National

Sona: Time to deliver, Mr President

Nickolaus Bauer

President Jacob Zuma's State of the Nation address will be his best chance to rescue a presidency beset by sloppy governance and empty promises.

President Jacob Zuma. (Madalene Cronje, M&G)

Although there have been some national gains since his 2009 inauguration, Zuma's administration has seen the country's prospects diminish.

Progress such as the elevation to the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa group and the delivery of a successful 2010 World Cup have been overshadowed by a downgrading in the country's credit rating and a stubborn unemployment rate.

Couple that with last year's Marikana massacre, Limpopo textbook crisis and furore over controversial upgrades to his rural homestead in Nkandla, Zuma's reign as president looks dire.

Moreover, his State of the Nation address record to date has seen Zuma make broad promises and unveil lofty plans that have failed to materialise. The delivery on the undertakings made in his 2012 State of the Nation alone have been haphazard and sketchy.

Last year's address was dominated by R1.3-trillion infrastructure plans that were supposed to revive the flagging economy by making it easier to do business. But while some work has started on infrastructure development, progress has been slow.

Apart from the Infrastructure Development Bill that is soon to be tabled by Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel, there have been no other concrete steps to bring the plan to fruition.

A completely unkept promise was the pledge to initiate a R1-billion fund to promote access to home loans for people earning between R3 500 and R15 000. And, in spite of an undertaking last year to prevent electricity prices from surging, Eskom applied for a 16% electricity tariff hike for each of the next five years.

A stage for the president
Thus his fifth State of the Nation is a stage set for the president to rise to the occasion. Not only to make firm moves to deliver on the pledges he has made since becoming the country's number one citizen, but also to assure his citizens and the international community that South Africa does indeed face a bright future.

The president's ideal point of departure will be the National Development Plan (NDP). Championed by the ruling ANC and lauded by the business sector as the map that is best placed to tackle poverty, unemployment and inequality, one can expect Zuma to throw more support, political will and resources behind the NDP.

Painstakingly crafted by a team led by Planning Minister Trevor Manuel, the NDP provides a road map for the country to follow over the next two decades. The NDP will need the whole country to embrace it if it is to succeed and Zuma must illustrate clear guidelines for its implementation over the short and medium term in his address.

Emboldened by his recent victory at the ANC's elective conference in Mangaung, Zuma also now has the political space to take the tough decisions that will anger his political opponents – within his own movement. Indications are that this is exactly what the president will do.

Even during the conference, Zuma was clear about his intentions to take decisions that "our friends don't like". The first indications of this – regardless of the political consequences – have been seen in the ANC's push to make education an essential service, in spite of opposition from the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu).

Another Cosatu bugbear that looks certain to get a mention is the contentious youth wage subsidy. Intended to give financial incentives to employers who take on young people, it will go some way to address dogged joblessness – a high percentage of which is felt by the country's youth.

Rape and murder
Even though Cosatu's resistance to the proposal is based on assertions that it will be implemented to the detriment of older workers, expect the youth wage subsidy to find a back door into implementation.

The rape and murder of Anene Booysen has also provided a chance for the president to unveil plans to address rampant gender-based violence and to a wider extent national crime.

Possibilities include the beefing up of services in the criminal justice system or even adding to numbers in the South African Police Service.

The likelihood of Zuma and the ANC being toppled in the 2014 general election remains slim, but he will hardly want to be remembered as the individual who presided over an erosion of the governing party's majority.

It will also add impetus to any calls for action against him that emanate from his remaining enemies in the ANC. With a national election on the horizon, Zuma will be pressed to deliver on that which he promises.


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