Note to Editors: The following speech was delivered by the DA Parliamentary Leader, Mmusi Maimane MP, during a Joint Sitting of Parliament to debate Freedom Day, under the theme ‘Consolidation of our Freedom Through Accelerating Radical Economic Transformation’.
Twenty one years ago, our nation woke up to a day filled with hope and optimism when almost 20 million citizens voted for freedom, and a democratic, inclusive South Africa.
They voted for the dream of the rainbow nation, and a country free from oppression.
We can be proud of what we have achieved over the past 21 years.
We must celebrate that legalised racism, sexism and homophobia are a thing of the past.
We are a nation today that can choose who to marry regardless of the colour of their skin or their gender.
We still have much to overcome as a nation with a difficult past, but we continue to fight for an inclusive society.
We believe in the values contained in our Constitution and the freedoms that it guarantees.
I take great hope from what I see in our cities, where young people from diverse backgrounds socialise together in a way that their parents never could.
Walking the streets of Johannesburg, Cape Town and Nelson Mandela Bay shows me that the dream of President Nelson Mandela is alive and well.
But as we take stock of where South Africa finds its today, we must be honest with ourselves.
Our democracy has come of age this year, we are far from realising the potential of our freedoms.
This government has steered away from constitutional provisions that serve as the bedrock of our democracy.
When the President was faced with the possibility of questions he would rather not answer during his State of the Nation Address, the Executive deployed signal jamming devices to limit freedom of communication.
And when opposition voices would not be silenced, the Speaker had an entire caucus removed from this House, limiting their freedom of political association and their freedom of expression.
Institutions designed to protect our democracy, like the Public Protector, the Hawks and the IEC, are falling apart.
In the face of actions like these, the optimism we felt in the first decade of our democracy has been replaced by a feeling that our country is no longer headed in the right direction.
These actions stem from a government that knows that it has failed us and not delivered on the promise of a free South Africa.
As we consider our freedom today, we must ask ourselves what freedom means when we continue to suffer from widespread inequality and joblessness.
We have to acknowledge that to many South Africans, freedom means nothing without opportunity.
We are not yet free, we have only achieved the freedom to be free.
We also have to acknowledge that economic inequality is still a matter of race.
As long as the colour of our skin continues to determine our potential in the present, we will not be able to enjoy the freedoms contained in our Constitution.
The point is that our people need freedom they can use.
Freedom is about more than a Constitution based on a universal Bill of Rights.
Freedom is when every child growing up in Soweto has the same chance of success in life as a child growing up in Houghton.
Madam Speaker, we have made great strides since the days of apartheid. But I think we must hold oursleves to a much higher standard than that.
The society we all want to build is so far away from this.
Our economy is growing at just 2%. At this rate we can make no meaningful dent in our unemployment figures.
Unemployment in South Africa stands at 36.1%.
Of those who are unemployed, 66.2% are young people.
Since President Zuma came into office, 1.4 million more South Africans are without jobs.
Freedom means nothing to youth who are without work and the chance for a successful life.
We need to tackle this problem by empowering young people with the skills they need to become employed, while also growing the number of job opportunities available to them.
Every year our government focuses on matric pass rates while ignoring the quality of education they provide. Unemployment and inferior education go hand in hand, and must be tackled together.
On the most basic level we need to ramp up investment in well-equipped schools with adequate learning materials, textbooks and dedicated teachers that can prepare children for their life after school.
In order to become a growing, world-class economy we need to focus on raising adult literacy and improving pass rates in critical subjects such as mathematics and physical science.
Teachers must be subjected to competency testing, and learners must write regular literacy and numeracy tests.
As it stands, our education system is failing our children, with less than 30% of matriculants last year achieving the results necessary to enrol for university.
Those who do manage to gain access to university have to struggle to find funding. That is why the DA would gradually increase the funding to NSFAS to R16 billion, so that no student who has the ability to learn is prevented from doing so.
And we would start a government internship program to give young people the chance to get a work experience to increase their chance of getting a job.
It is the duty of every generation to ensure that its children are better off than they are. Freedom is never completely won, but is fought for in each generation.
But we must acknowledge here today, Madam Speaker, that the government is failing in this duty.
This government is failing in its duty to provide solid leadership on the economy.
Instead of making easier and cheaper to start a business, it is strangling entrepreneurs in red tape and government inefficiency
Instead of reforming BEE to make it truly broad based, it does exactly the opposite, reinforcing everything that every South African knows about the ANC’s BEE – that it creates billionaires, but no jobs, and no real empowerment.
Instead of investing in infrastructure that our economy needs to grow, it continuously underspends its infrastructure budgets
Instead of holding teachers accountable for their performance, or even their attendance, this government has allowed education standards to fall to among the lowest in the world
And of course, instead of fulfilling its basic mandate of providing electricity for the economy to run, for factories to run, this ANC government has brought the economy to its knees.
This government’s inability to create an enabling environment for growth and jobs has left the door open for populists who pretend that tearing down statues will help our children’s future.
The same people who preach outdated economomic policies that have failed everywhere they have been implemented.
The time has come for us to realise freedom that everyone in our country can use.
And it can only come about through a growing economy that creates jobs.
South Africa has the potential to be a leader among the emerging economies of the world, but this requires sound polices that focus on growth.
The DA would like to stimulate our economy by cutting unnecessary red tape and encourage small businesses to grow.
We must become a nation of entrepreneurs who seize opportunities to build sustainable businesses that can create real jobs.
Access to capital is one of the biggest hurdles to entrepreneurs but addressing it has the potential to create hundreds of thousands of jobs. And so we need a National Venture Capital Fund to provide start-up funding for early-stage businesses.
We have to break down the Berlin wall that separates those who are included in the economy, and those who are not.
We must restore investor confidence in our economy instead of driving investment away through foreign land ownership regulations and xenophobic violence.
And we must ensure that the building blocks for economic progress – like a reliable electricity supply and access to broadband internet – are not run into the ground by ineffective state monopolies.
The Eskom monopoly has to be broken as a matter of urgency, and more money invested in renewable energy in partnership with independent power producers.
The fall of Apartheid saw the beginning of a new era of freedom in South Africa.
But we are not yet free. Because freedom means nothing without opportunity.
If we want our children to share in the fruits of freedom and democracy, then we need to fight so that they will have the opportunities to live a life they value.
But we can and we will win this fight, one generation at a time, of that I am sure.
Our second democratic transition will be a shift of power from one party to the next, without violence or intimidation, but through the earned freedom of a democratic vote.
That party will deliver on the nation we we dreamed of 21 years ago.
In building a non-racial society we are stronger together than when we are divided.
That party will see South Africa regain its rightful place as a beacon of freedom to the world.
Let freedom reign in this great land.
I thank you.
Speech by Mmusi Maimane, Mmusi Maimane is the Deputy Federal Chairperson of the Democratic Alliance and Parliamentary Leader of the Democratic Alliance