SONA 2013

SONA 2013

  • SACBC’s Response to the State of the Nation Address

    More than once during the course of his address last night, President Jacob Zuma used the word ‘report’ to describe what he was doing. It was, in effect, a synopsis of the government’s efforts over the last five years, with a number of references to the longer period since 1994. Inevitably, it highlighted the successes and achievements, with only the slightest nod to the failures, along the lines of ‘there is still more to be done’. As the leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, said afterwards, it was an election speech.
    Two points stood out, especially since Zuma has often been accused of ignoring the most pressing issues when he gives major speeches. Firstly, he departed from the written version to stress the need for a new approach to labour issues in the mining industry, calling on both management and workers to think seriously about the negative impact that strikes are having on our economy. It is indeed high time that both parties moved beyond their simplistic and antagonistic approach to dealing with disputes.
    Secondly, he had strong words about both the violence that characterises too many of our social protests, and the often unacceptable levels of counter-violence employed by the police. He emphasised the right of people to protest peacefully, but at the same time he noted that the police must be respected when they try to carry out their duty to control such protests. Coming just a day after some African National Congress (ANC) members threw petrol bombs at the police in the Johannesburg central business district, this was a timely and - for Zuma – courageous reminder.
    For the rest, two mantras were repeated in the address: ‘We have a good story to tell’; and ‘South Africa is a much better place to live now than it was before’. Both of these assertions are true: there are many good things to say about our country (and President Zuma certainly said them); and no-one would seriously suggest that a return to the past would be an improvement.
    The trouble is that this approach to our national reality is one that sees only the positive, while resolutely overlooking the negative. What we have, in fact, is a state of two nations in which, to paraphrase Dickens, we simultaneously enjoy the best of times and endure the worst of times. The many instances which the President gave as proof that we are living in a better country than that of 20 years ago will really only become convincing when the government complements its physical and policy achievements with strong action to ensure their sustainability; and when it starts to deal more effectively with the people and forces that continually undermine those achievements.
    For example: it is good that two new dams have been built in Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal respectively. But such an achievement is neutralised by the fact that, in Mothutlung, North-West Province, the water-supply collapsed last month due to mismanagement or corruption (or a combination of both), and three people died in protests before it was reconnected. And by the fact that almost all our urban rivers and streams - many of which are used by informal settlement dwellers - have dangerous levels of faecal contamination because of decaying sewerage infrastructure.
    For example: it is laudable that 160 new clinics are to be built, together with ten new hospitals; and government’s anti-retroviral campaign is rightly touted as a world-leader. But Business Day reports that, at Chris Hani-Baragwanath, our biggest hospital, drugs and medical supplies are purloined by nursing staff as soon as they are delivered, and then sold off. Without a strong and visible commitment to fighting this kind of scourge - robbing the sick should be seen as every bit as serious a crime as, say sexual violence or gangsterism - the physical achievements will ultimately ring hollow.
    For example: 12 new further education and training (FET) colleges are planned, and two new universities have recently been opened (in the Northern Cape and Mpumalanga). Teacher training colleges are also to be resuscitated. Very well, but an increasing number of university entrants are unable to cope with the demands of tertiary study, due to the inferior education they have received at school. And while the matric pass-rate is climbing impressively, we also know that up to half of the children who enter school either drop out, or are squeezed out, before they even reach Grade 12.
    And so it goes on: It may be, as the President claimed, that we now have 15 million people in employment, the highest figure in our history. But our rate of retrenchments is at a 10-year high, and official unemployment remains stubbornly at 25 percent.
    The true state of our nation is nowhere near as good as Zuma makes it out to be; his speech merely cherry-picked the choicest examples of successes and achievements. Equally, we are by no means as badly off as the naysayers would have us believe; we are not about to disappear into a hole created by corruption, incompetence and shattered dreams.
    It is a cliché to say that the truth lies somewhere between these two extremes, but it does. It would be good if the President would face up to that in describing the state of the nation.

    - Mike Pothier is research coordinator at the South African Catholic Bishop’s Conference.
    Mike Pothier
  • State of the Nation 2013: Implications for Business

    President Jacob Zuma addressed a somewhat distracted South African population in his State of the Nation speech. He started and finished the lengthy presentation by reaffirming the commitment of government to the vision set out in the National Development Plan. Unsurprisingly, this was one of a number of echoes of policy decisions made at the African National Congress’ (ANC) national conference held in Mangaung in December 2012. Among them were the categorical dismissal of the nationalisation debate and a strong defence of the supremacy of the constitution. These are things investors want to hear and the reaction of the rand reflected a certain amount of support for the President’s speech from the markets.

    The detail provided on the infrastructure development programme will also be of interest to both local and foreign investors. There has been a sense that the government has been slow to implement the plans set out by President Zuma in last year's state of the nation address. The time dedicated on 14 February 2013 presentation to listing a number of the projects that got underway in the later part of last year was clearly targeted at silencing such criticism. The spending already underway by the national green fund was also highlighted as an example of action by government.

    What might create some nervousness among investors was confirmation of a study on the tax regime that will include evaluation of the policy on mining royalties and prioritisation of land reform which includes a move away from the ‘willing buyer willing seller’ process and possible limitations on foreign land ownership. There were also few specifics on the likely actions expected with regards to the ongoing challenges in the agriculture sector even though it is now starting to impact on all South Africans through increasing food prices.

    President Zuma demonstrated the ongoing struggle in South Africa on the role of the state in the economy. On the one hand he acknowledged that it is not possible for the government alone to achieve the economic goals for South Africa. On the other, however, he lauded the ability of the state to turn around key industries through strong intervention, using bus and train production as well as the clothing and textiles sectors as examples. Local procurement regulations were mentioned as key in this regard. The value of government effort to protect uncompetitive industries such as clothing remains to be seen beyond the short term salvaging of a few jobs.

    Business was acknowledged as a partner in South Africa’s development by the President. Three out of the four references to the private sector were urging them to support or contribute to government-led initiatives such as absorbing the Further Education and Training (FET) graduates into the job market, establishing science or maths academies, and fighting corruption. A passing reference was made to the need to ensure ongoing dialogue and inclusion of business in the planning and implementation of national programmes.

    With regards to foreign policy, President Zuma briefly outlined a vision for ‘a better Africa in a better world’.  He listed many of the current hotspots in Africa in a cursory fashion while dedicating a little more time to solidarity with the people of Palestine. Former President Mbeki was commended for his role in the mediation between Sudan and South Sudan. President Zuma voiced his hope for conclusion of the dialogues in Zimbabwe and Madagascar, perhaps displaying some impatience with both situations in his passing reference. Any mention of the upcoming election of Kenya was noticeable in its absence.

    An explicit link was made between South Africa’s participation in global coalitions like the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) group and the Group of 20 (G20) with its responsibilities to ‘represent the aspirations of the people of Africa’. President Zuma reconfirmed the ongoing juggling act of South Africa’s foreign policy by reaffirming the partnership with countries of the North and explicitly acknowledging the importance of Europe to the economy. There was little detail on how relations will be restored following such decisions as the cancellation of bilateral investment treaties with European countries in 2012. The broad question also remains as to how African priorities, chairing BRICS and rebuilding North-South relations will be managed in a mutually supportive fashion by South African diplomats in 2013.

    - Catherine Grant Makokera is the head of SAIIA’s Economic Diplomacy Programme. This article first appeared on the SAIIA website.
  • Zuma Puts His Faith in NDP

    President Jacob Zuma says the National Development Plan (NDP) will put the country on a clear growth path.
    Speaking at The New Age business breakfast in Cape Town, Zuma, pointed out that, "It is our plan. It cannot be said it is a plan of the party or government, much as government has to implement the plan."
    He further said that SA is clear where it is going, adding that it now has the NDP, which enable everyone an understanding of the direction his government want to take the country to.
    To read the article titled, “The NDP a plan for all - Zuma,” click here.

    The Citizen
  • Zuma’s Minute of Silence for Rape Victims

    Non-governmental groups have urged President Jacob Zuma to observe a minute of silence for rape victims before his State of the Nation Address (SONA) on 14 February 2013.
    Sonke Gender Justice Network representative, Micheline Muzaneza, points out that, "This matter needs urgent attention. We appeal to President Zuma to observe a minute of silence for the victims of rape and other forms of violence."
    Womens' rights organisations, religious groups and the Congress of South African Trade Unions met in Johannesburg to devise a programme of action against rape and violence.
    Meanwhile another organisation, SECTION27, says it is developing guidelines for young rape victims.
    To read the article titled, “Zuma urged to observe a minute's silence for rape victims,” click here.

    Mail & Guardian
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