SOPA Debate: The people before politicians

Roy Jankielsohn MPL

Leader of the Official Opposition in the Free State Provincial Legislature

Note: This is an extract of a speech delivered by the Leader of the Official Opposition, Roy Jankielsohn, during the State of the Province debate in the Free State Provincial Legislature. 

Honourable Speaker,

The Premier could not resist the temptation at the start of his state of the province address by mentioning that the ANC had retained its 22 seats in the legislature. What the Premier failed to indicate is that the ANC shed 118 618 votes in the Free State over a decade between 2004 and 2014.

The DA in the Free State has grown significantly over the past three provincial elections. In 2004 the DA received 85 714 votes, in 2009 the party obtained 119 844 votes, and in 2014 grew to 164 627 votes. This is a growth of 44 828 votes between 2009 and 2014 and 78 958 in the decade between 2004 and 2014. The DA is the only party in the Free State that continues to grow significantly.

Speaker, the DA acknowledges the advancements made in the Free State and the country since 1994 to restore the dignity of our people. However, we must also be honest by acknowledging that the living circumstances and economic prosperity of our people have deteriorated significantly over the past five years.

Poverty, inequality and unemployment in the Free State have reached critical levels, while both service delivery as well as a commitment by ANC leaders to improve this situation has deteriorated.

Recently Premier Helen Zille emphasised that the core difference between the DA and the ANC is that the DA follows a “leaders eats last” approach to politics, while the ANC follows a “it is our turn to eat” approach to politics. Our people on the ground experience this every day under ANC leadership.

Although we are tempted to think it is only about food, the “it is our turn to eat” approach has become the primary method of conducting politics both within the ANC and where the ANC is in government. ANC factions deploy their cadres into lucrative positions that give them access to inflated salaries, control over tender processes, and networks of an upward and downward patronage. Patronage allows the ANC elite and their cronies to exercise control and remain in power. The Premier boasted at the beginning of the year that about one million people in the Free State are dependent on various forms of social grants. Dependency and patronage are politically symbiotic in nature.

While we support the use of social grants as a safety net for the most vulnerable people in our society, within an ANC context it is a tool to control and intimidate people, especially during elections. People are misled during election campaigns with threats that they will lose their grants, their houses, and even their jobs if they do not vote for the ANC. Patronage and dependency are tools of subversion in the hands of ANC politicians.

The ANC is becoming that which it was established to fight against. The Constitution of our country has become a stumbling block for hordes of ANC cadres whose sole desire and purpose in politics is to get their trotters in the trough.

This intense hunger for power and material resources override all historical ethical and moral boundaries which form the basis for the social contract between a government and the people. The resources of this country, especially our dwindling tax base, have become the main targets of a feeding frenzy among ANC cadres who only want their turn to eat.

At a recent legislature workshop we were told by ANC MPL’s that our country’s democracy, and in effect the constitution, is not working for them because it gives opposition parties equal rights to the majority party. What they were in fact confirming is that they regard the constitution as a barrier to accessing the feeding trough. In the process, the interests of the real majority, the people, are being sacrificed to feed the insatiable greed of a governing minority faction who believe with maniacal conviction that it is their turn to eat. Not a constitution, not any other law, nor any historical obligation, and no moral boundaries will prevent their trotters from reaching the feeding trough.

Speaker, allow me give some examples of how this “it is our turn to eat” frenzy affects our people in the Free State:

The DA repeatedly warned the Premier of the looming health crisis in the Free State. This year our health care facilities are themselves requiring intensive care, and the Premier re-appointed the same controversial MEC Malakoane to deal with this critical portfolio. The Premier should have learnt from Matjhabeng, when the MEC was the municipal manager, that his “it is my turn to eat” approach is what has also destroyed our Department of Health.

Let me give an example. Last weekend a patient with close links to national and provincial ANC leaders was given preferential treatment at Dihlabeng Regional Hospital. Although the patient was assessed as not qualifying for ICU, instructions were given by the MEC that he should be admitted. Similar patients are normally cared for at primary hospitals. At the time ICU beds were full, and even a heart attack and burns patients could not get beds in ICU.?Staff were instructed to open an ICU bed for the well-connected patient because the MEC had promised the family members that the patient would go to ICU. This again proves that if you have influential friends in government, you eat first.

While the ANC governing faction are eating, normal people are unable to obtain critical surgery, medicine and even food at our provincial health facilities.

Speaker, our local governments whose most basic job is to supply water, electricity, sewerage and other services are failing residents. The recent General Household Survey showed that 17.3% of the Free State’s population consider the piped water they receive as unfit for human consumption. The province’s water infrastructure is in decay and almost half of all piped water is lost due to leakages. But, mayors buy luxury vehicles and employ body guards instead of delivering basic services to residents. In Maluti-a-Phofung municipality Eskom has again threatened to cut off electricity supply if their account is not settled. Many residents pay the municipality for electricity, but this money is not used to pay Eskom, which is blatant fraud.

We hope that the R230 million allocated to the province to eradicate the bucket system will be utilised to improve sanitation as a matter of urgency. More than 220 000 people in the province do not have access to suitable sanitation and 7.7% of the population are still forced to make use of the bucket system.

Many municipalities across the Free State are riddled with corruption, financial mismanagement, and incompetence while struggling to deliver on their constitutional mandates. In most instances the ANC leaders governing our municipalities eat first and the people eat last.

The current unemployment rate in the province is at 39.9% (expanded definition). This means that out of a total possible workforce population of 1.25 million, 496 000 people are unable to find jobs. Youth unemployment in the Free State is currently at 48.2%, the highest in the country. The people of the Free State are now among the poorest and most dependent in the country. The provincial government is failing to create an environment for investment and opportunities for our people.

The Premier indicated in his address that his government has a target to procure 75% of goods and services from South African producers. The DA would like to see a “Free State First” policy that gives local suppliers preference over national suppliers. Currently a few suppliers have a monopoly over the most lucrative contracts to supply goods and services to the provincial government, unfortunately for our people many of them are from outside of the province. Local businesses are closing shop and local jobs are lost because of this.

The removal of companies with links to officials is a good step, but we still see friends of senior politicians getting lucrative contracts with the provincial government.

Last year the Premier indicated that factories at Thaba Nchu and Botshabelo would be revived by the end of 2013. At the time I requested details about who was going to invest in these factories. These factories remain redundant and the majority of people in Thaba Nchu and Botshabelo remain unemployed.

This year the Premier again made the same promises, this time the focus is on factories in QwaQwa. The Premier appears to tell people what he thinks they want to hear and then hope that they will forget about this by the end of the year. He merely shifts the same story from one place to the next.

The Premier mentioned tourism as a way of boosting our local economy. I would like to ask him what has happened to the Philip Saunders Resort and Conference Centre that cost the province more than R150 million. At one stage his friends from the President Hotel were going to manage this resort and conference centre. The same applies to the Vredefort Dome complex that was built and is currently another white elephant. The impression that we get is that these costly projects were only implemented so that someone’s cronies could eat.

Last year a request was sent to the Premier for the Provincial Government to sponsor an important conference in Bloemfontein. The organisers were informed that sponsorship would be subject to them using the President Hotel. Being people of principle they declined this offer.

Agricultural projects are as controversial. The Xariep fish hatchery has not seen a single fish, The Vrede Dairy Project is clearly another way of enabling some people to eat, and we are not talking about cheese.

The shady cattle deals at the Hlasela flagship project at Diyatalawa cast a huge shadow over the motives for this project and remain a source of controversy among beneficiaries on the ground.

Speaker, many of our MECs are, or have been, subjects of controversy. The Premier appears to appoint such people because the governing ANC faction in the Free State needs people who can be trusted to cover each other’s backs while they take turns to eat.

Premier Magashule must announce that the provincial government’s illegal and irregular contracts with Letlaka Communications will be cancelled and those implicated in the scandal are brought to book.

The people of the Free State require increased transparency and accountability from government. Accessing information from the provincial government is an impossible task. Information of government programmes, internal investigations, and other information on government activities must be made public.

The DA in the legislature remains committed to the people of the Free State and will support any measures that will improve the lives and livelihoods of our people. As our economy heads towards a possible recession, the people of the Free State require selfless leaders whose sole purpose is to improve their lives.

We know that only a “leaders eat last” approach will achieve this.