While opposition parties poked holes all over President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation address, their assessment was not as scathing as it had been in previous years.
Last year, the opposition fiercely criticised Zuma and the ruling party during a highly-charged debate on his opening of Parliament speech.
Although the opposition parties still criticised Zuma and the ANC for failing to combat corruption, the poor state of education and being soft on the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (Sadtu), their tone on Tuesday was gentle.
Democratic Alliance (DA) parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko outlined her party’s vision for the country and how they would do things differently, focusing on the economy and education.
While she acknowledged the successes the president highlighted in education, she also underscored the failures.
“Over a million learners enrolled for grade one in 2000. But only half that number wrote matric last year, and just over 348 000 passed. That means just 33% of the children who started school in grade one finished matric. Why is this?” she asked.
“In disadvantaged schools, teachers work on average three and a half hours a day compared to six and a half in advantaged schools. In disadvantaged schools, a fifth of teachers are absent on Fridays and almost 30% of students are taught maths by teachers with no maths qualification,” she added.
On job creation, Mazibuko said although the party applauded any gains in employment, statistics showed more than 100 000 jobs were lost last year and 624nbsp;000 jobs had been created in the last decade, which equated to total employment increase rate of 0.5%.
“This means that the rate of job creation would need to rise by nearly 10 times in order to meet the most optimistic projections of job creation for the end of the decade,” she added.
Congress of the People leader Mosiuoa Lekota called for the government to defeat poverty and corruption, saying: “No nation can achieve progress without a steely determination to defeat its enemies.”
Lekota cited four issues that required a concentrated attack by the government: poor education; persistently high rates of unemployment; corruption; and absent, poor or inadequately maintained infrastructure.
“Our most dangerous enemies have been identified. However, unless government and the nation inculcate a fierce warrior spirit to defeat them, the South Africa of our hopes and dreams will lie in tatters,” said Lekota.
Turning to education, Lekota said it was sad that Zuma did not devote sufficient attention to education and training in his speech.
“In fact, he praised educators for observing working time instead of addressing himself to the disappointing state of education and poor teaching standards … The praise of Cosatu for supporting educator compliance with being on time and remaining till school closing time was a serious mistake on the part of the president … The teachers union, Sadtu is antagonistic to inspection, full compliance with conditions of service and providing learners with the guarantee that their future is safe in their hands. What was the president saying by thanking them for what they should be doing as a matter of course and nothing special? Who is leading and who is doing the following?”
The United Democratic Movement’s Bantu Holomisa said Zuma’s address demonstrated that the government has “finally woken up to the reality” that the fate of South Africans could no longer be left to the free market system alone.
“Government has a duty to invest in its economy through projects like infrastructure development … The private sector seems to have no willingness to invest in the development of the infrastructure of previously disadvantaged communities … Even companies that have the capacity to do so like Anglo American delisted from our stock exchange in favour of foreign ones, without any prospect of the funds coming back to the South African economy,” said Holomisa.
He called on Zuma and Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe to meet with party leaders “to map out a clear strategy to deal with what you aptly described as the triple challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment”.
“These problems are bigger than one political party,” said Holomisa.
Holomisa also challenged the president regarding the controversial statements he made about changing the powers of the Constitutional Court.
“I have yet to see a day when people protest to change the powers of the Constitutional Court. But I have seen many legitimate protests about service delivery which do not seem to receive the same attention.”
The elephant in the room
The Inkatha Freedom Party’s Mangosuthu Buthelezi said they had been left with the impression that attention was being directed away from the “elephant in the room”.
“It is therefore good and well to say that our government is working with various provinces to improve governance, systems and administration. But the unspoken fact remains that two of our nine provinces have all but collapsed.”
Buthelezi pointed out that Limpopo has been rendered bankrupt and five of its departments have been taken over by the national government. In the Eastern Cape, the national government has intervened in the the province’s poor education system.
“Corruption is the bane of our country. It is a fundamental threat to our constitutional democracy … Yet you shy away from this issue, Mr President.”
Buthelezi added his voice in criticising Zuma’s praise for Sadtu. “Mr President, you praise the trade unions, and even Sadtu, as if they should be thanked for doing less than the full measure of their destructive capabilities.
“Praising Sadtu for its diligent teachers was a step too far in placating the unions.”
Buthelezi said Sadtu should be rebuked, not praised, for their actions have aggravated and deepened the crisis in the education system.
ANC chief whip, Mathole Motshekga applauded Zuma’s address as having provided the road map for the country and a comprehensive plan to address inequality poverty and unemployment.
“This is the product of a disciplined mind, consistent work and adherence to revolutionary values and principles.”
Motshekga pledged that Parliament would strengthen and resource the Multiparty Chief Whips Forum as an integral organ of Parliament to oversee the implementation of the president’s infrastructure plans. “This will enhance the oversight role of Parliament and ensure the successful implementation of the presidential infrastructure development plan.”
For news and multimedia on the State of the Nation address visit our special report.