Africans are looking for. I encourage them to find us on the ballot paper.
Yours in the service of our nation,
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP