To set South Africa on a new economic path to prosperity, we will Act As One

The following speech was delivered by ActionSA President, Herman Mashaba during an address on South Africa’s economic recovery.

My fellow South Africans,

I greet you all in the hope for a shared dream, where all South Africans know the pride and dignity that comes with providing for their families. 

Much is going to be said this week about our economy, the prospects of creating jobs and the work of rising out of the economic depression in which we find ourselves.

Unfortunately, as has become the custom of our broken political system, little will be offered in terms of solutions that provide a credible economic path, backed by decisive leadership.

There is an African proverb that says, “when the elephants fight it is the grass that suffers.”

The economic crisis we face today, is the result of indecision, inaction and policy uncertainty caused by ideological and factional battles within the Tripartite Alliance.

The government’s response to COVID-19, have drawn these fault lines into sharp focus and highlighted how big promises are seldom followed by big actions.

When all is said and done, South African politics, has shown us that more will have been said than done.

We are told about a R500 billion stimulus package, but we see small businesses closing and people losing their jobs all around us.

We are told about fighting corruption, but we see how those in government are getting rich while the unemployed cannot access UIF, and must go hungry.

We are told about fiscal restraint, but we see billions being wasted on dysfunctional state-owned entities while government is unable to keep the lights one.

This must change.

The time for hollow words is over.

Now is the time for action.

My fellow South Africans,

ActionSA has resolved that our most fundamental task is to provide a new alternative, one that rises above the meagre offerings of our political system; one that gives all South Africans hope again.

On no subject is this task more important than in respect to our economy.

We are unable to raise the tax revenue needed as a country to build the schools, roads, universities, infrastructure and provide adequate housing, because too many South Africans are unemployed.

Our healthcare system is overburdened because too many are unable to afford private healthcare.

Crime and drugs rip apart the fabric of our families and communities, because too many young people emerge from our schools with no prospect of viable economic opportunity.

As a country, we celebrate the provision of social grants to 18 million South Africans, when we should weep that so many people have no other possible means of putting food on their tables.

We remain divided as a people because our economy continues to reflect the injustices of our past, where a child born in a township or informal settlement, has a greater chance of being a victim of crime than becoming a doctor, lawyer or successful entrepreneur.

I recall, with painful memory, the cases where people given RDP housing in Johannesburg, rent out their houses and live in shacks because they are unemployed and this is their only means of generating income.

Nearly all of our greatest challenges as a country, come down to an economy that has stalled, declined, and now has been battered by COVID-19.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This is why I stand before you today. South Africans need a new alternative.

We need solutions offered alongside strong leadership; the kind of leadership that is capable of being decisive, of taking tough decisions, and undertaking the long and difficult journey to socio-economic prosperity.

ActionSA stands ready to offer this kind of leadership, and to provide the people of South Africa, with an alternative that offers a credible path out of suffering, and towards a prosperous destiny.

Above all else ActionSA will offer clear economic policy.

The people of our country, the businesses and the investors need to know the economic direction of our country.

Over the past few years that economic direction has been confused, contradicted and changed according to which audience it is being communicated.

No country can grow an economy and create jobs like this. There has to be certainty. We have to end our country’s flirtation with the failed socialist economic policies of the former Soviet Union, Cuba and Venezuela.

Ask the people of those countries what nationalisation of land, mines and their central banks have cost them?

Today I share with you, the central tenets of ActionSA’s economic policy that outlines the core of our alterative offer.

  1. The Re-Arrangement of the National Budget

As too many South African households know, when your income is reduced, you need to re-arrange your budget.

Those of you that have seen your income reduced during COVID-19 understand this all too painfully, because you were forced to make sacrifices and cut your expenses.

Our government should be no different.

South Africa needs a massive amount of money freed up so that we can spend extensively on our infrastructure, on education, on safety, and on incentivising investment.

When I served as the Mayor of Johannesburg, we were able to cut billions of Rands in wasteful expenditure that did not add value to the lives of the residents of the City.

Applying this experience to 278 municipalities, 9 provinces, SOEs and national government, we know that hundreds of billions can be reprioritised to areas that will grow our economy and create jobs without sacrificing service delivery.

This requires the political will to make tough decisions.

We must cut our bonds to state-owned entities like SAA into which billions have been sunk without any promise of recovery.

We must reduce our civil service wage bill, which was more than doubled from R340 billion in 2010 to R745 billion in 2019, and end the era of government acting as a cadre employment agency. 

And we must reduce expenditure on the luxuries and perks enjoyed by those in power, such as international travel and VIP security.

We must be guided by the principle that if expenditure does not contribute to our most pressing economic and social needs, it must go.

In its place has to be record breaking levels of expenditure in stabilising our electricity grid, investment in roads and rail, building of hospitals, schools and universities, providing access to free Wi-Fi, and delivering electricity and water to more communities.

We must adopt expansionary fiscal policies that reduce taxes, and puts more money in the hands of South African households to spend and stimulate economic activity in ways no government will ever achieve.

  1. The Reform of Labour Legislation in South Africa

South Africa now sits with 42% unemployment with 2.2 million jobs lost in 2020 so far.

Mpumalanga is the first province to now exceed 50% unemployment, and 59% of young people are unemployed in South Africa today.

The labour laws of our country make it difficult to hire South Africans at a time when we need to make it easier. They protect those who are employed for now, at the expense of those who could be employed but, are not.

To bring this issue closer to home, I will share an experience we had during The People’s Dialogue discussions with small businesses.

Hundreds of small businesses spoke of economic opportunities available which would involve expanding to hire more South Africans. By far the majority of these small businesses had rejected these opportunities to grow because of the threat posed to their business by rigid labour laws.

It is a crime in South Africa that millions of people live without the dignity of work, while our labour laws discourage small businesses from employing more people.

ActionSA, offers an alternative; a fundamental review of South African labour laws that will encourage businesses to hire more of our citizens.

The rights of workers must certainly be protected, however, not at the expense of 10 million South Africans who are without the dignity of gainful employment.

Furthermore, unless we break the stranglehold of unions and collective bargaining, this will not change.

  1. The End of Trade Union Dominance

I am fully aware that what we propose will involve a fallout with trade unions.

The Tripartite Alliance has given trade unions more power than any other stakeholder in our economy.

They have a veto right over our economic policy, and mark my words, whatever the President says on Thursday, the prospect of its success will lie with the trade unions.

Who voted for the trade unions to hold this kind of power over the people of our country?

In fact, if you want to observe the full lunacy of the Tripartite Alliance, look no further than last week.

COSATU rolled out a national programme of strikes to protest against the failures of a government that they help get elected every election.

Highways are blocked, economic activity impeded, and government brought to a standstill, all to the detriment of South Africans. In less than a year, COSATU will be campaigning side-by-side to return the ANC back into power.

A central part of ActionSA’s economic offer will be to give trade unions a seat at the table as a key stakeholder, but, alongside, and equal to every other key stakeholder in our economy.

If this means a showdown with the trade unions, so be it, because we will never advance, so long as we have to wait to hear whether the economic direction set by an elected President, is approved by the unions.

  1. An Education Revolution in South Africa

ActionSA offers a revolution in education.

Despite spending a large proportion of our budget on education, our education system graduates learners to a life with little hope or opportunity.

This has to change!

ActionSA promises to overhaul the entire curriculum, and orientate it in line the 4th Industrial Revolution and the future world of work.

We need to teach entrepreneurship to our learners so that we can become a nation of employers, not just employees.

Our education system is not only failing to prepare our young people for post-matric education, but is equally failing to teach those who want to enter the economy after school, the skills that would make them employable.

This must change!

Teachers and principals need to be trained, performance managed, and replaced where necessary, because the future of our children have to be left in the most capable hands.

We need to teach our young men to respect women, and to end the scourge of gender-based violence. 

And we need to improve our performance in maths and science.

Last week the President praised SADTU for mobilising, organising, and leading the educators of our country.

The leadership required for our economy and education system, should have actually reprimanded SADTU for putting union interests before the future of our young people.

ActionSA offers the building of more universities, teachers, and nursing colleges, as well as FET and vocational schools. Every young person should leave high school with the option to pursue further studies, whether in an academic field, or in a vocational training program that will make them valued contributors to the economy.

This education must be made affordable to all, because without education, there is no prosperous future for our youth.

Municipalities must invest in early childhood development centres. Aside from giving parents a safe place for their children when they go to work, early childhood education has proven essential for equipping children to enter formal schooling. It is a proven fact that teaching the skills of learning early on, helps reduce the dropout rate in high school.

  1. Doing Business in SA must be Easier

For our economy to grow, it must be easier for new businesses to setup here, and for existing businesses to conduct their activities.

Before COVID-19, the ease of doing business was an important factor in economic performance. In the uncertainty that has followed this pandemic, the ease of doing busines has become essential.

ActionSA proposes the establishment of business support hubs where SMMEs can receive immediate support with registration, tax compliance, municipal electricity, and water connections, and a host of other requirements.

We must nurture a nation of entrepreneurs, and empower them with the skills, and support they need in order to grow their businesses and employ more South Africans.

Small and medium businesses in South Africa are drowning in reporting and compliance requirements that add no value to the bottom line. Bureaucratic red-tape must be removed, and a review of all legislation undertaken to eliminate barriers to conducting business.

The constant moving of goal-posts of compliance needs to end, and the failed B-BBEE policy needs to be relegated to the rubbish dump of our history.

In its place must be a new set of policies that incentivise redressing the legacy of our past, rather than the malicious and cumbersome compliance to failed policies that we see today.

The best way to achieve broader participation in the economy, is to ensure that we nurture small business, improve access to financing, and incentivise diversity of ownership.

  1. We Need to Become a Nation of Employers and not just Employees

Ladies and gentlemen,

The engine room of our future economy must lie with small businesses.

We are an enterprising nation. Go into the townships of our country, and witness how people innovate to put food on the table. Go into the markets of informal traders and experience the willingness to work hard and to create new opportunities.

What we need is a government that ignites the potential in our country by equipping small businesses with the skills, support, and experience that will allow them to flourish.

Our education system must be reformed to include an entrepreneurial stream that will equip young people leaving school with the knowledge, skills, financial know-how and inspiration to start a small business.

We must partner with commercial banks to provide innovative and alternative funding options to entrepreneurs, backed by government.

We must declare small businesses tax-exempt in the early years of their establishment, and incubation facilities must be opened across the country in partnership with the private sector.

  1. The Rule of Law Must Prevail

My fellow South Africans, no economy can grow in a state of chaos and anarchy.

For any measure of economic success, we must achieve the rule of law in our country. Rampant levels of crime and a broken criminal justice system will always limit our economic potential.

The SAPS needs to be fixed, capacitated, modernised, and empowered to perform their work without political interference.

The NPA needs to upskill and resource its prosecutors, and our judicial system needs to operate with greater speed and professionalism.

Put simply, when a crime is committed, the criminal must face the full might of the law.

An essential part of this is the need to address corruption as another barrier to growth. As a country, we have lost faith in government, and internationally, we have squandered the good-will of the early years of our democracy. 

What we need is to send a strong message of intent. High-profile cases of corruption must be brought before the courts. Individuals found to be corrupt must be prosecuted and jailed without fear or favour.

I do not refer to a few cases to be sacrificed on the alters for political expediency and factionalism. I refer here to the king-pins and political mafia-figures behind the capture and looting of the state.

Further to enforcing the rule of law, is the need for more functional and secure borders in our country.

South Africa, like any other sovereign country, must control who and what enters through her borders.

We must be able to allow entry to those entitled in accordance with our laws, and deny entry to those who wish to take advantage of the vulnerability our government has created.

We must end the ease through which foreign criminal syndicates operate in our country. The ease with which drugs come through our borders, and the ease through which counterfeit goods all left to harm local businesses.

Having borders that are managed is one of the first requirements of any country, and ActionSA intends to make this central to our offering to South Africans.

Another area where the rule of law must be prioritised is the safety of the farming community in South Africa.

Agriculture is not just a strategic industry in our country’s economy; it fees this nation. If doctors or teachers were subject to such levels of criminality, we would probably act more decisively because we deem healthcare and education important functions in our society.

Why then, does same concern not extend to our farmers and farm-workers is beyond me?

Just like we need a policing strategy to address priority crimes like drug dealing, and gender-based violence, we need a policing strategy to protect the farming communities of our country.

  1. The Low Hanging Fruit that Need to be Plucked

South Africa’s economic potential reveals so many areas which offer the opportunity of short-term gains.

The Inner City Rejuvenation Project that my administration began in Johannesburg can be replicated in all major cities across South Africa.

Our inner cities are young compared to global standards, but, they have been allowed to turn into slums where hijacked buildings, and criminal syndicates thrive.

In Johannesburg alone, we were able to hand over more than 154 of these buildings to the private sector, with plans to generate R32 billion in investment, thereby creating 12 000 construction sector jobs, and offering affordable housing to those needing a minimum of 3 taxis in commute to seek work.

Imagine the possibilities of replicating this across the cities and towns across our country!

Similarly, having grown up in the rural village of Hammanskraal, north of Pretoria, industrial areas like Babelegi, Ga-Rankuwa, Mogwase, QwaQwa, Seshego and many others meant that the majority of people who did not work, were those who did not want to work.

Hundreds of these factory facilities lie empty today, while the communities around them have unemployment figures approaching 70%, and our manufacturing industry is in sharp decline.

This is why ActionSA, has initiated a project with one of our country’s leading universities to understand how these facilities can be made available to the private sector so they can be repurposed and redeveloped.

Numerous international case studies have shown how abandoned industrial facilities and infrastructure can be recommissioned under new ownership, given the right conditions, or alternatively converted into mixed-use developments that include affordable housing.

South Africa has many similar examples where opportunities, just like those factories, lie empty awaiting the simplest actions to generate job-creating activity.

  1. Uncompromising Execution of Economic Policy

It is important to note that the greatest issue impacting South Africa’s economic growth does not lie with policy, but rather with implementation, where words do not translate into Action.

Furthermore, we must put great effort to professionalise the civil service and effectively execute a plan where their mandate does not get confused by political flip-flopping.

The very best minds in our country need to be brought in to implement economic policy, and they need to be given the full and unequivocal mandate to do what is necessary to succeed.

Political leadership must provide the support needed for implementation, or, simply get out of the way.

  1. A Future Where Opportunity and Hope Prevail

ActionSA exists to provide a new alternative to a country that now feels hopeless.

There is no denying that we are fast approaching a cross-rods in our country.  We can no longer afford to continue down the path of failed policy implementation and broken promises.

Above all, South Africans need to choose their future government, based on sound economic plans, backed by their credibility to implement them.

ActionSA sees this as its most important offering to the South African people.

We will Act as One for the unemployed youth looking for work.

We will Act as One for the small business owner who survives in spite of government, and not because of it.

We will Act as One for the employed person who wants to advance through sheer hard work and determination.

We will Act as One for the families of our country who desperately need to see parents and other family members going to work each day.

We will Act as One for the school leavers who need a future of hope and an enabling environment so they can live out their ambitions.

We will Act as One for a shared future where every South African can, through education, hard-work and relevant skills, have the dignity that comes with the ability to provide for their families and thrive.

Thank you.