Opposition leaders were quick to dismiss President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation address in Parliament on Wednesday as ”a wish list”.
The Democratic Alliance (DA), the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and the Congress of the People (Cope) all agreed that the speech was long on good intentions, but seriously short of substance.
For Cope, their first deputy president Mbhazima Shilowa categorised the address as more of the same, with a lot of missed opportunities.
”Everything was about what we will ensure rather than a programme of action for the next five years,” he said.
For the DA, Parliamentary leader Athol Trollip said the reduction of red tape which is stifling small enterprises said nothing at all about the labour regulations.
”Labour is often the most stifling issue. Labour and its policies make it almost impossible for small businesses to survive in this kind of environment,” he said.
Trollip was also concerned about creeping socialism — especially in relation to agrarian reform. He suggested that perhaps that was a sop to his left-wing supporters in return for some labour concession.
Helen Zille, the DA party leader and Western Cape premier, was most anxious about the determination Zuma expressed to press ahead with the unified civil service.
”It will make government more and more centralised and will undermine the independence of local governments,” she said.
Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the leader of the IFP, said he regarded the speech as an expression of intent, rather than a detailed programme of action.
But he had praise for the intention to uplift the poor.
”That resonates very well with us,” he said, but he noted that Zuma also warned that it might be difficult to implement that because of ”the global meltdown”.
The general secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, Zwelinzima Vavi, said he was worried about what the president said on reducing the bureaucracy stifling small businesses.
”We want to hear the details of what that means,” Vavi said, ”because in the past that term was used in a most problematic fashion, in a way that was interpreted to mean that the workers in those businesses have their rights reduced.”
Nehawu endorses government commitment to manifesto
Meanwhile, Zuma’s confirmation that government was committed to implementing the ANC’s manifesto was welcomed by the National Education Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu).
One of the points Zuma made was that in spite of the country’s shrinking economy, the plans that the ANC placed before the electorate would remain at the core of the government’s programme.
In reaction, Nehawu said it fully supported this stance.
”We endorse and support the government’s overarching stance that the current economic crisis will not cause any change in the content of the programme and that the government is committed to implement the ANC’s manifesto with speed and determination.”
The union added that it hoped to engage with government on its Medium Term Strategic Framework for 2009 to 2014 as presented by Zuma in his speech.
Nehawu said it welcomed government’s commitment to speed up the establishment of a single public service as well as its commitment to the introduction of a National Health Insurance scheme.
The union added it was commendable that Zuma had committed the R787-billion infrastructure expenditure not only to public enterprises, but also towards the poor.
Zuma announced in his speech that the money would also be spent on the school building programme, public transport, including the bus rapid transit system, housing, water and sanitation.
Nehawu also lauded Zuma’s intention to combat corruption.
The union, however, said it was concerned that there had been no mention of the implementation of all the outstanding Occupation Specific Dispensations as well as the filling of all funded vacancies in the public service in line with government’s previous commitments.
Nehawu added that while it welcomed Zuma’s pledge on job creation, it was worried about the ”silence” over the commitment made in the Medium Term Budget Policy Statement in October 2008 when government stated that it had set aside R4-billion to create 155Â 000 permanent jobs each year up until 2011.
”We require clarity on this,” the union said.
Clarification was also required on Zuma’s pledge to create a Border Management Agency ”because of its potential implications for workers currently working at border posts as part of the public service”, Nehawu said.
Zuma has ”clear vision” for SA
Agri SA said on Wednesday that Zuma’s address was to the point and testament to his ”clear vision” for South Africa in Africa.
”Striking was the absence of political rhetoric and conspicuous a clear awareness of the problems the world economy and South Africa are contending with,” the organisation’s president Johannes Moller said in a statement.
The agriculture sector was assuredly not apathetic towards poverty, unemployment and the recession Zuma focused on in his address to Parliament, Moller said.
Agriculture was proudly making more than positive contributions in all these areas.
”We want to build further on agriculture’s good record in this regard, particularly that of the recent past.”
With rural areas essentially the domain of agriculture, Moller found Zuma’s focus on rural development and the development and improvement of infrastructure of particular interest.
He also confirmed that the renewed focus on the prevention of crime would receive the ”biggest possible support” of organised agriculture.
In its statement, Agri SA said it took notice of the emphasis Zuma placed on international relations, African development, cooperation in the Southern African Development Community and the economic problems in Zimbabwe.
Moller said Agri SA was presently analysing and obtaining a mandate from its members on its possible role in this respect. — I-Net Bridge, Sapa