/ 23 July 2010

Talk tough, act tougher

President Jacob Zuma used all the right words on Thursday after the mid-year Cabinet lekgotla to show that things would change for the better — and soon.

The delivery agreements for ministers are almost finalised, so slacking ministers will soon know their fate and government will focus on 12 “outcomes”.

But, despite his big words, not a single new idea has emerged. The only successes in health he could point to were inroads in the fight against polio and measles. Even the so-called “outcomes” are reminiscent of those apex priorities that Thabo Mbeki flagged in the dying days of his presidency.

But most alarmingly, on the issue of job creation, there was nothing new.

During Zuma’s State of the Nation address in February he came up with the idea of a youth wage subsidy, which would see new entrants into the job market getting paid less, but would ensure that they do find some kind of employment that could jumpstart a career.

On Thursday Zuma told reporters the issue was not discussed at the lekgotla because of the raft of criticisms of the idea.

The critics are Cosatu, which told government in no uncertain terms that it would not stand for younger workers being employed under different rules from the rest.

And right there, in his refusal to stand firm on crucial matters, Zuma’s mantra of doing things differently falls flat.

It is disappointing to see the president is not willing to take a tougher stance on this, given that job creation will be the standard by which South Africa soars or stumbles. It is clear he is in favour of a youth wage subsidy because, in a slightly annoyed tone of voice, he said that those who criticise have not come up with any better ideas.

For all Zuma’s talk of keeping the effectiveness barometer as high as it was during the World Cup, he will have to act tougher rather than just talking tough.