Cape Town - Spending millions on the State of the Nation Address (SONA) is “grotesque”, given the state of the economy, DA leader John Steenhuisen says.
“I’ve always maintained SONA should be an ordinary working day in Parliament, instead of expending such a large amount of money in terms of putting on a day like this,” he said.
Steenhuisen was responding to a question about the efforts made by the National Assembly to cut down on costs at this year’s event.
Last week, Speaker Thandi Modise said the pomp and ceremony accompanying Sona had been reduced to contain costs.
Last year’s Sona, held after the national elections, cost R2.6 million, while the one held four months earlier, in February, had been hailed as the cheapest, with R2.5m spent on it from a R4.7m budget.
Steenhuisen delivered his Alternative State of the Nation Address in Cape Town On Wednesday to round off a countrywide tour dubbed “The Real State of the Nation”, during which he “visited communities to engage and interact with South Africans from all walks of life, listening to their daily challenges and struggles in a quest to assess the real state of our nation”.
On the issue of Eskom, Steenhuisen said: “We don’t need a monolithic, state-run energy company. Let us sell off Eskom’s coal-firing stations to settle its debt and leave them to still manage the grid. Let us open up the market to full competition. Let households, companies, mines and municipalities generate and sell power.”
On Education, Steenhuisen said the state was “clearly struggling to provide quality education for all, particularly in disadvantaged communities”.
He suggested a way to fix the situation would be to “encourage the entrance of private schools in all communities and to strengthen the role of parents in school governing bodies”.
Steenhuisen also said the country should explore the idea of “collaboration schools” to address the challenge of ensuring lower-income communities had access to the same quality of teaching and learning as those from more affluent backgrounds.
A model of this system is being piloted by the Western Cape Education Department.
As for health care, Steenhuisen said: “The idea that the state must be everything to everybody through the NHI is a terrible, terrible idea.”
He instead pushed for the adoption of the DA’s alternative to the NHI - the Sizani Universal Healthcare Plan, based on a subsidy to every South African resident which would cover a comprehensive package of public health-care services while retaining the medical-aid system.
Steenhuisen said the government should let go of its iron grip on safety and security issues and instead devolve power to the provinces and the metros.
He added that he hopes the president will be announcing bold reforms that will deal with South Africa's growing problems.
"We've had two SONAs where we've spoken about dreams, bullet trains and smart cities but what people want to see if how they are going to get jobs, and a concrete plan on how we're going to fix broken municipalities."