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IT SEEMS as though every Tom, Dick, Harry, Barack, Jacob and Helen is currently delivering their State of the Nation/Province/City/Household (delete which is not applicable) speech, so here’s my contribution to the perorations:
My fellow South Africans, comrades, compatriots, all protocols observed. As a nation, we are deep in the doo doo. So here is my 10-point plan to change the face of South Africa, some of which my colleague, Max du Preez, touched on a few weeks ago:
1: Save the Platteland. There is currently an alarming decline in the number of commercial farmers in South Africa, partly as a result of steeply rising input costs, and partly because of rural crime and insecurity. Introduce immediate tariffs on all imported foodstuffs that can be produced in abundance locally, like fruit and veg, lamb, beef, chicken and pork; drop all VAT on input material like fertilisers, animal feed, tractors and so on; and, for heaven’s sake, let’s start subsidising our farmers the same way the EU and the US subsidise theirs.
2: As part of the above, let’s urgently set up small agricultural high schools in every second rural town. Let’s teach our kids how to farm, whether it be on a half hectare subsistence plot or a 10 000 hectare commercial farm. This way we will empower rural people to become farmers, farm managers or productive subsistence farmers, and not just farm labourers.
3: As an adjunct to the agricultural high schools, in both rural and urban schools, urgently reintroduce technical and trade subjects that will teach welding, plumbing, electrics, bricklaying, roofing, driving and other employable skills.
4: Where commercial farms are lying fallow because farmers can no longer afford to farm them, or have moved to town because of their fear of crime, create a network of smaller farms and employ the former owners as mentors, trainers and overseers with security of tenure in their original homesteads. No farmer really wants to live in town – there is still an atavistic longing in any former farm boy or girl for the countryside, and the sunset view from the stoep, but not if they fear being murdered or attacked.
5: Restore and bring back into use the vast rural rail network which has fallen into disuse through neglect, indifference and incompetence. Bring back the long distance passenger and goods trains that used to stop in every small town, dropping off passengers and goods, and loading up produce. It will take a massive burden off our roads and reinject life into the Platteland.
And now for broader policy issues:
6: Introduce compulsory, free pre-school education so that kids get a good dose of early learning and exposure to literacy and numeracy before they enter the Grade 1 phase. And make school feeding a universal, free right – you can’t teach hungry kids.
7: The war on drugs: declare peace. Decriminalise all drugs – the market will drop out of the trade in tik, dagga, heroin, mandrax and so on, and the gangs that rule the Cape Flats and elsewhere will find their economic base destroyed. Valuable police resources can be diverted to fighting real crime, and plenty of prison space will be freed up to imprison the rapists, murderers and other assorted scumbags.
8: Make the private possession of handguns illegal, and introduce a minimum compulsory sentence of, say, 20 years for any crime involving the use of a firearm, even toy guns. The gun lobby will scream foul, but they can hang on to their hunting rifles, and if they want to use hand guns for target practice, they can book them out of a secure facility that is properly policed.
9: Make it compulsory for every new house to be fitted with government subsidised solar heating and a bank of batteries for powering lights. Switch to gas for cooking and urgently tap into the massive gas fields that are being opened up in Mozambique and Tanzania. Roll out a huge programme to retrofit existing houses with renewables and drastically reduce our dependence on Eskom.
10: Set up colleges in every major centre to train civil servants in the basics of public administration, and make sure that every civil servant can touch type and is computer literate. Make sure that civil servants in charge of water reticulation and sewerage know the basics of public health and hygiene, and the chemistry and physics of clean water provision. No civil servant should be hired without completing a public administration course, and cadre deployment must be banned.
Welcome to Utopia.