DA leader Mmusi Maimane . Picture: THE TIMES/ALON SKUY
DA leader Mmusi Maimane . Picture: THE TIMES/ALON SKUY

When the president delivers his state of the nation address on Thursday evening, bear in mind the ANC is in charge, not Cyril Ramaphosa. The actual state of our nation and the direction in which it will be headed under continued ANC governance will be buried in the inevitable fluff of political rhetoric and positive spin.

It is therefore worth being clear beforehand about what we need the president to say. And to understand that the reason he probably won’t say it is because his party will not allow him to bring the change SA needs.

We need to hear clear solutions to the three greatest risks facing our nation: unnaturally high unemployment, endemic corruption and a near-bankrupt state. The next five years represents a crossroads for our nation. Much depends on how we address these three challenges.

There is a real chance that SA will take Zimbabwe’s path to economic ruin and de facto dictatorship. But there is also still a real chance that we can get back onto Nelson Mandela’s path to broad prosperity within a robust democracy, because implementable solutions exist for all three of our major risks.

Unemployment is the greatest risk of all. It is the main cause of poverty and inequality in SA. Broad unemployment is 37% and youth unemployment a staggering 52% — the highest in the world. Shockingly, about 40% of SA households have no job at all — no-one in full-time employment.

The only thing capable of creating work for SA’s 9.8-million jobless adults is private enterprise, most of which will need to be small business activity. So we need a government committed to creating fertile conditions for entrepreneurs and investors; a government that looks on those who start and grow businesses as heroes, not “exploiters”.

This requires real reform to the cumbersome labour legislation that is currently the ANC’s wall between insiders and outsiders. Low as it is, our national minimum wage is set at 80% of the median SA wage, a higher percentage than for most Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries. It may protect the “insiders” who keep their jobs, but it makes it harder for businesses to create jobs and harder still for young people to enter the job market.

The jobs summit Ramaphosa promised in the 2018 address turned out to be little more than a talk-shop. It did not produce a single reform to stem our rising tide of unemployment.

The government’s hostile attitude towards investors was on full display this week when it responded negatively to a letter from five of SA’s big trading partners warning against corruption. Those five countries account for 57% of foreign direct investment in SA. If they were to pull out of the country, it would put between 1.5-million and 2.3-million jobs at risk.

Corruption is our second major challenge, not only because it discourages investment and thus reduces job creation and tax revenue, but because what little tax revenue is collected is being diverted from development to crony enrichment.

The most effective way to fight corruption is to start at the top: thoroughly investigate those in Ramaphosa’s cabinet and in his party’s national executive committee, including himself, who have been implicated in corruption. Ramaphosa must commit to a full Bosasa investigation, and to using our criminal justice system to achieve prosecutions and arrests.

Finally, the president must acknowledge that his government’s diabolical management of our state-owned enterprises lies at the heart of our fiscal crisis. Most critically, Eskom must be unbundled and its costs drastically cut. Eskom’s demand for massive electricity price increases over the next three years (17.1%, 15.4% and 15.5% respectively, an effective 56% increase) must be decisively rejected.

Anglo American has warned that should these increases be approved, it will have to cut more than 150,000 jobs to be able to pay its electricity bills. Businesses large and small across the country will find themselves similarly constrained.

I love this country and genuinely hope Ramaphosa will commit to all this and more in his address. But I doubt he will, because the ANC won’t let him. SA needs real change, and if the ANC government cannot bring it, voters must do so by changing governments in this year’s election.

My party, the DA, is by no means perfect. But where we govern, we strive to run clean, financially sustainable governments that promote job creation. More than half of all jobs created in SA in the past year were created in the DA-run Western Cape (95,000 out of 188,000). In the few instances where we get things wrong, we don’t try to hide it — we take action to fix it. I believe our approach can put a job in every home. A vote for the DA is the surest way to strengthen democracy and open opportunities to all.

• Maimane is DA leader.