Editorial: Totally inadequate response to crises

First, the enhancement of President Jacob Zuma's private complex at Nkandla, which looks as though it will cost well beyond R230-million in public funds and, second, the protracted labour stalemate that is becoming increasingly violent and sparking a devastating knock-on effect to the whole economy.

On the matter of Nkandla, the president himself had the opportunity to comment when asked about it this week on television. As so often on issues of pubic concern, Zuma's response was once more a non-response, another great big shrug: he knew nothing, he saw nothing. Ask the minister, he said, as though it had nothing whatsoever to do with him.

Of course, the media had already asked the minister, in this case, Minister of Public Works Thulas Nxesi. That was a week ago. As we know and Zuma appears not to, Nxesi's response was basically that the media should stop poking its nose into sensitive areas. Invoking apartheid-era legislation, he said Nkandla was a key security point and any information about the project was a state secret. He spent more energy denouncing whoever might have disclosed such information – and threatening to find and punish them – than he did in addressing the concern that huge amounts of public money were being spent on the president's personal aggrandisement and accumulation.

As for the wildcat and often bloody strikes spreading across the country, the government's response was even more redolent of apartheid-style kragdadigheid – as if the security and policing issues to do with the Marikana massacre were not already burning in citizens' minds. We'll crack down, said Richard Baloyi, the minister of co-operative governance and traditional affairs, after some mild rebuke of violent actions in general.

That fist-waving warning may reassure some, and nobody wants more of the ugly spectacle of trucks being burnt or drivers being assaulted (one who died was buried this week), but a heavy-handed state response will exacerbate tensions, not calm them. The image of South Africa as a place of violent wildcat strikes and violent state intervention is already being widely projected internationally, to our great economic and moral harm.

In this situation, and with such manifestly inadequate responses from the government powers concerned, one is likely to forget entirely that the ruling party is, in fact, in alliance with Cosatu, the largest labour federation in the land. The bulk of those on strike are Cosatu members. Why is the government not working this out with their putative leaders? Are they not speaking to each other because of factionalist tensions ahead of the ANC's elective conference? Or are the leaderships of both organisations so cut off from ordinary people's lives and involved in their own clawing for power and accumulation that they cannot even recognise the problem?

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It does not look as though the deeper issues are being addressed and it certainly does not look as though either of the ministers mentioned, let alone the president, are able to give a response that satisfies anyone.

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