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What Zuma had to say, from Nkandla to Marikana

Sarah Evans

As South Africa goes to the polls, we look at how President Jacob Zuma has campaigned around key issues in the run-up to elections.

President Jacob Zuma at the ANC's Siyanqoba rally at FNB Stadium, Soweto. (Delwyn Verasamy, M&G)

While light in substance, and sometimes in tone, President Jacob Zuma has spoken out on several key issues during his 2014 campaign. From Nkandla to Marikana, Zuma’s “good story to tell” has been full of promises and reminiscence. We look at Zuma’s attempts to deal with critical issues facing the country while on the campaign trail.

On poverty and inequality:
Much has been done, much more must still be done, is the gist of what Zuma has been willing to admit on poverty and inequality while on the campaign trail.

Zuma promised the roll-out of a massive anti-poverty plan after the May 7 elections, although he was scant on the details, and has used the issue to talk about government’s “good story to tell” – its achievements over the past 20 years, which have seen millions receive state grants.

Addressing the launch of government’s 20-year review document in Pretoria in March, Zuma said: “To fight poverty and inequality, a range of pro-poor government policies have been implemented since 1994, which is among South Africa’s key achievements.”

He told the ANC’s progressive business forum in March: “We have created more jobs than before. Employment is now higher than it has ever been, at 15-million people … More of our people have been lifted out of extreme poverty. Our social grants, received by over 16-million people, are one of the critical instruments in poverty alleviation.”

At the debate on the State of the Nation address in Cape Town in February,  Zuma said: “More importantly, after the elections, the country will enter a new radical phase in which we shall implement socioeconomic transformation policies and programmes that will meaningfully address poverty, unemployment and inequality.”

He said social grants were the “most effective poverty alleviation mechanism”.

On Nkandla and corruption:
Besides Zuma’s attempt on Monday to explain the need for the “security” upgrades using the rape of his wife at Nkandla, his most revealing remarks were made a few moments earlier. Zuma said the issue simply does not bother him, and he does not believe it bothers voters either.

“I’m not worried about Nkandla. It’s not my problem. It’s not an issue with the voters. It’s an issue with the bright people, very clever people. And people who thought using Nkandla would be an important thing for voters, it has not worked.

“The phrase she [public protector Thuli Madonsela] uses, ‘he unduly benefited, he had nothing to do with that’.

“Absolutely I’m going to be elected and I’m going to be here in the next five years,” said Zuma.

He told an ANC manifesto event at the Voortrekker monument in Pretoria that government had asked the Special Investigating Unit (SIU) to look into the spending, and said this was evidence of government’s commitment to eradicating corruption.

Zuma said that after the elections, officials found guilty “by a court of law” of corruption would have to pay back any money to the state.

He told ANC supporters at the party’s birthday celebrations in Mpumalanga in January that officials should not be allowed to do business with the state. 

Zuma has also repeated government’s plans to centralise the tender system, a move he said would “root out corruption”.

On Marikana:
Reporting on a recent campaign event in North West was hijacked by the news that  Zuma had cancelled a scheduled trip to Wonderkop because of security concerns.

ANC officials at the time put the change in schedule down to time constraints and poor planning by the ANC’s provincial structures, who had planned Zuma’s day.

Indeed, the president was locked in meetings with disgruntled traditional leaders, and later, disgruntled National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union members in a province beset by intraparty factionalism. The meetings went on for hours and Zuma missed every event on the schedule, including the trip to Marikana.

But if Zuma avoided Marikana on purpose during that visit, it would not be a departure from the rest of his campaign. And on the few occasions where he has spoken on the issue, Zuma’s line has been to condemn the miners for “agitating” the police, as well as the police for using excessive force.

In October 2013, Zuma granted an exclusive interview to French media house France 24.

The interviewer asked Zuma directly if he would admit that what had happened on August 16 2012 was a “massacre”. Zuma would not.

“Well, it was an unfortunate and shocking incident,” was Zuma’s response.

“Once the strike was on, you have in South Africa, when workers go on strike, right, these strikes tend to be violent, whether strikes or protests, that’s a feature people should appreciate.

“When people talk about Marikana, it looks like they were just standing and police shot them. They were heavily armed. The atmosphere had been charged already and therefore, methods that the police were applying, their agitation and so on,” Zuma said.

He would not be drawn into any other merits of the matter, pending the outcome of the Marikana commission of inquiry, currently under way.

He made similar remarks in April this year, but this time Zuma said the police should have taken firmer action in the days preceding August 16.

On labour unrest more generally, Zuma’s line has been to defer to government mediation attempts, while condemning contracted labour unrest and violence.

During the State of the Nation address this year, he said: “The deputy president of the republic [Kgalema Motlanthe] continues to facilitate discussions between government, mining companies and labour. The purpose is to stabilise industrial relations in this very important sector of our economy. The process is yielding results.”

But Zuma has spoken out against labour brokering, a key sore point for labour federation Cosatu. At the ANC’s final campaign rally at FNB Stadium on Sunday, he said government would ensure that “no worker will be employed as permanent temporary worker”.

On land issues:
Depending on his audience, Zuma’s remarks about land have vacillated between an insistence that the government is doing the right thing and admitting that some sort of urgency needs to be injected into its policy. Either way, his remarks have been safe, middle of the road, investor-pleasing stuff.

Speaking at the opening of several infrastructure projects in the Eastern Cape on November 23 2013, he said: “We are also looking at improving housing but are constrained by the land issue, which has not been resolved yet. Today’s programme demonstrates government’s seriousness in extending services that improve lives.

“A lot has been achieved already in 19 years [of democracy] and much more is still being done,” he said.

Speaking to ANC members at the party’s manifesto launch in Mpumalanga in January this year, Zuma appeared to recognise the need for more radical land reform.

“It is a widespread acknowledgement that the ‘willing seller, willing buyer’ system has not been successful … We call on the finalisation of registration of beneficiaries so as to speed up land expropriation,” he said.

Then, at a speech delivered to a group of Afrikaans community leaders at the Voortrekker monument in Pretoria in April 2014, he said land reform was being done in a lawful way. Presumably this was an attempt to settle the nerves of farmers, who are afraid radical land reform would be unconstitutional in that it would threaten individual property rights.

Zuma said land reform needed to be done “responsibly” and in an inclusive manner.

“I want to emphasise that our land reform process is properly regulated, it has been done according to the law and the Constitution,” he said.

On infrastructure:
While on the campaign trail, Zuma has regularly referred to government’s R1-trillion infrastructure roll-out to point to government’s commitment to alleviating poverty and driving economic growth. In his capacity as president of the country, the campaign has allowed for the timeous launch of some of these projects.

In the past six months, according to the Mail & Guardian‘s calculations, based on news reports and official government communications, the president has attended the launches of:

  • A R12-million water infrastructure project in Umzimvubu, Eastern Cape;
  • The De Hoop dam in Sekhukhune, Limpopo;
  • The Nelson Mandela School of Science and Technology in Mvezo, Eastern Cape;
  • The opening of Ngidini Primary school in Ngqeleni, Eastern Cape;
  • The Kalagadi Manganese Sinter plant in Hotazel, Northern Cape;
  • Infrastructure projects, including a substation and the reopening of the Mthatha bridge, in the King Sabata Dalindyebo municipality in Mthatha, Eastern Cape;
  • A permanent exhibition on the life and times of Nelson Mandela at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory in Johannesburg, Gauteng; and
  • New rail wagons for vehicle manufacturers in Uitenhage, Eastern Cape.

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