What is wrong with South Africa

by Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, MP and President of the Inkatha Freedom Party, February 14, 2012

“Twenty years ago there were many people in this country who felt that we black people are not capable enough to rule a country and administer a democratic government. That was one of the major fears during the negotiation process. Some people felt that it is in the DNA of us Africans to be inefficient, inept and corrupt. I refuse to believe that.”

From this podium, I have said that the failure of Government is the failure of South Africa. What I have to say today, I say for the love of country. When I speak, I do so to be constructive.

Mr President, we have heard your speech, your hopes and your plans, and we desire nothing more than to be able to have confidence in them. Yet, too much prevents us from doing so. How can we embrace hope when our leadership refuses to acknowledge the many problems confronting our country, or the causes that lie at their root? Year after year, the State of the Nation Address shifts the focus, without ever addressing previous failures.

Mr President, in this debate we must analyze all that you said last Thursday. But increasingly I feel that the measure of your leadership can be taken less by what you say, than by what you do not say   Understandably the State of the Nation Address will touch on the high notes of Government, leaving much unsaid. But this year, we have been left with the impression that our attention is being redirected away from the elephant in the room. There is a danger in that, for elephants can be unpredictable and extremely destructive.

It is therefore good and well to say that our Government is working with various provinces to improve governance, systems and administration. But the unspoken fact remains that two of our nine provinces have all but collapsed. Limpopo has been rendered bankrupt through corrupt activities and five of its departments have been taken  over by National Government. The administration of the State is in shambles.

It is fine to say that we are doing well with regards to treatment of HIV and Aids. But the unspoken fact remains that South Africa has lost some 5 million people to HIV/Aids because of our slow and hesitant response to the pandemic.

One can say that we are expanding access to tertiary education by assisting students to pay off their debts. But the unspoken fact remains that students are so desperate to secure admission that they stampede universities, causing injury and loss of life. In the Eastern Cape, the education system has completely collapsed due to maladministration and corruption, forcing National Government to intervene.

It is fine, Mr President, to say we will improve the movement of goods through a Durban-Free State-Gauteng logistics and industrial corridor. But the unspoken fact is that the KwaZulu Natal Department of Transport has had to halt all major road infrastructure projects, while Durban has notched up R1.3 billion in bad spending. The Free State has sought assistance from National Treasury after identifying financial mismanagement and non-compliance in supply chain management processes in its Department of Police, Roads and Transport.

Gauteng has also sought assistance from National Treasury to address the challenges in its Health Department, which is on the verge of collapse. It faces 101 legal claims due to negligence, to an amount of R235-million. The IFP has called for an urgent Commission of Enquiry to investigate this debacle because we, like every South African, want to know: why is this happening, Mr President?

Twenty years ago there were many people in this country who felt that we black people are not capable enough to rule a country and administer a democratic government. That was one of the major fears during the negotiation process. Some people felt that it is in the DNA of us Africans to be inefficient, inept and corrupt. I refuse to believe that.

Yet how do we explain the many nurses in our public hospitals who just do not feel the inner duty to respond to the needs of suffering patients? And what are we to say about teachers who do not feel the calling to spare no energy and to double their dedication to teach our children so that, through better education, they may finally be emancipated from all that oppressed my generation?

If the call of duty is not felt in these two fields, it should be no wonder that throughout the public service productivity and commitment is so low, which translates into poor delivery. What has disrupted the moral fibre and discipline of our people? We know the answer, but refuse to acknowledge it.

How, Mr President, do we explain the contamination of public service and commercial interests? It is fatal, and yet it is pursued relentlessly, from the lowest to the highest levels of Government. Too many, and I dare say the overwhelming majority, are trying to make money on account of holding public office, being in politics or exercising public power.

Corruption is the bane of our country. It is a fundamental threat to our constitutional democracy. As former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr Kofi Annan, said, “Corruption hurts the poor disproportionately by diverting funds intended for development, undermining a government’s ability to provide basic services, feeding inequality and injustice and discouraging foreign aid and investment. Corruption is a key element in economic underperformance and a major obstacle to poverty alleviation and development.”

Yet you shy away from this issue, Mr President. The unspoken fact is that corruption has seen the axing of two Ministers, Mr Sicelo Shiceka and Ms Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde. The National Police Commissioner, Mr Bheki Cele, is still suspended pending an investigation into corruption. The Speaker of the KwaZulu Natal Legislature, Ms Peggy Nkonyeni, and MEC Mr Mike Mabuyakhulu are facing corruption charges in court.

The recently released Manase Report uncovers widespread and rampant corruption within the eThekwini Municipality. High-ranking eThekwini municipal officials and politicians, including former Municipal Manager, Mr Mike Sutcliffe, and former Mayor, Mr Obed Mlaba, have been fingered in a damning forensic investigation into financial irregularities, fraud and corruption.

Last year, the former Head of the Special Investigating Unit, Mr Willie Hofmeyr, told the parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice that 20% of South Africa’s procurement budget, between R25-billion and R30-billion, is lost to corruption every year. According to Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index, South Africa is perceived to be becoming more corrupt with each passing year. That perception is rooted in reality.

On a scale of 0, being highly corrupt, to 10, being very clean, we have fallen from a ranking of 5.1 in 2007 to 4.1 in 2011. The unspoken fact is that we are on the verge of joining the ranks of dysfunctional states, as the effects of corruption debilitate all spheres of life.

What went wrong, Mr President? How do we fix it? Surely not with more rhetoric, empty words and never-ending declarations of policy. We must have the courage to go to the root.

It was you, Mr President, who on December 30, 2000, acting as the Chairperson of a Committee of the South African Government signed a formal agreement with traditional leaders in terms of which the local government powers and functions of traditional authorities would be preserved and, to this end, Chapters 7 and 12 of the Constitution would be amended. It was you who did not bring that Agreement to Cabinet for ratification, and it is you who bears the final responsibility for it having been breached and for the powers, functions, respectability, moral authority and social guidance of traditional leadership having finally been obliterated.

What does this have to do with it? It is relevant because the core problem of the maladministration, inefficiency and corruption is the disintegration of the social cohesiveness, social values, rectitude, integrity, discipline and dedication to duty which traditional leadership has been entrusted to promote and inculcate within our communities. Once that disintegrates, as it unfortunately has, what ends up in our government offices, hospitals and schools bears the hallmark of no one willing to pay a personal price to make this country a better place.

It was you, Mr President, who was charged by President Mbeki to champion and pilot the campaign for the moral regeneration of South Africa. I need not comment on that. It was also you, Mr President, who was equally charged by President Mbeki to bring about the reform of our labour legislation to increase the flexibility in the labour market. That too ended in naught.

Why is that relevant? It is relevant because our labour legislation and the lack of flexibility in our labour market have not only been identified by your Government, Mr President, as one of the major impairments to real economic growth and real employment generation, but also a cause of the ongoing degeneration of the sense of duty and commitment in the workplace. Empowering trade unions the way you, Mr President, have been instrumental in doing, has eroded the culture of hard work, discipline, productivity, dignity and self-respect which people like me have promoted and instilled in our communities for more than sixty years.

This has compounded problems with problems. It was your Party, Mr President, which for twenty years made it its main political policy in South Africa to undermine social cohesions within our communities. Your Party embraced and promoted the strategy of making our communities ungovernable, spreading a culture of lawlessness and rebellion and destroying the black education system.

The black education system was far from perfect, but its destruction replaced it with the roots of a phenomenon which is the common denominator of most of our problems. It brings together our irresponsible nurses, our indolent teachers, our ineffective civil servants and all the youths with narrow-minded vision, distorted values and wrong hopes who were falsely lured into supporting the President of the Youth League of your Party.

Mr President, everyone makes mistakes. Every government has faults and shortcomings. The wise acknowledge and correct them. The unwise ignore them.

You correctly identify our sky-rocketing electricity prices as one of the factors which are thwarting all our efforts to develop an industrial basis and produce real growth in our economy. Yet, we did tell you that funding the build program of Eskom through tariffs was a mistake. We did tell you, Mr President, that it should have been funded by means of an international competition which would have brought into South Africa as much as R400 billion of direct foreign investment, while creating a much needed and healthy competition amongst producers and distributors of electricity. We were ignored

We further said that, if funded domestically, the build program had to be funded through the national budget and not through tariffs, so that the rich could pay more than the poor. The way it has been done is forcing industries and the productive middle class to bear a much greater burden for the investments than warranted by their actual taxable income.

I am just giving this example as part of the same problem. That is the problem of doing things for the wrong reasons, including political reasons, and not for commitment to our country’s and our people’s best interests. I will add two more examples, because the magnitude of the mistakes there shows what happens when political thinking overrides national interest.

Under your leadership, Mr President our country jumped into BRICS. Yet, to develop an industrial basis, we must manufacture export products which, in the final analysis, can mainly only be sold outside of BRICS and mainly in the regions which have been our traditional trade partners, namely Europe and North America. This shows how our priorities become confused and contradictory. Our priorities should be to ensure that the African Growth Opportunities Act of the United States is renewed and expanded so that we can export our products there without duties and quotas, and that similar agreements are entered into with other markets where we can sell our products.

Another major policy mistake is maintaining the four retail bank policy and tolerating the collusion and other restraints of trade openly practiced by our banks. Because of lack of real competition, our banks are not forced to take risks they don’t want to take, and force all the risky business onto the Industrial Development Corporation and the Development Bank of Southern Africa. This means that they choose to live only by the business which makes money with no risk, and the government, the taxpayers and our communities must bear the risk associated with promoting economic growth. It would seem as if your Government, Mr President, has a greater commitment to serving the banks than the people we represent.

Mr President, you praise the trade unions, and even SADTU, as if they should be thanked for doing less than the full measure of their destructive capabilities. Praising the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union for its diligent teachers was a step too far in placating the unions. Members of SADTU often abandon students nationwide to drive their own agendas. This ANC-aligned Union continues to act like an organization hell-bent on destroying the future of our children.

SADTU should be rebuked, not praised, for their actions have aggravated and deepened the crisis in our education system. Instead of acting like responsible educators, some members of SADTU have, on numerous occasions, proven themselves irresponsible, unprofessional and unfit to educate South Africa’s learners. The recent go-slow in the Eastern Cape, where education came to a complete halt, is a case in point.

Mr President, you mention that employment generation never recovered from the terrible knockout it received at the end of the seventies, but you fail to explain why that happened. You do not wish to remember that employment generation collapsed because of the call for sanctions against our country and for foreign divestment which your Party, Mr President, foisted onto South Africa and which I so vehemently opposed.

This was because nothing destroys economic growth more than sanctions Strangely, your Government and the ruling Party have adopted this policy against sanctions being imposed on Zimbabwe for the same reasons; that they destroy the lives of the poorest of the poor.

History has proven me right and your Party wrong. You admit that we have yet to recover from that self-inflicted injury, the same way as we have yet to recover from the self-inflicted injury of having disrupted the moral fibre and discipline of our communities.

But too much remains unsaid. You make no mention of small businesses and how they will be assisted by Government to help grow the economy and create jobs. You make no mention of the fact that the two sectors that should be in boom right now due to international demand, namely agriculture and mining, are in reverse, due to Government’s many policy failures.

The unspoken fact is that the latest Global Competitiveness Rankings of the World Economic Forum highlight how, increasingly, corruption, wasteful expenditure and government red-tape is hindering business development, SMMEs and investment in our country.

I want to have hope in our future. I want to have confidence in you, Mr President. I want to be able to believe that there is more than just words to your declaration of intent. But how much of what has been set aside by the State to achieve such lofty goals will actually fulfill its intended purpose? We know that when resources are made available, corrupt officials begin to salivate. One is galled that their consumption is so conspicuous.

I fear there is a disconnect between Government and the reality of everyday life for South Africans. It is impossible to have hope while the ANC refuses to recognize, acknowledge and mend the error of its ways. We must start by correcting the terrible injuries inflicted by ourselves – not by Apartheid, not by the colonialists, not by foreign powers – but by ourselves, onto the minds, strength and discipline of our own people.

We need to rebuild pride in our work. We need to build a sense of dignity in abiding by the discipline necessary to improve our conditions. We need to terminate the culture of dependency. We need to create a culture of real growth which must range from what young people do to build their futures, to how our enterprises understand they have to compete and survive without relying on government crutches. We need to re-establish the important role of traditional leadership throughout the country. We need to exact from each civil servant the full measure of dedication that one would expect from a soldier in a war for progress and development.

We must have a complete separation between public office and commercial venture and change our mindset in this respect completely.  And most of all, we must fire all those who do not comply with these imperatives, ranging from lazy civil servants to corrupt officials, to nurses who do not nurse and teachers who do not teach. If we fail to attend to this basic aspect of our country’s reconstruction and development, everything else is bound not to achieve its intended purpose.

Mr President, your address lacked accountability on the crisis in health, the crisis of education and the crisis of corruption. What you have said looks good on paper. But what you have not said can prevent the fulfillment of the best-laid plans.

I am reminded of final lines of Robert Burns’ ode “To a Mouse” –

But little Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often askew,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!
Still you are blest, compared with me!
The present only touches you:
But oh! I backward cast my eye,
On prospects dreary!
And forward, though I cannot see,
I guess and fear!