/ 13 February 2014

Sona 2014: Zuma raises concern over mining, protests

President Jazob Zuma.
President Jazob Zuma.

President Jacob Zuma has warned that further conflicts within the mining industry could destroy the South African economy, saying business and labour should work together to stabilise industrial relations.

Delivering the last State of the Nation address of his current term on Thursday night, Zuma also reiterated his concerns over violent service delivery protests which have engulfed the country especially since the beginning of this year, and the police brutality which has accompanied them.

The mining sector contributed over R20-billion to the country's gross domestic product. The Chamber of Mines has previously claimed strikes in the mining industry are costing the economy over R400-million a day.

"I want to underline an important point, the importance of economy, particularly to the mine owners and leaders of the unions. In no way can we have conflict that destroys the economy," Zuma said, breaking from his speech.

He stressed if these "two side don't work together even if they have different interests, it affects the economy of the country".

Zuma said what was worrying about the violent service delivery protests was what appears to be premeditated violence, as is the case with the use of petrol bombs and other weapons.

He stressed that government supported the right to protest but "when protests threaten lives and property and destroy valuable infrastructure intended to serve the community, they undermine the very democracy that upholds the right to protest", he said.

"Let me also add … that any loss of life at the hands of the police in the course of dealing with the protests cannot be overlooked or condoned."

Loss of life is "not a small matter" and "police must act within the ambit of the law at all times", he said.

'Police are protectors'
Zuma said society should also be concerned that between 2005 and 2013, close to 800 police officers were killed.

"The police are protectors and are the buffer between a democratic society based on the rule of law, and anarchy. As we hold the police to account, we should be careful not to end up delegitimising them and glorify anarchy in our society."

Zuma said the country needed to conduct an introspection in its efforts to get rid of the culture of violence, which originated from the apartheid past.

"As leaders from all walks of life, we must reflect on what we did or did not do, to systematically root out the violence that surfaced in protests during the early days of our democracy.

"We have a collective responsibility to build a society that respects the rule of law, respects one another and which respects life and property. We should work together to rebuild ubuntu and a culture of responsibility in our society," said Zuma.

He repeated a view made by several analysts, that the service delivery protests were not simply the result of failures of government, but also a result of the success in delivering basic services.

"When 95% of households have access to water, the 5% who still need to be provided for feel they cannot wait a moment longer. Success is also the breeding ground of rising expectations," he said.

On corruption, Zuma repeated an announcement first made when the ANC launched its manifesto last month, that the government will establish a central tender board to adjudicate tenders in all spheres or government. This, he said, will be part of corruption prevention initiatives in the supply chain system.

He said the board will work with the chief procurement officer whose main function will be to check on pricing and adherence to procedures as well as fairness.

Zuma said over the past 20 years, remarkable achievements have been made by increasing access to services such as water, sanitation and electricity. Government has also begun an intensive programme to eliminate the bucket system as part of restoring the dignity of people.

He said phase one of the programme will eradicate buckets in formalised townships of the Free State, Eastern Cape and Northern Cape, while the second phase will eradicate buckets in informal settlements in all provinces.

While some communities still did not have these services, especially in informal settlements and rural areas, they were working with all spheres of government to ensure the provision of these services, especially in the 23 municipalities with the greatest number of backlogs, he said.

Zuma highlighted the introduction of long-term state planning capacity in the form of the National Planning Commission, and the National Development Plan (NDP), as a "major achievement of the fourth administration".

The state had been preparing a medium-term strategic framework over the last year in preparation for the incoming administration following the elections, Zuma said. This framework had been designed as the first five-year building block of the NDP between 2014 and 2019.

But despite its initial reception, the NDP has increasingly been met with stiff opposition from across the economic spectrum.

Continuing with his emphasis on achievements, Zuma noted that despite a recession that shed a million jobs, the economy has grown at 3.2% a year from 1994 to 2012. He said that gross domestic product had grown to more that R3.5-trillion, and that jobs were being created again. He also highlighted that over 650 000 jobs were created last year, according to Stats SA. "This is still not good enough,” he said, conceding that the unemployment rate still remains high.

The most recent quarterly labour force survey, released by StatsSA this week, said in the fourth quarter of 2013 unemployment dropped marginally from 24.5% to 24.1%. Job gains came predominantly from the informal sector, while in the formal sector employment growth came mainly from the creation of additional government jobs.

Zuma acknowledged that the economic climate remained difficult, given development in the United States, which had led to a 17.6% depreciation of the rand against the US dollar during 2013.

This turbulence was something Zuma said the economy could "cope with" as it has done over the last five years.

However, the weaker exchange rate did pose a significant risk to inflation and would also make the country's infrastructure programme more expensive, he noted.

He highlighted a number of the ongoing infrastructure projects, led by the presidential infrastructure coordinating commission, including the construction of new power stations: Medupi in Limpopo, Kusile in Mpumalanga, and Ingula near Ladysmith.

Zuma pointed out that his address was about the legacy of his administration and those of his predecessors over the past 20 years. This was met with consistent heckling from opposition benches.

"This is not an occasion to present the programme of action for this financial year. That programme will be presented by the new government after the elections," he said, adding that he had no clue who would be in power after the elections, which was met with laughter.

The framework would be refined by the new administration in line with its electoral mandate, so that work can start as soon as possible after the formation of a new government.