The Orange Farm Human Rights Advice Center and the Justice and Peace Ministry of the Catholic Church hosted a seminar on Sunday, 3 March 2019 to engage ordinary community members on President Ramaphosa’s 2019 State of the Nation address and the Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s National Budget speech.
The State of the Nation Address in recent times has been characterized by a fanfare for politicians to show off their fashion sense on the parliament’s red carpet and not their regard for the people of South Africa. Introduction and welcome for the seminar was provided by Bricks Mokolo (a paralegal of the Orange Farm Human Rights Advice Center) who voiced out that there are no platforms for ordinary citizens to respond to the statements made by the President on the State of the Nation Address nor is there room for ordinary South Africans to contribute to the budget speech. This is farther complicated by the fact that all these addresses are presented in English which is exclusionary given the nature of the issues being addressed.
On the panel were Makoma Lekalakala and Dr. Dale McKinley who unpacked issues related to economic justice, retrenchments, load shedding and the unbundling of Eskom among other issues. It doesn’t matter if you get a pension grant increase if the cost of living continues to rise. According to Dr. McKinley, the foundation of the economic system of our country has not been touched since 1994 and that is the fundamental problem.
“The President and the Finance Minister are dishonest, South Africa has been in a downwards growth rate trajectory for the past 20 years. Every day the country borrows 1, 2 billion rands. We need to have serious discussions about what is the real reason the South African economy is not growing”. Dr. Dale McKinley
Makoma Lekalakala shed more light on the environmental impact of Eskom and stated that the construction of Kusile and Medupi power stations was done against the will of the people and now South Africans are made to pay for the mess that was created without their consultation. We have been calling for Independent power producers in the anti-privatization forums and the response instead has been load shedding which is a form of blackmail to get people to forget the real issues behind Eskom’s challenges – she said.
[“Load shedding is a form of blackmail to get people to forget the real issues behind Eskom’s challenges”. Makoma Lekalakala]
Community members raised the following concerns:
- The community decried that government should ideally have a state of the wards and state of the provinces before the SONA.
- Government is not interested in supporting local businesses and entrepreneurs. There are cooperatives in our community who have knowledge of producing biodiesel from Moringa; we have painstakingly been trying to get the government to support us to make our own biodiesel instead of going to other countries. When we approach government officials, they disregard our knowledge and skills. They will only pay attention if you have long nails, long hair and speak in English. We have indigenous knowledge that we would like to pass on to the next generation – said Mme Esther.
- People are being told that they have illegally occupied the land and therefore the land is being sold whilst people have occupied the places for over 20 years.
- Politicians are notorious for not responding to requests to come and engage communities. The only time they are seen is during elections when they come and make countless promises.
- Corporate tax has decreased from 36% to 26% while widows (who are professionals such as teachers and nurses) are taxed from the benefits of their late husbands. They forget that we take care of our children and members of our extended families- said anonymous. Administrators of the workers funds do not consult us as government workers with regards to our unpaid benefits. They invest our monies as they wish and loot from the profits. Greed has tripled in the past 15 years.
- There was a plea for communities to make it their business to know their IDP’s (Integrated Development Plan)
The gathering was the first of its kind and the community hopes to have many more seminars that will encourage people to be active participants in our democracy. Participation is our key strength and we need to acquire knowledge regarding what affects us. It is in our constitution that the people must govern.
By: Zandile Mashaba
Project Coordinator: Citizen Justice Network