Can Mbeki satisfy the Zuma camp?

The new leader of the African National Congress, Jacob Zuma, will be one of the principal dignitaries at the opening of Parliament on Friday, when his predecessor Thabo Mbeki will be making what could be his last speech on the state of the nation.

Former presidents Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk are not expected to be present on the occasion.

It will mark the first time that Mbeki will make a statement on the policies of his government since the ANC’s national conference in Polokwane last year removed him from a position of controlling the party.

A great deal of attention will be paid to how Mbeki manages to adapt his policies to those being insisted on by the party, and how skilled he will be in pretending it is not happening.

On the other hand, it will be interesting to see whether he is able to dump any of the policies that Polokwane wished on him, while at the same time pretending that he is not doing so.

Smoke and mirrors will be required. But the man on the red carpet a few paces behind him will be watching to see if he can identify any sleight of hand.

Certainly there will be a good deal of smoke swirling around the government’s ability to do more for the poor. Job creation, income support, expanded public works will all probably figure in what he has to say.

And Zuma’s enthusiastic supporters in the Congress of South African Trade Unions have already set out their stall, stacked with the goodies they expect him to be buying.

Cosatu’s spokesperson Patrick Craven this week drew attention to food prices, saying everything possible must be done to stabilise and reduce the price of food, fuel, electricity and other basic necessities, on which the poorest families spend the highest proportion of their meagre incomes.

“Allegations of price-fixing and ‘import-parity pricing’ must be thoroughly investigated and strong punishment meted out to any companies found guilty of illegally profiteering at the expense of the poor,” Craven said.

“Subsidies to keep down prices should be considered and ways found to increase the production of food so that the price can be brought down.”

Craven called for protection for vulnerable industries from unfair competition from cheap and subsidised imports from China and wealthy developed countries.

The president, with Cosatu breathing down his neck, is bound to address the pace of land reform.

The government has an Expropriation Bill ready for Parliament, and this will figure in the speech.

As Cosatu has said, the speed of reform “needs to be dramatically increased if we are to come near to the target the government has set. We look forward to the end of the ‘willing-buyer, willing-seller principle’ so that land can be given to the people and more assistance to help the new owners use the land to increase food production and thus help to bring down prices.”

Opposition parties have also not been short on suggestions about Mbeki should say on Friday.

In particular, the Democratic Alliance leader has called on him to “roll back the national democratic revolution”. Fat chance.

According to DA leader Helen Zille, the mayor of Cape Town: “The president must announce on Friday that his government will unequivocally defend the Scorpions and oppose their dissolution and absorption by the SAPS; reject the ANC proposals to establish a media tribunal; change the SABC’s funding formula; and resist attempts by the ANC to make the judiciary accountable to the ruling party.”

In addition, the DA said he must review the rules that allow the speaker of the National Assembly to hold high political office in the ruling party, and establish a judicial commission of inquiry, with full powers of subpoena, to thoroughly investigate the arms deal.

Even less likely, he is being urged to appoint people to positions in the state based on their abilities rather than their loyalty to the ANC or a particular faction of it.

Cosatu, of course, are having none of this. The union “rejects with contempt the pathetic pleas Zille for the president to ‘repudiate’ the national democratic revolution (NDR) and ignore the mandate he has been given by the delegates at the Polokwane conference. Far from being a threat to democracy, as she claims, the NDR is democracy in action”.

“Unlike Zille’s preferred form of democracy in which you are allowed to vote every five years and then told to shut up and let the government and state do what they like, the NDR is a means by which the masses can take active control of their lives, their government and the future of their society.”

Mbeki is also expected to address the energy crisis.

While much of the speech will be a product of the Cabinet’s lekgotla (meeting) in January, at which this year’s programme of action was delineated, the one thing that was too urgent to be left to the State of the Nation Address was the power crisis. The government’s plans have already been laid out by Minister of Public Enterprises Alec Erwin and Minister of Mineral and Energy Affairs Buyelwa Sonjica at a special press conference and at the behest of the new Speaker of Parliament, Baleka Mbete. ‒ I-Net Bridge

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