An inability to achieve real reconciliation through economic redress is at the heart of national discontent, Democratic Alliance (DA) parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko said on Tuesday.
The DA's vision was to build that opportunity, she said in the National Assembly during debate on President Jacob Zuma's State of the Nation address.
To bring people together it was necessary to build a bridge between privilege and poverty that divided people along racial lines, she said.
"We have to help people where they need it and provide real opportunity that will break down these inequalities. When we do that, we will achieve a real and lasting reconciliation," Mazibuko said.
South Africa faces tremendous problems of crime, violence and abuse. In many ways, these social disruptions had at their heart a lack of real opportunity in society, she said.
There were other causes of these problems too. Crime was aided by the weaknesses in the very systems meant to protect citizens.
"We cannot hope to keep our streets safe when the shadow of corruption stalks the highest levels of our police service," she said.
"We cannot take the fight to the criminals that plague us when we lack experienced management at all levels of our police service and we cannot hope to have an effective service that complements an open and free democracy when our police are militarised, in name and in their actions."
She added South Africans would not feel safe until they heard an honest discussion about crime at the highest levels of government.
They would also not have confidence in the health system or a National Health Insurance scheme until the fundamental problems threatening it were faced.
The problem in health was not the principle of access but that the existing network of care was not adequately managed.
"What we need are competent and professional hospital managers who are not accountable to a bureaucracy but to the hospitals themselves.
"Real accountability and professionalism will go a long way toward addressing the deficiencies in healthcare."
Mazibuko said it was necessary to focus on the two things that could create opportunity — education and the economy.
"The two are intertwined with each other, as they are with our failure or success as a country."
Education was the only way out for most people who wanted to work to have a better life than the one they were born into.
Free market system
United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa said the address clearly demonstrated that government had woken up to the reality that the fate of South Africans can no longer be left to the free market system alone.
Holomisa said the government had a duty to invest in its economy through projects like infrastructure development.
"The private sector seems to have no willingness to invest in the development of the infrastructure of previously disadvantaged communities.
"Even companies that have the capacity to do so, like Anglo American, delisted from our stock exchange in favour of foreign ones, without any prospect of the funds coming back to the South African economy," he said.
The UDM looked forward to receiving more details about the overall infrastructure implementation strategy.
"We would do well to adopt as stringent a monitoring mechanism as Fifa's close monitoring of South Africa's implementation of the 2010 Fifa World Cup project.
"Otherwise, these announcements run the risk of going down as just another laundry list of unfulfilled promises," Holomisa said.
Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) president Mangosuthu Buthelezi told Zuma he was shying away from tackling corruption that was on the verge of making South Africa dysfunctional.
"Corruption is the bane of our country," he said.
Buthelezi described corruption as a fundamental threat to South Africa's constitutional democracy.
"Yet, sir, you shy away from this issue."
He said a measure of Zuma's leadership could be taken less by what the president had said than by what he had not said.
"How can we embrace hope when our leadership refuses to acknowledge the many problems confronting our country, or the causes that lie at their root? Year after year, the State of the Nation address shifts, without ever addressing previous failures."
Buthelezi said it was an "unspoken fact" that corruption had resulted in the axing of two ministers, Sicelo Shiceka and Gwen Mahlangu-Nkabinde.
Investigations into corruption
"The national police commissioner, Mr Bheki Cele, is still suspended pending an investigation into corruption.
"The Speaker of the KwaZulu-Natal legislature, Ms Peggy Nkonyeni, and provincial minister Mr Mike Mabuyakhulu are facing corruption charges in court," he said.
Two of the nine provinces had "all but collapsed" and the administration of the state was "in shambles".
"Limpopo has been rendered bankrupt through corrupt activities and five of its departments have been taken over by national government.
"In the Eastern Cape, the education system has completely collapsed due to maladministration and corruption, forcing national government to intervene."
In Gauteng, the provincial government had sought help from the national treasury for its health department, which was on the verge of collapse.
The Free State had sought help after discovering financial mismanagement and non-compliance in supply chain processes in its police roads and transport department.
"How, Mr President, do we explain the contamination of public service and commercial interests? It is fatal and yet pursued relentlessly from the lowest to the highest levels of government.
"Too many, and I dare say the overwhelming majority, are trying to make money on account of holding public office, being in politics or exercising public power," said Buthelezi.
Last year, Special Investigating Unit head Willie Hofmeyr told MPs that 20% of South Africa's procurement budget — between R25-billion and R30-million — was lost to corruption each year.
"According to Transparency International's 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index, South Africa is perceived to be becoming more corrupt with each passing year," said Buthelezi.
This perception was rooted in reality.
"On a scale of 0 [being highly corrupt] to 10 [being very clean], we have fallen from a ranking of 5.1 in 2007, to 4.1 in 2011.
"The unspoken fact is that we are on the verge of joining the ranks of dysfunctional states, as the effects of corruption debilitate all spheres of life," Buthelezi said. — Sapa