‘Business as usual’ for Thabo Mbeki

There was nothing ”unusual” about President Thabo Mbeki’s Friday State of the Nation address, Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Helen Zille said. ”Contrary to the stated theme of his speech, this was business as usual for the president,” she said.

Writing in her weekly newsletter, Zille said Mbeki failed to respond to the nation’s concerns. ”As has become his custom, he has failed to confront the realities facing our country head-on,” she said.

Once again, Mbeki refused to hold government ministers accountable for problems currently being experienced by South Africans.

”Instead of firing the ministers responsible for the electricity crisis, the president said today that those who do not reduce their electricity consumption should be named and shamed. The obvious response is: Why has he not named and shamed Alec Erwin and Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka? Why are they still in the Cabinet?” Zille said.

Mbeki also failed to deal with many of the concerns raised by the DA, including those pertaining to threats by the African National Congress (ANC) leadership to close down the Scorpions investigative unit.

”Instead of unequivocally defending the unit’s right to exist independently of the South African Police Service, he has been deliberately vague about the unit’s future. Given the fervour with which the ANC have vowed to dissolve the unit, the future of the Scorpions looks bleak,” she said.

It is now clear that Mbeki has become a ”lame duck”, she said, adding: ”He has failed to lead, failed to inspire and failed to offer hope — he has made it clear that his government will not accept responsibility for the very real crises facing our country.”

In view of the serious blunders committed by Mbeki’s government, the DA has resolved to call for general elections immediately. ”The DA will next week table a motion in Parliament to dissolve the National Assembly in order for a fresh election to be held.

”We believe that the people of South Africa should decide on which party, not just which faction of the ruling party, they want to lead them out of the crises we face,” Zille said.

‘List of promises’

Independent Democrats leader Patricia de Lille said Mbeki’s address was ”another list of promises”.

”What we really need is for government to implement those plans. Similar promises have been made before, but government has failed to deliver on many of them,” she wrote in a statement.

Mbeki failed to give assurances that crime would be dealt with ”firmly”, and he was vague about the Scorpions. ”[He] failed to reassure the nation that he would protect the Scorpions from political interference. We need the Scorpions and we need them to remain independent.”

He also did not say why he had still not implemented the Khampepe commission’s recommendations that the Scorpions remain independent of the police.

Furthermore, Mbeki failed to outline a rescue plan for the ”thousands of jobs” threatened by the energy crisis. While De Lille welcomed his apology for the national emergency, she said he failed to take action against those responsible.

Some concerns

South Africa’s second-largest trade-union confederation, the Federation of Unions of South Africa (Fedusa), welcomed ”aspects” of Mbeki’s State of the Nation address, with some concerns.

Fedusa general secretary Dennis George said the federation welcomed the urgent convening of a joint presidential working group to deal with the electricity crisis, but it was concerned that smaller companies had already been ”forced to scale down on production or even halt their activities completely and had sent workers home without pay”.

It was also concerned that Mbeki had not placed a monetary figure on what investment would be made to rectify the electricity crisis.

George welcomed Mbeki’s announcement that R2,3-billion had been set aside to support the industrial policy initiatives and that R5-billion had been offered in tax incentives to promote industrialisation. ”Fedusa is very disappointed as we would have expected the president to also announce the targeted amount of decent jobs that these initiatives would create in order to avoid repeating the same mistakes as with the lucrative arms deal.”

He welcomed the call for a public-sector summit to improve the capacity of the state.

”Government should improve on the services offered and managed by all spheres of government and ensure proper, proactive planning within a framework of basic business ethics, thereby delivering to the people of South Africa,” George said.

Grants

The lowering of the age of eligibility for access to old-age grants to 60 years for men and the raising of the eligibility age for access to child-support grants to 18 years was welcomed by the Food and Allied Workers’ Union (Fawu).

Fawu said while it is happy that men will now, as women already do, benefit from the old-age-grant from 60-years onwards, it believes the eligibility age should be slashed even more. ”We still believe the eligibility age should be lowered to 55 years for all,” the union said.

It supports Mbeki’s emphasis on rural development strategy, including highlighting the plight of farm dwellers. ”We still believe that the envisioned national summit on the plight of farm dwellers is necessary in order to deliver a comprehensive intervention package that is needed in addressing this plight,” Fawu said.

However, it expressed disappointment at Mbeki’s silence on the need for government intervention in rising food prices. — Sapa

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