Speech by Hon Buti Manamela, ANC MP, on the occasion of the debate on the State of the Nation Address

19 February 2013, National Assembly, Cape Town

Honourable President
Honourable Speaker
Honourable Members

Last week we listened attentively to a State of the Nation Address of a special type ever since the commencement of this fourth parliament. It was presented as both a government report-back on the five priorities, that is, education, health, job creation, rural development and safety and security; and included a set of actions to be implemented this year.

It came as no surprise that some in the house and other social and political commentators had no clue on how to respond to such a complex and rare State of the Nation Address. It was a government programme of action that was not premised on mere promises but gave hope where it seemed to be fading, and more importantly, a clarion call for collective action by all our people to build a better nation.

Yours was not an address clouded with fancy and flair quotations from renowned scholars but was one intended to communicate the needs, interests and aspirations of the Grade 12 learners that you consulted before our Valentine`s Day date.

We applaud you and the government for being frank about the challenges of unemployment, poverty and inequality without paying lip-service to these challenges. Our debate should be been premised on the tasks you outlined in a constructive manner with the aim of ensuring that parliament better does oversight on government`s implementation of this programme of action.

There are those who chose to deliberately miss the intention and relied on their template of feeble criticism, whilst others desperately tried to score cheap political points as we have seen over the weekend newspapers and the showmanship displayed here today. The response of the coalition on my left, which in our view does not honour the title of “official opposition”; was so weak that it even strengthened calls from afar that we need to change the opposition.

This is probably why in every election new political parties get formed in order to depose the existing so called official opposition. We hope that in after the next election we will be saved from such dull, uninformed and peripheral hogwash that we were tortured with today. Hopefully then, we will have a valuable debate that will yield solutions for our country and our people instead of the emptiness the so-called opposition reflects.

For example, the Honourable Lindiwe Mazibuko, in her blind charade in the Sunday newspapers, referred to the President as lame duck and beholden to power brokers in the ANC and its alliance partners. I am sure in her position, occupying the glorified post of `leader of opposition` when there are far better people in both her party and the opposition benches, would know what it means to be a lame duck as she has perfected that cliché by being one on a daily basis whilst Party Leader Helen Zille runs the show from the provincial legislature.

To deny that the SONA reflected with honesty the challenges faced by young people and further reported on action undertaken by this government for the last 18 years can only be the work of an opposition party that opposed for the sake of opposition. Honourable President, Honourable members, youth unemployment is a global crises and needs to be put in that context.

According to the ILO, more than 6 million young people have joined the long queue of the unemployed, and are neither in school nor in a training or skills institution. Countries such as Brazil, Russia, India and China are giving the same attention as our government to the crisis of youth unemployment.

Because of its global phenomena, our country had to deal with both internal and external drivers of youth unemployment. Typically, many nations have resorted to traditional measures such as imposed austerity, increased tariffs on import goods, stricter control of borders and over-subsidisation of their mainstream economic sectors.

As governments steamed ahead to save individual shareholders in the financial sector, our government was bold enough to increase public sector spending, halt retrenchments and introduce new schemes and incentives to encourage job-retention and job-creation. This has led to government saving millions of jobs and concentrating their efforts to create new ones to accommodate new entrants to the labour market.

This required boldness and determination in a period where there was none and as a result we are recognised as one of the few countries that will come out of the red in relation to young unemployment. Our economy, like other major economies, has not been creating new jobs, and this has affected millions of young people eager to join the labour market. There is no single solution for this crisis as proposed by the Hon members on the left.

To merely reduce youth unemployment to the demand-side will lead to quick-fix solutions and cheap politicking on the part of other political parties. To suggest that youth employment is stagnated by inflexible labour LAWS and high-wages at entry level is also a simplistic explanation of youth unemployment in our country and the world over. For instance, all that the Democratic Alliance was interested to hear was a pronouncement on the Youth Wage Subsidy.

Without this, for them there was no State of the Nation Address. To them, their very own proposal for youth employment creation is the only solution even if a young person rejects it.

They closed their eyes and ears to a plethora of interventions proposed through the State of the Nation Address. This is solely because of several reasons. Firstly, the DA believes that this is their initiative and your pronouncement of it would result in electoral success and a defeat of COSATU and the PYA. Secondly, the DA has been very economical where the truth matters on what their version of the Youth Wage Subsidy has achieved and the fact that what they propose is a world apart with what will be agreed to at the NEDLAC process through the Youth Employment Accord.

The reality is that their quick-fix solution has failed not only in the Western Cape but the world over. This crisis requires government and the private sector to invest resources to drive employment in the productive sector. Whatever the interventions and agreement that are ultimately reached, we have to take into cognisance the concerns raised in relation to the substitution and displacement effect of a youth wage subsidy.

The Youth Employment Accord which you referred to, Hon. President represents an integrated strategy to resolve youth unemployment in both the immediate and long-term. It identifies problems in both the supply and demand side of the labour market. It seeks to facilitate commitments by both the private and public sector in order for a collective effort to be realised in employment creation. It signals the end of single-minded solutions that are based on quick political gains.

The Accord regards young people not as victims but as actors in changing the trajectory of our economy.

A combination of programmes such as

  1. A youth employment incentive (such as the one that has been in place in the auto-industry for the last nine years and has saved thousands of jobs);
  2. support for youth SMME`s and co-operatives,
  3. the expansion of the community works programme through a youth brigade,
  4. public sector investments in fast growing industries,
  5. skills and training by both the private and public sector, and;
  6. `making education fashionable` by government and society in general.

These are some of the agreed template of interventions that will lead to higher youth employability.

As the ANC we believe the government`s initiative of a Youth Accord speaks to your call for unity, compromise and consensus by all in order to enable young people to be both employable and creators of jobs. As part of the “The Year of the Artisan” that is driven by the department of Higher Education & Training, this government need to urgently train thousands bricklayers, roofers, electricians, plumbers, bricklayers, welders, motor mechanics, painters, tillers, fitters &turners and panel-beaters in order to take advantage of the public sector infrastructure plans OR to support them as small SMMES and co-operatives.

The vocational component of FET colleges is an important platform to ensure that we produce these skills in their thousands. We call on young people who qualify to take advantage of the free education already being provided in FET colleges. According to the Minister of Higher Education and Training, no young person is required to pay when registering in an FET College if they can prove that they cannot afford. FET Colleges represents the skills future of this country and should never be regarded as low class qualification.

The private sector and state parastatals need to take advantage of government`s skills incentives to join in on the massive training project that is underway. This also means that government and the private sector has to join hands in revitalising the manufacturing sector and ensuring that young people are employees of choice.

Creating jobs for youth and supporting youth SMME/Co-operatives initiative means taking advantage the demand for cheaper but import-based goods such as mobile phones, laptops, tablets, decoders and million other goods that will create youth employment. There are more cars in South Africa that there are people in Swaziland but all of the cars on our roads are either imported or locally-assembled.

Is this not time we ask the question: Where is the South African car. The fact that since January there were more than 315 000 solar geysers installed in poverty stricken households shows potential of how new economies can yield more jobs and entrepreneurial or co-operative opportunities.

Public resources should be geared towards supporting such initiatives and driving the green economy towards local manufacturing, and thus creating millions of jobs. We also need to review our procurement policies to be bias towards youth SMME`s and co-operatives which will see young people creating jobs through the maintenance of public infrastructure, roads, pavements, recreational facilities and many other services.

One of the greatest challenges faced by young people is the cost of looking for a job. These costs include access to newspapers that publishes vacancies, preparing your CV, getting access to communication technology and the actual travel to a job. The Labour Centres of the Department of Labour must help connect young people with available jobs and help them to get these jobs.

Beyond the commitments made by business as part of the Youth Employment Accord, there is a need for active role playing in regard to youth employment creation. Business has to make tangible commitments and meet government halfway in its effort to create employment.

Hon President, there has been persistent calls for you to use the state of the nation to reassure business and restore their confidence and start investing in our economy.

This remains an important and integral part of governance and as part of building unity of all our social partners in action, it has to be done. However, we believe as the ANC that the people who need reassurance are the marginalised, the excluded, the impoverished, and the exploited youth who have never doubted the commitment of this government or ever lost confidence in it.

As you serve the last year of your first term as President, let it be for the teenager who have just passed their Grade 12 and hope to enter the university world, or for the young person who has just completed their FET studies and hope to be an artisan, or for a collective of young men and women who needs seed capital to start a small business or co-operative, or for a school drop-out who wants to re-enter the education system and complete their studies, or for the young graduate who has been taken from pillar to post looking for a job.

Young people out there are not expecting a hand-out from this government; they are expecting a hand-up. They look up to us to facilitate opportunities and link them with these opportunities in order to realise their full potential and build a better future. This is what the struggle for freedom was about. And if that can be achieved, no amount of vulgar from my peer here, Hon Mazibuko, will ever shake you or the ANC. Let it be done for the youth and let it be done before it is too late.

Thank you