Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Weekly Newsletter to the Nation
My dear friends and fellow South Africans,
This week in the President's Budget Vote, most probably President Thabo Mbeki's last, I raised a number of critical issues and asked the President to respond by explaining how the Presidency intends to address them. In his reply, the President did not spell out any details but said that, in due course, the Presidency would revert to the members who asked specific questions.
As a leader, I also have a responsibility to say how I think some of the public policy questions should be addressed.
But first I would like to recount the heartfelt tribute that I paid to President Mbeki. I recalled that we had first met in London in 1979 when I led an IFP delegation to meet with an ANC delegation led by the late Mr Oliver Reginald Tambo.
I said that history will remember him as someone who cared deeply and passionately about the new South Africa, her people and her place in the world.
I noted that although we have sometimes differed sharply, most notably on the government's strategy to combat HIV/Aids and immigration policy, I was proud to have served in his Cabinet for ten years. South Africa has been led by a talented patriot with a clear grasp of public policy for the last nine years.
I expressed my conviction that President Mbeki's fiercest critics in Parliament and beyond could not deny that this man has given his best at home and given South Africa political clout far exceeding our lower middle ranking status in the international community.
The President's crowning achievement, I reminded parliament, is his meticulous work, alongside the Finance Minister, to integrate South Africa into the global economy. These lion-sized achievements, despite the rage all around us, I declared, will stand. And this country will endure, will revive and will prosper because we are a great nation.
The President in his reply generously confirmed "that within my personal knowledge, the Hon Dr Mangosuthu Buthelezi told the truth when he spoke about his relations with the late President of the ANC, OR Tambo".
He went on to say:
"Our history, like life itself, produced outcomes that might not have been intended by the actors. When I first met the Hon Dr Buthelezi many decades ago, as he said, I approached him as a political senior to myself, and a comrade-in-arms.
"In the years since he stopped serving in the national government, I have made it a point to listen carefully to everything he says.
Constantly, I have marveled at his wisdom and his deep concern to sustain a value system that is critical to the survival of our democracy.
"I was very pleased, when, yesterday, the Hon Essop Pahad acknowledged Shenge's unfailing sense of courtesy. Even at my age, this is a deeply human characteristic I must emulate successfully from uMntwana wakwaPhindangene.
"Shenge, many thanks for everything you have done for all of us.
Yesterday you quoted the Latin saying by Seneca - errare humanum est - to err is human!
"Those who act will err. Those who do nothing will carry no blemish of any errors. To them is therefore given the possibility to criticise those who chose to act. That you and I, will to accept as an unavoidable corollary of what had to be done.
"Not very long ago, a Bishop from Cameroon, who came to see me to discuss the situation in Zimbabwe, told us that his people have a proverb which says -those charged with the task to fetch water from the river should not listen to the songs of the frogs! And neither should you!"
In reply, I can only say: I won't! And I would like to place on record not only my appreciation, but also that my colleagues in the Inkatha Freedom Party and my extended family for the President's remarks for putting the history right. The milk of human kindness is a rare commodity in public life these days.
But frogs aside, I must return to some of the substantive issues I raised.
I said to Parliament we all know that in the aftermath of the dastardly xenophobic attacks that the most immediate problem is food security. To purloin one of Tony Blair's famous phrases, I said that we must be tough on xenophobia and tough on the causes of xenophobia.
Franklin D Roosevelt's adviser Harry Hopkins famously observed in the midst of the American Depression that people don't eat in the long run; they eat every day - or starve in the long run. The time for food summits and workshops is long past.
I asked the President to spell out if the Presidency would make it an apex priority to ensure that no displaced person - and indeed no South African citizen - is left unfed.
The muscle of the state is needed in the strategic fight against poverty. The IFP asked if the Presidency would now accept that a Basic Income Grant (BIG) must be urgently introduced. Failure to do so, I contended, would result in the widespread rioting and looting that we have witnessed in countries from Egypt to Indonesia.
I would like, if I may, to offer these thoughts. Food insecurity is, we must remember, one of the consequences of the failure of land reform. To recap, in South Africa there are three mechanisms to the government land reform programme: restitution, redistribution, and tenure.
Tenure - laudatory as the principle is - generally does not improve the material conditions of people living in poverty but merely gives them rights to subsistence lifestyles on other people's land.
Restitution, although desirable in principle, is having adverse effects on environmental concerns - which I will come to shortly - because of the way it is being implemented by government. So many policy programmes fail on the implementation, do they not?
The key problem area for food insecurity is land redistribution. The farms that have changed hands are, for the most part, either now being farmed only for subsistence agriculture or have been left to go derelict.
These farms, we know, were major food producers, especially those in Limpopo province. In addition, those farms earmarked for redistribution in the future are no longer producing. And this is the paradox: South Africa should not suffer the food insecurity that is blighting many other countries. Primary products, including food, are our comparative advantage (World Bank Berg Report 1990) compared to the rest of the world.
It is the failure of land redistribution that commercially viable farms that produced food are no longer doing so.
As a policy suggestion to the Presidency, I would like to suggest the entire land reform programme be transformed, particularly the redistribution policy.
As a farmer myself, I would recommend that:
Land redistribution applications should be considered and awarded only on the basis of a commitment to farming for food production and other essential primary products.
Full training in farming techniques and business skills should be conducted prior to seeking access to land through the redistribution programme. This is one of the key areas where the programme faltered in Zimbabwe.
A proper training programme should be established in which applicants must reach measured targets of understanding and ability.
An ongoing proper mentoring of farmers allocated land under the programme should be conducted.
Ongoing monitoring of the policy, targets and levels of food production by government should be established.
I also said that we need a strong sense of leadership from the President in seemingly trivial everyday matters, not just in the big ones. We especially need direction in protecting our fragile environment. We need to be told authoritatively how important it is to save electricity and to begin car sharing to reduce carbon emissions. The endless traffic jams have become a permanent feature of all our cities.
I added that I feared that, due to our immediate political crisis, we have not kept pace with the rest of the world in how to combat global warming. The IFP is alarmed that South Africa is not rising to the green challenge and exercising leadership. The damage to the environment, alongside poverty, is undoubtedly the biggest global challenge of our time. I concluded by asking the President what plans he has for the government to regain the green initiative.
I would like to first state that I believe the energy crisis is indicative of a failure to, one, produce African solutions to African problems and, two, to centralise debates about the environment within policy.
As it has been repeatedly said, there should be no crisis. Ten years ago it was well known in the heart of government that South Africa faced an acute energy crisis. The solution is not necessarily to build more power stations but, rather, to re-think the whole question of energy production.
I recommend that the following principles be taken into consideration:
Power stations demand constant maintenance and have a lifespan that does not justify their expenditure.
Electricity costs hurt the poor.
The process of producing electricity hurts the environment.
As a second policy suggestion to the presidency, I would like to suggest that we rethink the entire energy production process.
I recommend that we:
Do not produce more power stations as the only solution.
Do not allow a monopoly of one provider (I have argued this in a previous newsletter) - more than one will drive costs down. Increasing the energy options will do the same.
Develop "green" energy solutions - solar power, wind power and water power - the initial outlay is offset by the fact that the poor do not have ongoing costs i.e. electricity will be free.
Extend these energy solutions in the first instance to the rural areas of South Africa where poverty is at its greatest in new electrification programmes.
Develop the programme as a national initiative so that all domestic usage is eventually through environmentally sustainable options.
These are just some policy prescriptions. The IFP is busy conducting its policy review and there will be much more to follow soon.
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP