The following remarks were delivered by DA Leader, Mmusi Maimane, at a Freedom Day celebration in Soshanguve in Tshwane on Friday.
Fellow South Africans
We call today Freedom Day because on this day, 24 years ago, we set off on a road that was going to deliver freedom for all our people. On that day almost 20 million South Africans visited voting stations to have their say in our first democratically elected government. They voted freely, but they were not free yet.
As Nelson Mandela remarked in 1995, on the one-year anniversary of our first election: “The ultimate goal of a better life has yet to be realised”. He knew that the symbolic freedom of the vote would have to be followed by the true freedom that comes with economic inclusion.
Which brings me to this venue. The reason we’re celebrating Freedom Day here at the Thorntree housing development in Soshanguve is because this is what the beginning of real freedom looks like. Owning a house like this, with full title deed, is a big step down the road towards independence.
Property ownership is about much more than simply having a roof over your head. It’s about building an investment in your future, and the future of your family.
When your name is on the title deed to that home, it means that you can unlock capital to realise your dreams. You can start a business. You can borrow money from a bank without being punished with the high interest rates charged by short-term lenders.
Owning your own home also means that you can improve your investment. You can take pride in turning it into exactly the house you want, knowing that every little upgrade you do will make it worth more to you.
But there’s another important reason why owning your own home is so important. We often hear about the disadvantage that young black South Africans have when starting out in life, but we don’t always talk about what that means. So let me explain one aspect to you here: the idea of an inheritance.
Even if all opportunities in our society are equal, most young black South Africans start off on the back foot because they have to start building a life from scratch. They will not receive the financial kick-start that many white South Africans get through inheritance.
And I’m not talking about millions of Rands. I’m talking about the kind of security that ownership of a house like this can provide.
If we want to break the cycle of poverty that still entraps so many black people in South Africa, then we have to start building the cycle of ownership. And the best way to do this is by turning people into home-owners.
At the stroke of a pen, poor people’s lives can be transformed across many generations. That’s real freedom.
Now I know the issue of land expropriation is a hot topic right now. Our opponents can’t stop talking about it, and it is clear that this is going to be their election campaign for the next year.
They claim to be talking for all South Africans when they say that land expropriation without compensation is the path to freedom for poor South Africans. But if we’re going to talk about the issue of land and home ownership on this Freedom Day, then we have to ask ourselves: Whose freedom exactly?
Expropriating land so that the state can own it and lease it out to the poor won’t empower anyone. Yet this is the plan that is being offered as a solution to our country’s inequality.
But that’s not freedom. Living in your house or on your farm as a tenant of the state is just another way to keep people trapped in poverty.
True freedom is individual freedom. It’s when every man, woman and child is individually empowered to live life the way they choose. The state can’t be empowered on your behalf.
That’s why the DA believes in real land reform, where the ultimate goal is for South Africans to own their homes and their land, and where their right to own their property is not threatened by government.
And we’re the only party committed to this. We get insulted and threatened for not going along with the ANC and the EFF’s idea of land expropriation. But theirs is a terrible idea that will do nothing for the individual freedom of poor black South Africans.
The DA wants you to own your home or the land you farm on. We want this to be your weapon against poverty. We want you to improve and grow this investment. We want you to be able to one day sell it and make a profit, if that’s what you choose. And we want you to be able to pass it on to your children.
That’s why the DA leads the way when it comes to giving people ownership of their homes. Since 2016, our governments here in Tshwane and in Johannesburg have already handed over almost 10,000 title deeds. In the Western Cape we have handed over more than 90,000 title deeds since 2009.
We believe property ownership is your foot in the door. It’s your first step towards financial freedom and independence.
Fellow South Africans,
We’ve come a long way since the 27th of April 1994. We’ve made a lot of progress in this country, but in some ways we’ve also lost a lot of ground.
Many of the promises made back then seem further away today than ever before. More of our people live in poverty than ever before. More of our people can’t find jobs than ever before. More of our people have given up on the promise of freedom.
This has led to much anger and frustration, which we see spill onto the streets of our nation almost daily. But it has also led to a new wave of blame and scapegoating for the troubles in our society.
Lately we’ve seen many people try to re-write large parts of our history in an attempt to excuse their failure to help millions of South Africans secure their freedom. This blame is directed at struggle heroes, at brave journalists, at the TRC and even at our Constitution. Anything to distract and deflect from the real issues.
The other day someone tried to insult me on Twitter by calling me a junior Mandela sell-out. At what point did Mandela become an insult? At what point did reconciliation become less desirable than retribution?
We are told today that Section 25 of our Constitution – the part that protects property rights – must be rewritten. As if expropriating property without compensation and giving it to the state will solve any of the issues faced by poor, landless South Africans. It won’t, of course, but it will serve to distract and deflect from the things that kept these people poor and landless.
I have often wondered what our alternative path would have looked like if we hadn’t followed Mandela’s efforts to build a united, peaceful nation. Would our economy have ended up like Chavez’s Venezuela? Would we have ended up like Mugabe’s Zimbabwe? Would we have descended into civil war? We avoided these outcomes because we chose, back then, to build one South Africa for all.
Today, our country is again in need of healing. Again, we are faced with the choice of dividing our people or uniting them. Of dwelling on the past and opening up old wounds, or looking to the future and building a shared tomorrow.
And again, we simply must make the correct choice. We must pursue – and we must evangelise – the cause of true freedom. And we must turn our backs on those who keep us locked in battle with one another.
Because that is what liberation movements are – and we have seen this all over the continent – they exist to keep nations in constant struggle. They have to keep fighting enemies, and so they have to keep inventing new ones. Even if that means rewriting history and tarnishing the names of heroes.
But, fellow South Africans, while we must reject the divisive talk and blame games of the liberation movement, this doesn’t mean we can ignore the legacy of centuries of colonial and apartheid oppression.
Ours is still a deeply unjust and unequal society. And ours is still a society infected with racism and prejudice. It must be our focus to heal our country, both economically and socially. And the only way we will do so is together.
We need to rebuild our economy to include those who have been left out.
We need to resolve the land issue within the framework of our Constitution.
We need to fix our broken basic education system so that our children are not left behind.
And we need to entrust our people with the capital required to progress in life – both the physical capital of home, land and business ownership, as well as the social capital that so many white South Africans use to get ahead, but that is still denied so many black South Africans.
I mentioned this earlier when I spoke of building an inheritance. But this entrenched social capital goes beyond what you own. It is what and who you know too.
My wife and I appeared to have started off in similar places in life, but in reality there was a marked difference between us. She was all but guaranteed university entrance, she knew all the right schools, she could start a business if she wanted to thanks to a network of people willing and able to assist her financially and through advice.
For many white South Africans, this is the case. They have the benefit of a head start purely through the knowledge their social network carries. And I say this not to make white South Africans feel guilty about it, but to point out where we need to get to for our black sisters and brothers too.
Black South Africans aren’t poor because they are black. They are poor because they are still enslaved by a system that keeps them poor. A system that denies them their freedom every day.
This system is no longer apartheid or colonialism. This system is a set of policies, written and implemented by the ANC government, that has failed our country in every possible way. And yet we keep on banging our heads against that same wall.
It doesn’t matter who leads this ANC government if he’s going to remain committed to the policies that paralyze our economy and protect the insiders at the expense of the outsiders.
It doesn’t matter how much our media fawn over our new president if he still sticks to an economic plan that has seen our industrial output stagnate for more than a decade.
It doesn’t matter how much more presentable he is than Jacob Zuma if he is not prepared to make the structural changes to our economy that will allow the millions of outsiders a foot in the door.
We don’t need a more palatable ANC. We need a whole new start with an entirely new set of policies that can unlock the potential of this country.
There’s only one party with such a set of policies and that’s the DA.
There’s only one party committed to building a united nation with a shared future for all.
There’s only one party that wants to make real home-owners of millions of South Africans.
There’s only one party fighting for true freedom for all our people.
And I assure you, my fellow South Africans, it is a fight the DA will ultimately win.