The State of the Nation speech Zuma won’t give –

Mr Speaker. The state of the nation is precarious. We have such wealth, but we have so much poverty. The inequality is quite simply unsustainable. Something has to give. So what, you may ask, is the plan?

In November, the National Planning Commission’s first National Development Plan was published. Admirably constructed as it is, it suffers in one respect from the disease that infected my immediate predecessor: apparently it contracted the virus known as Mbeki-itis — the tendency, namely, to over-complicate things.

There are too many recommendations — over a hundred of them! — when I was hoping for something where each one of us could remember and recite the five big things we have got to do as a country over the next 20 years.

Accordingly, we have extracted from the full National Development Report a five-point National Strategic Plan for Sustainable Inclusive Development — or SID as we shall henceforth refer to it.

In this, I should note in passing that we should all be grateful for the clarity that the presidential spokesperson has brought to presidential communications since his appointment, notwithstanding the attempts of certain newspapers to undermine his reputation.

To quote Tony Blair, I have three main priorities — education, education, education. Decent education is, indeed, my first and foremost goal. In my January 8 statement I attached for the very first time the word “crisis” to the state of education in South Africa. I could have gone further and described it as an emergency. For while we continue to fail to prepare our young people for a harsh and uncompromising world, we fail not only them but all of us, threatening the future prosperity of the nation and its social fabric.

We already have a lost generation — the “OBE generation”. Now we must do whatever is necessary to ensure that teachers are equipped to teach. By declaring education a national emergency, my government will enlist the help of qualified people throughout the land to help to educate our young people.

There are hundreds of thousands of middle-class South Africans who are highly educated but spend all their days either drinking lattes, attending Pilates classes or buying and selling property in an endless cycle of aimless avarice. Many of them want to help; my government will provide that opportunity. In the coming months, we will conduct a national consultation to determine how best to organise a national emergency volunteer teachers’ support scheme.

In this, we will invite the partnership of Equal Education, a pioneering non-governmental organisation, as an example of the new relationship with progressive organisations that we wish to forge.

Secondly, we will take a page out of the copybook of our Chinese friends and commit wholeheartedly to renewable energy. We have a competitive advantage, with our abundant natural resources — not of coal but of wind, solar and wave — that we must seize with two hands. Our ambition must be to ensure that renewable energy provides at least 15% of our energy needs by 2020 and 30% by 2050. These are bold but plausible goals.

We made a solid start to this with the South African Renewables’ Initiative that I announced in Durban at the international climate change negotiations at the end of last year where — and I must give public credit to her for this — my minister for foreign affairs pulled a real rabbit out of the hat with that last-minute agreement to agree to continue to try to reach agreement.

When she ordered the main protagonists to form a huddle in the middle of the final plenary after a long sleepless night, it was a masterstroke: it was South African process-brinkswomanship at its very best! We can be proud that the Kyoto Protocol did not die on African soil. Our international reputation was enhanced, accordingly. And my home province did rather well out of the whole shebang as well. Not that there is any pork in my barrel, Mr Speaker.

As the report published at the end of last year by Minister Patel indicates, hundreds of thousands of new, low-carbon jobs can be created net of any losses that may occur in fossil fuel-based industries.

Thirdly, in this process we must also get the incentives right. Accordingly, I have instructed my minister of finance and his team at the national treasury to cease their consideration of the pros and cons and to introduce a carbon tax in the budget. In future, all externalities must be properly priced; we must no longer subsidise the export of profit or damage to our ecosystem.

Notwithstanding the global crisis of capitalism, the rich must give more. The energy-intensive users’ group, including Eskom, must reduce its share of the carbon budget, which must be equitably shared.

Mr Speaker, I can’t please all the people all the time. And I have resolved to stop thinking that I can. That is my New Year’s resolution. This year my government will be bold and decisive. There is simply no time to fudge and dither.

It was regrettable that the ANC’s internal report on mining was leaked earlier this week to delegates of the mining indaba [president looks to public gallery and winks at Mac Maharaj]. But, as the report categorically states, although nationalisation of the mines is certainly not a viable option, we must find ways to ensure that our natural mineral resources — such as platinum — are fully exploited through domestic beneficiation in service of the public interest, with an increased strategic stake for the developmental state.

Fourthly, as the national plan says, infrastructure must be a key catalyst in driving sustainable inclusive growth. I intend to exert great leadership in this regard and propose to establish a presidential co-ordinating structure.

Fifthly, therefore, much though I admire our alliance partner Cosatu’s commitment to decent work and good labour practice, not to mention their much-needed stand on corruption, and much though I understand their reluctance to cede any ground on their single biggest achievement since 1994 — the Labour Relations Act — I am going to stand up to them from now on and say: a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush.

We need a national apprentice training scheme. Employers will be required to take on a certain number of apprentices and to provide them with a modern-day skills set. Without the scheme, SID will be an empty vessel, if you catch my drift, Mr Speaker.

From now on my administration must be entirely focused on these objectives. We will cease to tilt, like Don Quixote, at windmills. There are already far too many dons sniffing in and around government procurement processes.

Hence, we will table an amendment to what has been called the “secrecy Bill” to create a public­interest defence for cases where information about corruption is received by an individual, even if the information is “classified”. We need to protect and respect whistleblowers.

The press can be mighty pesky at times, but when compared with the real problems we face — poverty, unemployment, a harsh global economic environment, runaway climate change — they are but tiny nits. We must keep a proper sense of perspective; we must keep our real priorities in sight.

I have nothing to hide and nor should my colleagues in Cabinet. The dangers of openness and possible harm that can befall the public interest when state secrets are disclosed are invariably exaggerated.

In addition, we will withdraw the frankly silly idea that we can monitor the performance of the Constitutional Court. It has no basis in law and is being misinterpreted. It will cause more harm than it will do good. We recognise that the court’s jurisprudence has in general been protective of the interests of the poorest citizens.

No longer will my ministers claim in private conversations that the “Constitutional Court is against us”. It is not. It is simply doing its job as ultimate steward of the transformative constitutional project.

The Constitution remains our pivot, our watchword, our guiding star. Its vision of a just and equal society is the one to which we must all aspire. It is time now for us to make sacrifices in its pursuit and for me to lead a national effort based on the five strategic goals that I have outlined. And lead is exactly what I intend to do.

Richard Calland
Richard Calland
Richard Calland has for over twenty years been working in the fields of democratic governance and sustainable development in South Africa and beyond. Based at the University of Cape Town (UCT), where he is Associate Professor in Public Law, he built and led its Democratic Governance & Rights Unit from 2007-2016.

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