Delivering his State of the Nation address on Thursday, the president painted a picture of a country and government that was getting down to work.
He acknowledged weaknesses in the body politic and the body economic, but sought to reassure the nation that there is a plan: the national development plan, which took centre stage in his address.
The speech took place on an odd day – a Valentine’s Day on which national hero Oscar Pistorius killed his girlfriend. The year had started well enough, with the ANC firmly dropping nationalisation and seemingly intent on wooing business. But it did not take too long for the mood to degenerate into uncertainty, anxiety, even gloom in some instances, as labour unrest began again and investors panicked.
Farmers, who had just had a minimum wage imposed on them, were trying to extricate themselves by laying off workers and threatening to stop farming. Workers who had slaved away for years for a pittance celebrated this small victory, but many others are facing the prospect of being shoved on to the streets. In the platinum belt, 14000 workers face retrenchment. In a country where one worker feeds and clothes at least four people, this is calamitous.
Its being the beginning of the year, hundreds of children are starting off on a new educational journey for the next 13 years – and already there are rumblings that not all textbooks have been delivered. We are loathe to reopen the matter of last year’s textbook disaster, so let us hope it does not happen again.
The good news is that thousands of lives have been saved thanks to government providing antiretroviral treatment. Yet daily we hear stories of patients dying for lack of treatment or correct treatment because of staff and drug shortages. The health minister has brought a commendable new energy to the position, but our public health facilities are in a bad way.
The real state of the nation, Mr President, is that we know where we’re coming from but we don’t know where we’re going. South Africa is drifting, hoping that the great words of the State of the Nation address will be followed by firm action, by leadership that cares – and that takes the nation along with it as it tackles what the ANC calls the triple challenge of unemployment, poverty and inequality.