Mbeki’s practical call to action

On the one hand President Thabo Mbeki’s State of the Nation address showed a man of steely resolve — without the characteristic poetry, Bible verses and George Soros references, his speech was concise, pragmatic and resolute. His marching orders to his Cabinet, “let us roll up our sleeves and get down to work”, set out the blueprint for his final two and half years in office.

On the other hand, he seemed unconfident, distracted, subdued. For most South Africans there was a climate of expectation about the speech — one analyst described it as a “kind of national, sporting spectacle” — after the debacle surrounding the First National Bank anti-crime campaign and this being the year of the climactic presidential succession battle in the ANC.

The speech was bound to disappoint, and to many it did.

Yet the minimalist nature of the address — this year Mbeki largely steered away from pegging his delivery targets to monthly, quarterly and annual deadlines — may have been strategic, exactly because of the raging national succession debate.

The result was a speech that was remarkable in its technical detail — it demonstrated his eagle-eyed view of every government department — but unremarkable in its vision and ability to enthuse the nation to “act in partnership to realise the happiness for all that should come from liberty”.

The speech also lacked the chutzpah to galvanise the parliamentary theme this year: Masijule Ngengxoxo Mzansi,” which means, “let us deepen the debate”.

It was a classic business mid-term review — a frank post-mortem of delivery to date and a bullet-point to-do list for the future. It is unfortunate that it lacked the state-like musing designed to inspire a nation that Mbeki demonstrated in his famous “Get rich! Get rich! Get rich!” Fourth Annual Nelson Mandela Lecture at Wits University last year.

This is a list of the promises he has made this year.


  • Review the country’s macro-economic fundamentals, especially the exchange rate, inflation and interest rates, to bolster the non-commodity export market.
  • National industrial policy framework

    • Intensify implementation and investment in growth nodes, including the business process outsourcing sector, biofuels and chemicals.
    • Finalise practical programmes for the forestry and paper, clothing and textiles and metals and engineering sectors.
    • Develop an over-arching strategy to prioritise key interventions in mining, mineral beneficiation, agriculture and agro-processing, the white-goods sector, creative industries, community and social services and pharmaceuticals.
    • Establish a state diamond trade company that will purchase 10% of diamonds from local producers and sell them to local cutters and producers.


  • Build a second nuclear power station by 2013 with upwards of 1 000MW strength.
  • Competition

  • Introduce the regulatory impact assessment system to lower the cost of doing business in South Africa.
  • Process the Companies Bill as part of a battery of measures to reduce the regulatory burden on SMMEs.
  • Micro-finance

    • Address the reach of the Apex fund and the agricultural micro-credit fund.
    • Ensure the proper functioning of the Small Enterprise Development Agency.

    Education and skills

    • Increase the number of youths involved in the National Youth Service by at least 20 000 a month through 18 government departments.
    • Enrol 30 000 volunteers in community development initiatives.
    • Employ 5 000 young people in the maintenance of government buildings as part of the Expanded Public Works Programme.
    • Expand training and employment of nurses and social workers.
    • Continue the implementation of the remuneration dispensation for medical professionals and provide additional resources to improve the remuneration levels of teachers.


    Expedite land redistribution.

    Start implementing the Communal Land Rights Act to improve economic use of communal land.


    • Complete the taxi recapitalisation programme.
    • Continue work on provincial initiatives such as the Moloto rail corridor in Mpumalanga, the Klipfontein corridor in Cape Town and the Gautrain project.

    Social security

  • Establish a contributory earnings-related retirement scheme. This will include a wage subsidy for low-income earners.
  • Housing

    • Speed up the construction of low-cost housing through the establishment of a special purpose vehicle to manage financing.
    • Ensure that the remaining elements of the much delayed agreement with the private sector are finalised.


    • Ensure the implementation, “without further delay”, of measures to reduce the cost of medicines.
    • Intensify the campaign against HIV/Aids and ensure that partnerships built up over the years are strengthened.
    • Finalise the national comprehensive strategy against HIV/Aids.

    Basic services:

    • Complete concrete plans on the implementation of the final stages of government programmes to meet the targets of universal access to water in 2008, sanitation in 2010 and electricity in 2012.
    • Eradicate the bucket system by the end of this year (last year government reduced the numbers of those still using it by half).


    • Define the poverty matrix of South Africa.
    • Develop a proper database of households living in poverty and identify specific interventions for these households.
    • Coordinate and align anti-poverty programmes to avoid waste and duplication.

    Social cohesion

  • Finalise the strategy to deal with social cohesion, including the comprehensive and integrated anti-poverty strategy and issues pertaining to national unity, value systems and identity.
  • Crime and security

    • Expand police personnel to more than 180 000 within three years.
    • Ensure optimal use of the police electronic monitoring and evaluation system.
    • Bring the operations of the department of home affairs to full capacity by filling vacant posts.
    • Implement the recommendations of the Khampepe Commission.
    • Start the process of modernising the South African Revenue Service, especially in respect of border control.
    • Improve analysis of crime trends with regard to both preventing and combating crime.
    • Improve the functioning of the justice system, especially with respect to increasing the rate of reduction in case backlogs


    Local government

  • Implement pilot projects for the National Spatial Development Perspective, Provincial Growth and Development Strategies and Integrated Development Plans in 13 district municipalities and metropolitans.
  • Macro-organisation of the state

    • Strengthen the monitoring and evaluation capacity of all three spheres of government.
    • Within the next 18 months complete legislation on a single public service.
    • Conduct capacity assessments and implement interventions in provincial departments responsible for local government.
    • Roll out the Batho Pele campaign at local government level.

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    Vicki Robinson
    Guest Author

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