Note to editors: The following remarks were delivered by Helen Zille during the DA’s petition drive in Mitchell’s Plain this morning. Zille was joined by DA Women’s Network Interim Leader, Denise Robinson, and National Spokesperson, Phumzile van Damme. Hundreds of DA activists came out to encourage the community to sign a petition to blacklist child maintenance defaulters.
On this Worker’s Day I want to speak to you about something that plays a huge role in the chances of your children finding work and escaping poverty one day.
Lately we’ve been hearing a lot of talk about transformation. For weeks, all we saw on the news was protests about statues. We were told that the statues must go so that we can transform our society.
But it is time for us to speak honestly about what transformation really means. It’s time to speak about the real reasons for poverty and what prevents people from getting themselves out of poverty.
Real transformation is not removing a statue. It’s not changing a street name. It’s not making a millionaire even richer through BEE deals. It’s not giving jobs and tenders to the friends and families of politicians.
That’s what the ANC calls transformation. But none of that is going to transform society. None of that is going to help anyone get out of poverty. None of that is going to change a thing in your lives, or the lives of your children.
Real transformation is when communities that were once without hope, start believing in the future again. Real transformation is when a child born here in Mitchell’s Plain has the same chance at success in life as a child born down the road in Rondebosch.
Real transformation will only happen when we can be honest about the things that prevent this from happening.
And what are these things?
Quality education is one. Access to jobs is another. Living conditions, land ownership, basic service delivery – these are also things that stand in the way of transformation. And these are things that the DA in the Western Cape is working very hard to improve in all communities.
But the most basic and important of all the things that determine a child’s chances at success in life is not something that the government provides. It is the way in which parents take responsibility for raising their children.
More than anything else, this is what puts a child on his or her path in life.
All the research shows that when a teenager has a child, both the mother and the child are likely to be trapped in poverty permanently. The same thing often happens when a parent abandons a child and refuses to pay the maintenance due.
If we want to talk about real transformation out of poverty, this is where we should start.
The ANC government doesn’t want to do this, because it is hard. It’s so much easier to fight for side-shows like statues than it is to get people to take responsibility for their children.
No one can make a parent stick around if he or she doesn’t want to. But the law can make them share the cost of raising the child. The law says you cannot make a baby, and then walk away with no further responsibility.
Almost half of all fathers in South Africa play no part in raising their children. These are fathers who are alive, but choose to walk away, and this number is going up every year. Already, nine million children in South Africa grow up with a living parent who is absent.
So if we have these laws, why do so many men do this? And I say “men”, because the overwhelming majority are men, although women are often also guilty.
They walk away because they can. They walk away because the maintenance courts have no real teeth. They walk away because they know they will always get away with not paying child maintenance, no matter what the law says.
The DA has been working very hard to change the way these laws work so that single parents can get their payments every month. At the end of last year we scored a major victory by getting the Maintenance Act changed so that parents who don’t pay could get blacklisted.
The change to the Act said that, if a court found that a parent wasn’t paying, he or she would be reported to the credit bureau and would be blacklisted. The same way you are blacklisted if you don’t make payments on your car or your fridge or your home loan.
At first, the ANC agreed with us on this change, but then they suddenly changed their minds. They decided that it was more important for people to access credit than to support their children.
In other words, they think that an absent father should first be able to pay for his lifestyle before he looks to paying for his child.
The ANC even tried to make it a race issue. They tried to tell us that this blacklisting law would unfairly target black men, which is clearly nonsense.
When this law was being written last year, the public was asked for comments. Many, many people and organisations came out in support of blacklisting parents who don’t pay. The only objection to the blacklisting clause came from none other than COSATU.
Remember, COSATU represents people who are employed – people who are able to, and should, support their children financially. So why on earth would they object to a law that sees children as no less important than cars, clothing accounts and appliances?
On this Workers’ Day, COSATU is no doubt out there championing the cause of workers across South Africa. Someone needs to tell them they need to champion the cause of these workers’ children too – the next generation of workers, if they’re lucky enough to find jobs.
Of course, being an involved parent is about more than giving money. It’s about loving and protecting your children. It’s about teaching them respect, honesty and responsibility. It’s about reading for them, helping them with their homework, taking an interest in their school, their friends, their relationships.
Real parents do these things, not because they have to, but because they want to. They want to see their children grow up with good values. They want to see their children live lives that are better than their own. They want to see their children pass these lessons and values on to their own children one day.
That’s what it means to be a parent.
But not all parents are like that. Some don’t want to be involved. Some see parenthood as a mistake. No one can change their views by force. But at least the law can make them share the financial responsibility, and this can make all the difference in a child’s life.
The ANC knows we’re not going to let this blacklisting law go away. They know they’ve got a fight on their hands. We will not rest until every absent parent either chooses to, or is forced by law, to take responsibility for their children.
We launched a petition last month to have the ANC’s decision overturned. When we get to 10 000 signatures, we will take this petition back to Parliament to show them exactly how communities feel about maintenance defaulters.
Please, if you feel the same, then sign this petition before leaving here today. This is something we cannot fight on our own. We need the support of each and every one of you.
If there’s one thing worth fighting for, then it is surely the future of our children.
Article by Helen Zille, Helen Zille is DA’s outgoing leader