LAST Saturday, the leader of the ANC, Cyril Ramaphosa, tried to sell horse manure for figs in Mbombela.
In a context where all credible opinion polls agree that the ANC's support could tumble below 50% in this year's election, Ramaphosa tried to make a case that everything South Africans feel on their bodies every day — from load-shedding and empty taps to unemployment and a growing crisis of famine — is actually not happening.
In Ramaphosa's view, the ANC has made South Africa a huge success over the past 30 years. In this world of Orwellian “doublethink", the ANC expects South Africans who are weighed down by the party's failures every day to simultaneously believe it is actually a sign of success when lights go out, taps run dry and potholes grow. And, of course, that the prospect of a new government under the Multiparty Charter, anchored by the DA, will undo all these “successes".
In 2024, the ANC will try to convince a country that up is actually down and that night is actually day. It's a trick the party has become familiar with over the years — just think of Fikile Mbalula's recent confession that the ANC maintained for years that a swimming pool was actually a fire pool.
Now that we know the ANC will follow this approach, modelled on disinformation, it is all the more important that opposition parties help voters not to doubt their sanity in the process. The ANC knows that if this election is fought on the true ground of what South Africa looks like in 2024, its majority is gone. Its only chance lies in trying to change the terrain.
With this in mind, the DA is working on a project to try to determine the true extent of decay under the ANC. We do this mainly through parliamentary questions, a powerful oversight mechanism through which any member of parliament can put written or oral questions to ministers.
Note: we do not do this to “just complain". Yes, we are doing this work to ensure accountability, but we are also doing it to lay the foundation for the solutions the DA will announce on February 17 during the launch of its manifesto. For solutions to be effective and compelling, the scope of the problem must first be accepted.
Two weeks ago, we received the first information as part of answers to parliamentary questions. The purpose is to quantify that nasty feeling that so many of us get every day when we see how railway lines have fallen into disuse, how roads are falling apart and how cables are stolen during load-shedding. To outline the true terrain of the election campaign. To see the difference between horse manure and figs.
That first set of answers even caused a gasp or two in DA ranks, where we are all too familiar with the consequences of ANC rule.
Since 1994, 3,636km of rail lines for freight transport have fallen into disuse. If one were to lay out that railway line in a straight line, it would stretch from Cape Town to Kilimanjaro. Possibly the biggest logistical crisis our country faces is the decay of the railway line between Johannesburg and Durban. The consequences of this are costing our country billions, with roads being destroyed as freight transport switches from rail to road, and deepening the crisis at KwaZulu-Natal ports. And yet the more than 3,600km of freight track that was destroyed is enough to lay a two-way railway line three times from Johannesburg to Durban.
Note that this figure only includes the destruction of Transnet's freight rail network. We are working to find out how many kilometres of Prasa's passenger rail network were also destroyed.
Then there is the revelation that more than 4,633km of copper cables have been stolen since 2019. Keep in mind: these are only the cables stolen from Transnet and we are still waiting for information from other government entities. But even if you lay only the cable looted from Transnet during the Ramaphosa administration in a straight line, it would stretch from the west to the east coast of America — then run another 600km into the sea.
We are also polling the Department of Transport about the state of our roads, another area of decay that South Africans experience every day. Sanral is responsible for more than 22,000km of national roads but according to the Department of Transport less than 2% of that total is maintained annually.
In the coming weeks, the DA will reveal more information as part of this project. Among other things, we want to find out how many kilometres of water pipes have gone to waste, how many potholes there are on our roads, how many train sets fell into disuse and how many cranes at our ports no longer work.
It is these bread-and-butter issues, the accumulation of countless pieces of infrastructure that have not been maintained or expanded, that have systematically led to the deindustrialisation of South Africa over decades. It is time to calculate the total extent of this so we know exactly how high the mountain is that the post-2024 government will have to climb.
It is certainly not going to be easy, especially with the ANC loudly insisting that the thing in their hands is actually figs.
But at the local level, in the Western Cape and more recently in places such as Tshwane and uMngeni, the DA has repeatedly managed to swim upstream from decline. In as little as four months from now, we are offering South Africans across the country the opportunity to embark on the rescue effort of a lifetime: the election of a new government, anchored by the DA's proven record of service delivery, which can begin to build up what has been broken down.
Dr Leon Schreiber is a DA MP and shadow Minister for Public Service and Administration.
♦ VWB ♦
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