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Sona: Mixed reaction from opposition parties

Sapa

President Jacob Zuma's State of the Nation address has received a mixed batch of reviews from opposition groups.

The Sona is broadcast on a big screen outside parliament. (David Harrison, M&G)

​Zuma's State of the Nation address (Sona) contained little which would reassure South Africans about crucial issues, AfriForum said.

"Although he mentioned most of these issues by name, AfriForum is of the opinion that the speech did little to reassure the audience that these issues would be addressed effectively," its deputy chief executive Alana Bailey said.

On education matters, Zuma seemed to hold teachers' right to strike above such questions as whether schools would receive textbooks for the year.

Another important question was whether the annual national assessments and matric results of 2012 provided a reliable indication of the state of education.

" ... More so in the case of South Africa, where approximately a third of the population is under the age of 15," said Bailey.

Afriforum on crime 
On the issue of crime, Bailey said Zuma attributed reduced crime statistics to improvements in the South African Police Service, but failed to acknowledge the roles of private security companies and community safety initiatives.

"While the country needs three private security people for every member of the police to achieve such a minuscule decrease in crime percentages, there is no reason for self-congratulation."

In order for the cycle of corruption to be broken, convicted officials enjoying political favour should not be redeployed in other government or semi-government institutions.

"Perpetrators have to be held accountable and will have to forfeit the right to certain appointments after having been found guilty," Bailey said.

She said Zuma's comments about addressing unemployment were laudable, but that the private sector needed to be stimulated to create more jobs.

"It would have been much more fitting to investigate ways in which public spending can become more efficient and how a sustainable tax basis can be created that would stimulate the growth of the private sector maximally."

AfriForum on land reform
AfriForum found Zuma's stance on land reform particularly disconcerting.

Zuma said the government would drop the "willing-buyer, willing seller" principle, which forced the state to pay more for land, in favour of the "just and equitable principle for compensation, as set out in the Constitution".

"No mention is made of the fact that this lack of progress is due to the state's maladministration," Bailey said.

"Thus, the dangerous perception is created that the slow pace of reform is due to the unwilling, greedy nature of landowners."

In this regard, Zuma had done little to reassure South Africans and foreign investors about the future of private property rights, which was essential for a successful economy.

Rather, the Sona emphasised the importance of civil society's role in resolving South Africa's problems.

TAU SA
Zuma failed to show statesmanship and capture the imagination of the country, commercial farmers union TAU South African said.

"President Jacob Zuma failed to show statesmanship and to deliver a speech that could capture the imagination of the country," said TAU South African president Louis Meintjes.

"His emphasis on the anniversary of the 1913 Native Land Act, the proposed commemoration of the Rivonia trial and arrests at the Lillysleaf estate 50 years ago ... made the .... address basically nothing more than a struggle address."

He said the agricultural sector would once again face a difficult time with the announcement that the willing buyer, willing seller principle would be replaced by "just and equitable" compensation during the land reform process.

"It is clear that the state will unilaterally determine what this compensation will be. This will lead to even more job losses in the agricultural sector," said Meintjes.

He said the Zuma did not make any reassuring statements that would strengthen confidence in the country.

Meanwhile, the African Farmers Association of South Africa (Afasa) welcomed Zuma's speech but urged him to be harsh on public servants who delayed services delivery.

AFASA applauded Zuma for replacing the willing-buyer willing-seller system.

CDP 
Zuma's Sona may well go down as one that contributed to alienating minorities, the Christian Democratic Party (CDP) said.

"Not only were minority issues not addressed and matters such as farm murders not even mentioned, but the polarisation of communities was conveniently overlooked," said CDP leader Reverend Theunis Botha.

"South Africa is galloping in the wrong direction down important indexes such as the Corruption Perception Index, Freedom of the Press Index and the Failed State Index.

"One wonders if the president really grasps the seriousness of this matter. Only when these problems are fully realised, can they be addressed," he said.

Botha said the address was, all-in-all "a very disappointing state-of-the nation – if indeed it qualifies as such."

He said the address offered a mixed bag of a lot of detail on certain issues, less on others and total silence on some critical ones.

"The figures mentioned on public spending, such as on infrastructure, sound impressive, but it is only what is to be expected of an economy the size of South Africa's."

The CDP welcomed the investment in renewable, green energy, but would have liked to see a greater emphasis on the matter.

It was also glad to hear of steady growth in the tourism industry, despite crime and bad service delivery. However, South Africa had a lot of catching up to do with countries such as Mexico and other typical tourism destinations.

Botha said that while Zuma had spoken at length on combating corruption and on crime against women and children, he had been silent on the necessity for moral regeneration "without which none of this is possible".

Greenpeace
Zuma ignored the country's electricity crisis, said the environmental organisation Greenpeace.

"Greenpeace believes that if the government were serious about creating a sustainable future based on job creation and energy security, much more ambitious investments in labour-intensive renewable energy would be made," it said in a statement.

Greenpeace said South Africa faced sharply increasing electricity prices and an impending water crisis because of its coal expansion plans.

"Government's estimated R47-billion worth of investment in renewable energy projects is a step in the right direction," it said.

However, while this sounded substantial, it was minuscule when compared to the well over R200-billion being spent on the new coal-fired power stations Medupi and Kusile, or the estimated R1-trillion a planned nuclear programme would cost.

"The reality is that investments in coal and nuclear take this country two steps backwards, preventing the growth of the renewable energy sector," Greenpeace said.

Chamber of Commerce
Zuma's Sona speech was disappointing and lacked substance, the Cape Chamber of Commerce said on Thursday.

"A backslapping speech with little substance. The Cape Chamber of Commerce is, on the whole, disappointed by the Sona delivered by the president this evening," said its executive manager Bronwen Kausch.

"The presidency gave no clear policy direction. While alluding to very important topics, all the speech did was increase the frustration of business that the national policy vacuum continues."

Kausch did commend Zuma's call for harsher action against those who participated in strikes which resulted in damage to property.

"After repeated calls from business ... we are heartened that, in these instances, we have been heard."

Business Unity SA (Busa) welcomed Zuma's speech.

"We also welcome infrastructure projects that have begun to gain traction, where the president reiterated to fast-track many of the projects that the Presidential Infrastructural Co-ordinating Committee had announced," said Busa chief exectuiveNomaxabiso Majokweni.

Busa also praised the government's commitment to pay small, micro and medium enterprises within 30 days.

Majokweni said the business community was expecting to see how the National Development Plan would be financed, as this would be a challenging task in finding workable solutions to unemployment, poverty and inequality.

Nehawu
Although the thrust of Zuma's Sona speech was to be welcomed, alignment was needed in government policies, National Education, Health and Allied Workers' Union (Nehawu) said on Thursday.

"Nehawu welcomes the main thrust of government's assessment of the advances made since last year ... ," said Nehawu general secretary Fikile Majola.

"However, the current state of the economy and the expected growth rate in the coming year highlights the necessity for the alignment of the NDP [National Development Plan], the New Growth Path and the Industrial Policy Action Plan, including the discussion on the question of forging a developmental state," he said.

Majola said the government needed to accelerate the implementation of its programmes.

Nehawu was pleased with the establishment of a presidential remuneration commission to investigate the appropriateness of the remuneration and conditions of service provided by the state to all its employees.

Majola said the union was also pleased that Zuma clarified the African National Congress's position by referring to education as an essential service.

In his speech, Zuma said referring to education as an essential service did not mean teachers would be deprived of their right to strike.

"It means we want the education sector and society as a whole to take education more seriously than is happening currently," Zuma said.

Nehawu welcomed the creation of the National Health Insurance (NHI) system in 2014 and the undertaking to accelerate progress in the piloting the NHI.

Employment agency
​Zuma's Sona speech presented a realistic picture of the country's challenges, an employment agency said on Thursday night.

"We applaud the government on the realistic representation of the current state of the country and hope that the goals set for the years ahead will go a long way to tackling the issues of education, poverty and inequality in our country," said Quest Staffing Solutions chief executive Kay Vittee.

She said the private sector needed to heed Zuma's call to action and use the latest employment statistics as a motivation to fight unemployment and promote skills development.

Last week, the Quarterly Labour Force Survey released by Statistics South Africa revealed that South Africa's labour force decreased by 235 000 people between the third and fourth quarters of 2012.

"Graduate programmes, learnerships and other skills training initiatives need to become standard practice for businesses who really wish to create a generation of capable employees," said Vittee.

"Not only will this provide many South Africans with the chance to gain experience ... , but it will also benefit companies to equip their upcoming workforce with the abilities that will secure the businesses longevity."

Vittee said more decisive and purposeful action was needed if the government's target of five percent economic growth was to be achieved.

She commended the government's progress on the completion of 98 schools by March.

Zuma announced that 40 of the schools were in the Eastern Cape.

Quest belongs to the JSE-listed Adcorp Holdings. – Sapa

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