Remarks by Ebrahim Patel, Minister of Trade, Industry and Competition during SONA debate, 17 February 2021.
Chairperson, Mr President, fellow South Africans
I pay tribute to Member of Parliament and passionate advocate of economic reconstruction, Thozama Mantashe, who sadly passed away from Covid, yet another victim of this cruel pandemic.
Honourable Members, you may not know Beverly Mhlabane, who lives in Benoni. She’s a poultry farmer, empowered by the Poultry Master Plan. She has 6 500 hens for her eggs business, which is expanding now into chicken meat. Her story is one of the many human faces behind the facts and figures presented in SONA.
Chairperson, SONA was jam-packed with the details of implementation. Let me step back from the detail to reflect on what it all means for the economic development strategy outlined by the President at the start of this Administration. Following the General Election in 2019, President Ramaphosa took to this podium to lay out our plan for the South African economy. It was based on a hard and critical look at our progress since the start of the democratic era.
While we had created jobs, too few had been for young people entering the job market, so youth unemployment had risen. While we had transformed parts of our economy, wealth remains concentrated in the hands of a few. And, while we had invested in infrastructure and brought services to many South Africans, more hospitals, bridges, schools and electricity needed for our growing population.
The President set out a Re-imagined Industrial Strategy in 2019; which recognised the areas in which the South African economy had lost pace, and laying out the plan for achieving greater, greener and more inclusive growth, with more jobs. Last year’s SONA provided the detailed commitments underpinning the new vision – the what, how and when of the strategy. But just a few weeks later, the Covid-virus reached our shores. The context changed dramatically.
First and foremost, it presented an enormous challenge to save lives. But it also caused a sharp decline in consumer and business confidence across the world, disruptions in supply-chains, which in turn compelled an urgent imperative to protect livelihoods in the face of the deepest global downturn in more than 50 years.
This is the new context. A cruel and painful one for many citizens and businesses. And yet, in spite of these most challenging of circumstances, SONA demonstrated that we have continued to make progress. The opposition may be willfully blind to this, but despite the unprecedented headwinds, we have remained steadfast, devoted to the task at hand, frank about the challenges and ever more committed to achieve our goals.
And, as a nation we showed our strength of character and our resilience. We showed what is possible. For while the pandemic has caused great hardship, it has also brought out the best of our industrial ingenuity and spirit, exactly as Shenge suggested yesterday: industry ramped up production of face-masks, expanded production of hand sanitiser for us and for supply to the rest of Africa and designed and manufactured 20 000 CPAP-ventilator machines.
A group of clinicians at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital said that: Many patients only survived because we had them at our disposal.” Honourable Members, Covid changed something important. The basic structure of South Africa’s economy (like much of the world’s) needs to be transformed from a 19th century exploitative, low wage, high carbon, extractive economy to a new economy that aligns local comparative strengths with the need to build inclusivity and resilience.
We can’t just hope to bounce back from the pandemic to the old normal – a bygone era that some of the members of the opposition appear to yearn for.
Because COVID19 has caused so much economic destruction it requires us to build back differently. As the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan put it: “We are determined not merely to return our economy to where it was before the coronavirus, but to forge a new economy in a new global reality.”
We are expanding our factories to excel in advanced and flexible manufacturing. Breaking with de-industrialisation pressures. Adding more locally manufactured components. That is why the detailed report-back to the nation on the Master Plan progress in the auto and clothing sectors is so important – plans developed and implemented with the full involvement of industrialists and workers. It build local capabilities, South African jobs and lays the platform for local suppliers.
All of this to strengthen resilience. Ukuqinisela.Veerkragtigheid. That is why the Opposition’s criticism of these industrialisation efforts is so wide of the mark: they simply don’t know what they are talking about. Progress is being made. Let me try to help them understand, with another example. We are strengthening the socio-economic impact of mining and beneficiate our minerals, to take advantage of our natural mineral wealth in a very different way – a truly strategic shift, breaking the patterns of the past.
Building new value chains from mines to market. That is why the Steel Master Plan approved last week by the industry that uses local iron-ore, the scrap metal price preference system and the export tax proposals; and the big increase in export last year of catalytic converters using South African platinum, are so important.
That is why Hon Shivambu’s claims on industrialisation, is so misinformed and misleading. Let’s bake bread, not slogans. Honourable Shivambu quotes noted Chinese thinker, Justin Lin, who I know. Some of the insights in a book that we co-edited, on African industrialisation, are being incorporated in our approach. We are growing our agricultural lands, and upskilling our people, so that as we address land reform, our farmers are able to feed themselves, fellow South Africans, and the world. That is why the progress with the poultry and sugar master plans were highlighted in SONA and why the 20% rise in agricultural exports last year, led by citrus sales, is so important.
We want to build a greener economy, with new products and industries. That’s why the President’s reference to the South African-built hybrid vehicle, using green and diesel technologies together, to be launched by Toyota in October, is so important, like the new solar fridge and freezer built in KZN by Defy, like the opening of a new plant that beneficiates platinum and palladium to produce fuel-cells in Dube Trade Port. Using green energy platforms to build more component manufacturing plants.
We are building a more integrated and connected Africa, manufacturing on scale and creating jobs for young people. That’s why the President’s reference to the Continental Free Trade Area coming into legal effect this year is important. Africa imports R7 trillion of goods from elsewhere, bigger that the entire SA economy, and an opportunity for industry and for new industrial entrepreneurs to build sustainable businesses
– Thami Gxowa who exports cooler boxes to Mozambique;
– Zanele Ntsibande selling hollow core internal doors to Botswana;
– Sibu Maphatiane who exports train brake shoes to Zimbabwe;
– Doron Barnes who sells steel to the DRC
– Ntsiki Biyela who sells wine to Ghana
– the Montsi family who exports machine cutting tools to Mauritania.
These are the new South African entrepreneurs. Lives improved; Futures secured. Wealth shared more widely, as new opportunities are
created. This is the vision of the Freedom Charter and the over-arching mandate of this government.
That is why the agreement with Coca Cola 10 days ago is significant, as it sets aside 15% of the company’s shares to its 8 000 workers. Add the worker ownership agreement in the Simba Chips/Pioneer Foods merger, and in less than a year, more than 20 000 workers will now have a stake in their firms, letting the people share in the country’s wealth.
That is why Honourable Groenewald and MacPerson’’s characterization that transformation is simply for the politically-connected, is so misguided.
But let’s also fight corruption vigorously and firmly. To continue to make progress will require more investment, by the private and public sectors. But increasing investment at this time of great uncertainty could not be harder. Yet, as the President noted, the Ford Motor Company recently made its largest investment commitment in its 97 years in SA.
It builds on a positive trend. Last November, 50 other investors committed R108 billion in fresh investment. It was quite a performance to see the DA and Hon Hill-Lewis become sniffy, picky and misleading about what qualifies as investment. The Anglo investment spend he referred to was used for converting a diamond mine from open cast to an underground mine, greening a Platinum smelter and investment in Chrome plants and life extension projects which includes a new pit at Kumba’s iron ore mines. Pretty standard investment economics 101 stuff.
We’ve make progress with the ecosystem to support small business and youth, making it easier to register companies, bringing down the cost of data from April last year, ending exclusive leases in shopping malls, and tackling abusive behaviour by monopolies and dominant firms which strangle small businesses,. Last Thursday night, the President made a necessary choice – to focus on implementation. He did so because the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan was announced in this Parliament just 4 months ago.
That’s why the Opposition criticism that there were no new economic plans in SONA are so misguided. We already have a plan. We are putting it into action. SONA was a report back to the nation. It’s all about implementation. Implementation that changes lives and transforms society. And that builds resilience.
We congratulate Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala on her election as the head of the WTO. Reflecting on the tone of the debate by the Opposition, I am reminded of the remark by Madiba who said: “A good leader can engage in a debate frankly and thoroughly, knowing that at the end he and the other side must be closer, and thus emerge stronger. You don’t have that idea when you are arrogant, superficial, and uninformed.” Mr President, you quoted a part of Maya Angelou’s inspiring poem, and it noffended Beatles fan, Honorable Steenhuizen, perhaps dreaming of that other song, Yesterday. Take comfort from the words, Mr President, of Maya Angelou’s poem that youb did not have an opportunity to quote:You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
You may shoot me with your words…
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
In the midst of a pandemic, with much still to be done, but real progress being made, we can say that as South Africans, still we rise.