As you know, costs were severely overrun in the construction of Nkandla and, because it is my house and I’m the president, everyone believes I am responsible. I have argued otherwise. You see, if the truth be told, I was asleep on the watch. All those late-night calls from architects, all those meetings with officials, people coming and going with plans, revised plans. I found all that bureaucracy tedious.
I have learned a big lesson: Pay attention to the detail. But I am not going to avoid responsibility. We live in a robust and lively democracy and I think I have approached this matter incorrectly. I should not have been defensive. I should have accepted the rulings made by the public protector which are in accordance with her mandate. I made a grave mistake trying to undermine her office to let myself off the hook.
If I were to tell the truth, there were moments when I thought that these plans were excessive, that too many features were being added that had nothing to do with security. A weakness in my nature was exposed. I sat back and let it happen out of weariness and, if the truth be told, out of self-interest. I cannot deny that I am a beneficiary of this renovation and I would like to apologise for stringing the nation along. I am, after all, a politician.
This matter has become too politicised and I want to take a step back, to return to the founding principle of this democracy: transparency and accountability. This afternoon I appointed a former High Court judge to take the public protector’s report into account and adjudicate the amount of money I should pay the Treasury to make up for my lack of oversight. I hope he is a forgiving soul because I’m not nearly as rich as some of you think. I called the public protector this afternoon and she agreed that this would be an acceptable solution. The judge will issue his findings within 10 days and I will begin to make payments to the Treasury.
Ladies and gentlemen, we all lose our way sometimes. But this great country of ours has a way of healing the most painful wounds. I would like to start today with the healing of the wound caused by the Nkandla controversy.
Now I would like to turn to the matter of the state of the nation.
Our economy is struggling to grow and without growth we will not create the jobs we need to employ young people. Make no mistake, this is the most important issue this country faces. If we do not get these young people working, our social fabric will continue to be torn apart.
I would like to announce that I have appointed a panel of South African entrepreneurs to review how we are approaching the economy with a view to unlocking its employment potential. I have already spoken to Nonkululeko Nyembezi-Heita, Stephen Saad, Mark Shuttleworth and Adrian Gore and they are on board. I’m trying to get hold of Elon Musk, but he’s a busy man. This panel has the mandate to accomplish one simple task: cut through all the red tape that stands in the way of starting and growing a business. We are a nation of creative people, energetic people, people who are striving for a better life. We need to unleash this human potential and fire up entrepreneurship. I would like to get a report from them on the most urgent things we must do by the end of April. It may not seem like it, but this is a real national emergency.
We have been too focused on trying to create large-scale industries, factories with blue-collar workers. The truth is that we are not going to out-compete China and India. But we can do smart things. Next time you see a Mercedes-Benz C Class driving down the street, remember that it was manufactured in East London. Why? Because South African workers are capable of sophisticated production, of competing with Europe and America, if their workplaces allow them to do so.
Down the road in Port Elizabeth, Aspen makes drugs that are exported to every continent in the world, passing the most rigorous tests for safety. We do these complicated things cheaper and better in South Africa. We need more Aspens. We need more Mercedes-Benzes. But most of all we need more entrepreneurs, more young people involved in business.
For that to happen, we need them to acquire the skills this economy needs. To that end, I would like to announce two new strategies. The first is the establishment of the Nelson Mandela Fellowship, which will send 100 of our top matriculants to the best universities overseas where they can benchmark themselves against the best in the world. The first tranche of students is already being identified as this needs to happen with urgency.
The second is that I have taken up the suggestion of Professor Jonathan Jansen that university be free for all first-generation students. It’s going to require a lot of funding from the fiscus but if we don’t do this now the fiscus will suffer irreparable harm in the future. Our goal is that no student who obtains a university exemption should be kept out of study. Let me add this is not an open opportunity. All students who do not attain the requisite marks will have to leave the programme after one year.
This week, the captains of the mining industry met here in Cape Town at the Mining Indaba. They raised very important issues about why mining investment is drying up in South Africa and the problems they are experiencing with energy. They have been doing this year after year and, if the truth be told, we have been deaf to their complaints.
This country was once the number one producer of several very important minerals. It is unforgivable that we have allowed South Africa to slip down the rankings as our output has shrunk. Today I would like to announce measures aimed at getting us back to number one. I would like to reassure investors that we are not going to tread the same path that was taken by countries that believed that the government should run the mines. That is the road to inefficiency and decline. Investors have spoken loudly and clearly and we will no longer be declaring certain minerals as “strategic”. On the contrary, we are going to remove obstacles to investment in mining. And we are going to align education, infrastructure and incentives to boost mining, to create jobs and to enable us to mechanise so we can catch up with the world’s top producers.
We cannot run the economy with the constant threat of labour action and yet we must respect the right of trade unions to organise and to contest workplace issues with business. I want to say today that we have seen the end of indefinite strikes that cripple businesses and deter investment. The labour relations framework is going to be revised to include forced arbitration when industrial action threatens to destroy businesses.
For too long we have been in denial about our electricity crisis and, as most of you know, we can no longer supply enough electricity to meet the needs of homes and businesses. The CSIR recently issued a very important report. It showed conclusively that renewable energy such as solar and wind power saves this economy money. Based on an analysis of existing renewable projects, it showed that in 2014 alone renewables saved usR800-million. We are a land of sun and wind – just think what a wind turbine in front of Honourable Julius Malema’s bench alone would do for the grid. We are going to step up our investment in renewables.
But, more important, we are going to allow the private sector to get involved in the production of electricity for the grid. Sipho Nkosi, CEO of Exxaro, has been champing at the bit to build a privately owned power station – and there have been many, many proposals from business in this regard. We are going to open our grid up for business.
I would like to announce that we are going to see to it that every house operates with a solar geyser by 2018. It may be expensive but it’s a lot cheaper than building a R1-trillion fleet of nuclear power stations. I would like to announce that the nuclear build programme has been cancelled.
Some of my best friends, who own uranium mines, are not going to be happy with me. But this is not about me making my friends happy, this is about the future of this great nation. Any questions?