‘The president needs to retire to Nkandla’

South Africans can expect election campaigning in Parliament this week as political parties go head-to-head, debating President Jacob Zuma's State of the Nation Address (Sona) from last week. 

With elections in just under three months, the traditional parliamentary debate that follows the president's annual address will offer opposition parties an opportunity to woo voters dissatisfied with the ANC-led government. Their responses will take place on Tuesday and Wednesday, while Zuma will use his reply on Thursday to convince South Africans of the gains of his administration's first term in office.

But negative reactions from opposition parties started pouring in after Thursday's speech.

"If he's looking to do well in these elections that was a very disappointing speech from the ANC's perspective," said Democratic Alliance (DA) spokesperson on finance Tim Harris after last week's speech, referencing the president's plan for six-million jobs, which the DA have taken on.

Defending Zuma's speech
A number of ANC MPs and government figures defended Zuma's speech, which was primarily looking back at the achievements of his first term in office and the first 20 years of democracy, saying it was the first segment of a two-part speech. Zuma is expected to give a second State of the Nation speech after elections, which he is expected to win, when Parliament is reconstituted to outline his plans for his last term in office. 

But Harris felt that did not justify Thursday's speech. 

"Even though there will be another State of the Nation for the next Parliament, I don't think he's going into this election in a very strong position."

A particular bugbear with opposition parties that is likely to make a reappearance in debates this week was Zuma's emphasis on tackling corruption with questions around spending on his private home in Nkandla looming over his head. 

"It was interesting to hear him talk about people wanting a corrupt-free society when there are so many fingers pointing at him regarding corruption," said African Christian Democratic Party leader Kenneth Moshoe. "I think I would have applauded him if he told the country that he messed up with Nkandla and he's willing to pay back what he took that he was not supposed to have taken."

Security upgrades to the president's home in Nkandla to the tune of R260-million has raised the ire of opposition parties and the public. The country is awaiting the public protector's report into the matter

Zuma out of touch
The DA's parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko weighed in on the matter too, saying Zuma also showed himself to be out of touch and in denial about the scourge of corruption.

"He has no credibility in the fight against corruption because he has still not answered for the 783 charges of corruption against him, as well as the R200-million in public money, which he has spent on his private home at Nkandla."

Mazibuko said if Zuma was serious about fighting corruption, he would have announced policies and legislation to ensure that tender committees were open to all members of the public.

The Congress of the People's Mosiuoa Lekota meanwhile suggested an early retirement for the country's president to his residence. 

"The president needs to retire to Nkandla; he has no new ideas and I think he has overstayed his welcome."

Lekota and others also criticised the successes listed by Zuma. 

"We cannot be expected to celebrate the recovery of R300-million from fraudulent activities when more than R20-billion goes missing every year because of irregular and fruitless expenditure," he said. "We cannot be expected to be cheerful about the high enrolment of pupils in schools when the dropout rate is equally high and the quality of education being offered is not worth the paper its written on."

Mazibuko said that while Zuma painted a rosy picture of job creation under his tenure, the reality was very different.

'Courting voters to vote'
"When he was elected in 2009, President Zuma promised to create five-million more jobs. Only 561 000 of these jobs have materialised … In other words, he has created only one job for every 10 he promised," she said.

Mazibuko said there are 1.4-million more unemployed South Africans than there were on the day Zuma took office.

Meanwhile, Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosutho Buthelezi pointed out that the president used the Sona platform, like many others, to push the ANC using state resources, effectively blurring the lines between party and state. 

"This was an election speech and in fact I expected it to be an election speech. But the president made it so obvious through his refrain that 'we have a good story to tell' with a big smile and so on," said Buthelezi, referencing the ANC's election slogan. "You could see he was just courting voters to vote for the ANC."

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Verashni Pillay
Verashni Pillay is the former editor-in-chief of the Mail & Guardian, and inaugural editor-in chief of Huffington Post South Africa. She has worked at various periods as senior reporter covering politics and general news, specialises in mediamanagement and relishes the task of putting together the right team to create compelling and principled journalism across multiple platforms.

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