/ 18 February 2014

Sona debate focuses on ANC’s ‘good story’

President Jazob Zuma.
President Jazob Zuma.

If the National Assembly was Twitter, the phrase "it is indeed a good story" would be trending on Tuesday afternoon as every ANC MP stuck to this line while debating President Jacob Zuma's State of the Nation address.

All seven ANC MPs, five of them ministers, who participated in the debate gave flesh to Zuma's "good story", detailing the achievements of the ANC government over the past 20 years.

The debate took place following Zuma's address last Thursday, of which he spent most of it speaking about the administration's achievements.

The opposition parties, on the other hand, tried to poke holes in the ANC's "good story".

While the opposition acknowledged that life in South Africa was better today than pre-1994, they claimed that gains of the first 15 years of democracy have been undermined by the Zuma's administration.

Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande, who is also the general secretary of the South African Communist Party, opened the debate by defending the ANC's record in government, while taking a swipe at the opposition on a wide range of issues.

Nzimande said Zuma's speech provided an important interface between the struggle to end oppression up to 1994, and the struggle since then to entrench democracy and bring about development that benefits all the people, especially the workers and the poor.

He also focused on achievements made in education, both basic and higher, saying South Africa's education and training policies aimed to address the social and economic challenges the country faces.

"This government has developed comprehensive plans to overcome these challenges and has already begun to implement them. These are contained in the our key policy documents such as the National Development Plan (NDP), the New Growth Path, the Industrial Policy Action Plan and other strategic documents."

Education opportunities
Nzimande spoke about how government has expanded education and training opportunities, achieved almost complete universal attendance for those of school-going age; the growth of enrolments at all levels; and how the growth of college and university enrolments has been greatly assisted by the expansion of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS), which he said has since its inception benefited more than 1.4-million students.

"This really is a good story," he added.

Nzimande couldn't resist taking a stab at the opposition parties, accusing them of self-serving interests.

"We do …. continue to care for and to support all our institutions in many different ways. 

"This, I should add, is unlike some of the opposition parties. For example, the UDM seems to care only for Walter Sisulu University [and especially its Mthatha campus], the IFP seem concerned only for the University of Zululand."

Nzimande accused those in the Democratic Alliance (DA), who come from the former Democratic Party, of being only concerned for the formerly white English-language institutions such as the University of Cape Town, and those who came from the National Party, as only caring for the white Afrikaans-language institutions.

"This is the poverty and bankruptcy of the opposition. This is just one indication that the ANC is the only party with truly national interests," said Nzimande.

But DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko was quick to take aim at the ANC's "good story". Mazibuko said there was another story Zuma didn't tell last Thursday night.

"That is the story of President Jacob Zuma and his ANC. It is the story of five years of poor leadership, which has reversed much of the progress we have made as a nation. 

"It is a story of a presidency that lacks both the political will and the credibility to do what it is needed to keep South Africa on the path of our predecessors," she said.

Bold plan
Mazibuko said South Africans yearned for a bold plan of action from Zuma. "They want a vision for the future; a way out of the crises, which have engulfed our nation over the last five years."

Mazibuko said while Zuma claimed the ANC had a good story to tell on the economy, South Africans had a very different story to tell. "Theirs is a story of frustration," she said.

"Does the president feel the helplessness of the young man among the seven-million who have been robbed of their dignity by unemployment? 

"The man who comes home empty-handed; who feels like a disappointment to his family and his children?

"Unemployment is not just a statistic. It is a cold, hard reality."

It is a reality for too many South Africans because the government does not have the courage to break the stranglehold that the ANC's alliance partners in Cosatu and the SACP have on labour policy, she said.

She continued that this was the reason Zuma has only managed to create 561 000 out of the five-million jobs he promised 2009.

Mazibuko also questioned Zuma's good story on service delivery, saying ordinary South Africans had a different story to tell about the past five years, a story of desperation.

"Under President Zuma's ANC, there have been five times more service delivery protests per year than between 2004 and 2009. 

"And no, honourable president, the people who protest against your government are certainly not happy with your service delivery record. They are desperate for change."

On crime, Mazibuko said ordinary South Africans had a story of fear, like they had a story of greed and corruption, which was contrary to Zuma's "good story".

'A story of hope'
Mazibuko, clearly canvassing for votes, went on to promise a story of hope, which she said would be delivered by the DA.

"As we remember the legacy of our beloved president Nelson Mandela, we owe it to ourselves and to the young people who hold the future of our country in their hands to bring back the 'good story'. 

"We in the Democratic Alliance are working hard to do this."

She promised the DA would overturn the story of frustration by fully adopting the NDP, opening South Africa for business and creating six million real jobs; rewrite the story of greed by enforcing zero tolerance for those who cheat the nation and misuse its resources; and end the story of fear by demilitarising the police service and combating the fundamental problems in our criminal justice system.

Leader of the Congress of the People Mosiuoa Lekota launched a scathing attack on Zuma and his administration, saying the "good story" ended the day Thabo Mbeki was chased out office.

"South Africa today is less happier than when President Mbeki was kicked out of office. Back then, we didn't owe anybody, but now we are a trillion rand in debt."

He accused Zuma of being a false prophet, while questioning his use of religion and what he called "scare tactics and intimidation" by using ancestors when campaigning for votes. He called on church leaders to reject "this false prophet" who has no respect for the faith of the majority of South Africans.

Lekota claimed that when Zuma took office, he turned himself into a prophet by claiming the ANC will rule until Jesus comes. 

"Instead of teaching the people that democracy has to do with them evaluating government every five years, he chose to be a prophet and failed to live up to the promise of upholding and advancing the Constitution."

"Let me tell you, somewhere in the Bible, it says there will be false prophets. It's there."

Lekota said when Zuma saw that the false prophecy was not holding up, "he did something even stranger" by saying the ancestors will turn against the people if they didn't vote ANC.

"That's a scare tactic. Now, people won't be voting freely, they will have this fear of ancestors as they go to cast their votes."