President Kgalema’s Motlanthe’s first State of the Nation speech held few surprises for ordinary South Africans and walked a tightrope between appeasing the new, more leftist African National Congress (ANC) administration and acknowledging the work done by former president Thabo Mbeki, who was fired last year.
Motlanthe admitted that the occasion of him presenting the State of the Nation address is the ”consequence of a unique circumstance arising out of the decision of the leading party in government to recall the former president”.
He took stock of the government’s performance over the past 15 years and paid homage to Mbeki’s legacy
Motlanthe used former president Nelson Mandela’s biography Long Walk to Freedom as the leit motif for his speech and pointed out that the work done by government is far from complete in realising the ideals of a better life for ordinary people.
There was no less pomp and ceremony at the opening this year despite the slightly awkward atmosphere in which it took place.
Motlanthe arrived by himself despite the storm raging about his alleged love affairs with different women, which was reported in the last few weeks.
Mbeki was nowhere in sight although his work in government formed the major part of Motlanthe’s address.
ANC president Jacob Zuma was enthusiastically welcomed by the announcer in Parliament and he received loud applause when he walked in with his daughter, Dudzile.
Zuma was seated next to Congress of the People president Mosuia Lekota, who received a nod in Motlanthe’s speech as part of a group of student leaders who ”inspir[ed] hope in a period of despair”.
Also in attendance was Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a staunch critic of the ANC, Congress of South African Trade Unions boss Zwelinzima Vavi, who recently declined nomination to Parliament, and prominent businesspeople such as SABC board member Gloria Serobe and billionaire Patrice Motsepe.
The election date would be announced within the next few days, Motlanthe said, as soon as he concluded his consultations with provincial premiers and the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC). This would allow the IEC enough time to conclude its final voter registration drive this weekend. Once the election date is announced the voters roll will close.
Motlanthe also assured industries that are in distress due to the global financial crisis that government would step in and help.
”Government will adapt industrial financing and incentive instruments to help deal with challenges in various sectors and also encourage development finance institutions to assist firms in distress because of the crisis.
”Alternatives to layoffs will be explored, including longer holidays, extended training, short time and jobs sharing,” Motlanthe said.
He also focused on the lack of gender parity in government, saying that currently women constitute only 34% of senior government positions. He also lamented the fact that only 0,2% of positions in the public service are occupied by disabled people.
He spent ample time talking about the ”punishing corruption” in government with no heed to Zuma sitting in the guest benches, who is currently facing corruption charges.
He also neglected to mention the closure of the Scorpions, a key element in the corruption fighting operation of the criminal justice system.
Motlanthe applauded the high rate of investment in South Africa due to ”policies to improve the climate for private sector investments,” but lamented the lack of expansion in the manufacturing sector, which hampered the rate of growth in exports.
He sang the leftist tune that ”growth should entail labour absorption ensuring there is decent work,” but admitted to the proud record of job creation over the past few years.
Motlanthe, as expected, refrained from announcing any new plans, leaving that to the Zuma, who will most likely deliver the next State of the Nation address.