• Ros Nightingale

DA-style empowerment and economic policies will give power to the people

DAILY MAVERICK - OPINIONSTA / 17 SEPTEMBER 2020 - 11.22 / JOHN STEENHUISEN



We must ensure that every decision made by government is guided by one central question: does it expand the power of private citizens to own and direct our economy, or does it empower our incapable state at the expense of the people? Always choosing the people over the state and the connected elite is the only way to arrest and reverse our decline.



The adoption by the Democratic Alliance (DA) of a unique non-racial empowerment policy is a historic victory for people power over state control.

When I was elected interim leader of the DA nearly a year ago, I set out my vision for the party as one where we must work every day to take power away from the incapable state and its connected elite cronies, and instead give that power to the people of South Africa.

It is now commonly accepted that our country’s steep decline is the result of decades of corruption, systematic State Capture, cadre deployment, and growth-killing policies. However, each of these devastating characteristics of ANC rule are themselves the consequence of a deeper fundamental problem: the current governing party’s ideological obsession with expanding state control at the expense of private citizens.

To truly fix South Africa, we need to flip the script by replacing the ANC’s national democratic revolution paradigm, premised on ever-expanding state control, with the DA’s liberal commitment to giving power to private citizens. To achieve this, we must ensure that each and every decision made by the government is guided by one central question: does a given proposal expand the power of private citizens to own and direct this economy, or does it empower our incapable state at the expense of the people? Measuring every policy decision against that simple metric – and always choosing the people over the state and the connected elite – is the only way to arrest and reverse our country’s decline.

During our recent policy conference, the DA took the first step on this journey by adopting an empowerment policy that unashamedly chooses the people over connected cronies. 

By rejecting race-based policies in favour of non-racialism, the DA has created an empowerment model that will truly benefit the 30 million South Africans who are still forced to survive on less than R992 per month. Through using means testing to select empowerment beneficiaries, DA-style empowerment will make it impossible for state-connected elites to use race as a means to hijack empowerment deals at the expense of the poor.

But our job is far from done. Should I be elected federal leader of the DA at the end of October, I will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that South Africans know that the DA is the only party that trusts and wants to give power to the people rather than to the incapable state.

Nowhere is this vision more urgently needed than when it comes to generating economic growth. Just like we applied our liberal principles and the vision of people power to create an effective and incorruptible empowerment model, we next need to create a set of policies that will ignite economic growth.

As a start, we need to immediately take power away from Eskom and give it to the people. This we can do by breaking Eskom’s monopoly through incentivising rapid and large-scale investment by the private sector in renewable electricity generation, and by giving tax breaks to companies and households that invest in renewables. 

Over the short term, we must also split Eskom into two separate and independent electricity generation and supply entities, thereby forcing Eskom to compete with private producers on an equal footing. All of these steps are part of laying the groundwork for us to eventually sell Eskom’s remaining generation assets to turn the page on this collapsed state monopoly.

Another key aspect of giving economic power to the people involves fundamentally reforming state finances. We need to urgently put more money in the pockets of the people rather than the state by providing tax relief to massively overburdened taxpayers. This is not only morally the right thing to do, but also holds the key to stimulating a demand-driven economic recovery.

Instead of continuing to milk every last cent out of taxpayers, we should aim to plug the gaping hole in the fiscus by reducing spending and debt. 

Just like any household, the South African state simply cannot survive by continually spending more than it brings in. Rather than punishing citizens – who all pay taxes in one shape or another – we must sell and privatise most state-owned enterprises, reduce the size of our unsustainable public wage bill, and scale back the state to its appropriate role.

Giving economic power to the people also means reforming our job-killing labour laws. We can only unleash growth, productivity and competition to spur higher wages by putting more power in the hands of people to employ talented workers. We must also protect individual workers against the ANC’s union allies by enforcing the need for secret ballots on planned industrial action across all sectors of the economy.

One of the key impediments to labour-intensive growth is the requirement that wage agreements reached between employers and particular trade unions must be extended to “non-parties” across entire industries or sectors. Aside from being profoundly undemocratic and coercive by forcing parties to abide by wage agreements even when they did not participate in negotiations, this system enables big businesses and unions to lock out competition from small businesses and unemployed people seeking work. 

We must entirely scrap this provision. In addition, we must allow different economic sectors to set their own minimum wages based on their specific trading condition, and exempt small businesses.

Alongside scrapping terrible economic plans like expropriation without compensation, NHI, and pensions theft, as well as a relentless focus on slashing all burdensome red tape, these proposals hold the key to taking economic power away from the state and giving it to the people.

Now that the DA has demonstrated our profound commitment to an empowerment framework that favours those in need over the political elite, it is my pledge to apply the same principle in our quest to save our economy from ever-expanding state control.


John Steenhuisen is a candidate for DA Leader at the upcoming Federal Congress in October 2020.


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