Rebuilding the soul of the nation

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iol news pic Yacoob Abba Omar oped INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS Dont bore us  tell us what we really want to know, says our columnist, giving some tips for Jacob Zumas State of the Nation address. Picture: David Ritchie

The ruling party’s biggest challenge is whether it is a force of change or preserver of the status quo, writes Yacoob Abba Omar.

Johannesburg - When President Jacob Zuma presents his second State of the Nation Address for this year, most of us will be keenly watching for indications of not only what his administration has in store for the rest of this year, but for the next five years of his term.

There are certain things I hope he will not do; there are certain things we can expect him to say and there are areas I wish he would focus on. I hope he and his speech writers will not give us a boring speech with a lot of figures and milestones, drawn from the worst of bureaucratic gobbledegook. The president needs to convey a sense of purpose to address the desperation that more and more South Africans are expressing.

The intellectualism of former president Mbeki is not his domain. And south Africans like me don’t expect that of Zuma. His leadership is like that of Sheikh Zayed bin Nahyan, who united warring tribes into the United Arab Emirates; who explained to some of the world’s smartest urban developers what he wanted in Abu Dhabi by drawing lines and pictures in the desert sand and who set the foundation of what today is one the largest sovereign wealth funds in the world.

His speech and leadership must be that of the big pictures, of the big goals. His style must be that of uniting across the political and class spectrum, bridging the urban and the rural divide, addressing the clever and not so clever. His speech must not be divisive and dismissive, but all-encompassing and inspiring.

In his inauguration speech, the president set the tone for what his administration will be focusing on: what the ANC has termed the second phase of transition; the implementation of the National Development Plan (NDP); community development; economic transformation; improving the capacity of the state; rebuilding the soul of the nation and focusing on the development of Africa.

The second transition was explained in the ANC discussion document of February 2012, in preparation for the Mangaung Con- ference, as follows: “Having concluded our first transition with its focus on democratisation over the last 18 years, we need a vision for a second transition that must focus on the social and economic transformation of South Africa over the next 30 to 50 years… Our first transition was characterised by a framework and a national consensus that may have been appropriate for a political transition, but has proven inadequate and even inappropriate for a social and economic transformation phase.”

Commenting on that first transition, one of the government’s seminal documents, issued by the Presidency earlier this year, titled “Twenty Year Review 1994-2014”, notes there are “varying views about the transparency of the amnesty process, the adequacy of the reparations and the completeness of investigations and prosecutions, as well as the overall impact of the TRC in forging reconciliation”.

This sense of unfinished business is what pervades a recently concluded Mapungubwe Institute research into Nation Formation and Social Cohesion, due to be released in July. It will also impact on the government’s attempts to rebuild the soul of the nation.

The Twenty Year Review also talks of the need to address moral decay in society and the need to instil positive values. As long as Zuma remains convinced that he has done no wrong as far as Nkandla is concerned, and in the enrichment of his close family, and the many other things he has been accused of, he will make feisty calls for the level of morality to improve in South Africa.

Ethics in the public service is but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to addressing the soul of the South African nation.

The Mapungubwe Institute has tabled a proposal to government departments and parts of big business that what we need is a broader, deeper, multi-layered and multi-faceted interrogation of the ethical foundations of the South African nation.

Such an interrogation must cover politics, business and the government, but also extend to the family, civil society and faith-based organisations, as well as the role of education, sports, entertainment and the media, in shaping the ethical foundation of our nation.

It will have to address the scourge of crime in every form – domestic, white collar, violent, sexual, petty – which has come to touch every South African.

Undoubtedly economic transformation will seize the president’s attention as well as most of the government’s, and will thus loom large in this State of the Nation address.

Given the fragility of the post-2008 global economy, this is a problem shared with many other economies in the world. However, if what Zuma said in his May 24 inauguration speech is an indication of what to expect as far as economic policy is concerned, then we need to be worried.

The government’s economic approach focuses on the role of the state-owned enterprises, the development financial institutions, black economic empowerment and employment equity as the key planks contributing to economic transformation.

While these have helped ensure an average growth rate of 3.2 percent from 1994 to 2012, the changed circumstances we are confronted with require a new paradigm.

Among the other measures needed is a commitment to encouraging entrepreneurship to such an extent that the public understand the message that our lives and the future of our economy depend upon it.

The Twenty Year Review proudly points out that South Africa ranks highly among comparable countries for ease of starting business, but we have only 2 percent of the population working in new companies. Barely half a page of that 165-page document is dedicated to small, medium and micro enterprises (SMMEs).

A focus on encouraging entrepreneurship will go a long way towards improving attitudes towards BEE – which is associated with a rapacious relationship with state procurement. Many black captains of industry – be they beneficiaries of BEE or self-made businessmen and women – agree that the policy has too many problems.

Zuma’s announcement of a review of the government’s overall approach to doing business would set in motion a very critical national conversation. He can also be expected to address the intense workplace conflicts we are bearing witness to today.

The government has to play the role on one hand of a neutral arbiter, like all liberal states are required to do, in relation to the various forces in society

At the same time, by taking up the cudgels on behalf of workers – despite their affiliations – the ANC will have recaptured the role it had come to be known for most of its century-long history: that of the champion of all the marginalised, the poor and the desperate.

While that will be the basis for addressing state/business relations, Zuma will have to announce definite steps to overcome the chasm which separates captains of industry and leaders of government.

In the context of workplace conflict and building relations with business, Zuma could be expected to announce concrete steps towards a social compact. Such a compact will have to address the concerns of worker representatives that it is the working class which usually had to make the most sacrifices when such pacts are agreed upon.

While the renewed commitment to the NDP is laudable, it comes in the wake of the ANC’s Mangaung Conference in 2012, and last year’s State of the Nation Address, and we have yet to see all the ministries and the ANC’s social partners line up behind it. Also, what is emerging as a more coherent Left will continue challenging the NDP as the basis for its relationship with the ANC.

As member of the National Planning Commission and executive director of Mapungubwe Institute, Joel Netshitenzhe, said: “We should not ‘demonise or canonise’ the NDP. But we should also avoid chipping it in increasingly strident tones to the extent of delegitimising it altogether. Otherwise the cats (we are trying to herd) will continue straying in all directions. The best approach is: debate while implementing!”

Proclaiming the end to planning and policy formulation would be foolhardy, but there can be no gainsaying the need for implementation.

India’s Congress Party’s penchant for policy formulation and the weaknesses of implementing by its government has been cited as one of the reasons for its drubbing at the recent polls.

Closer to home, the DA’s reputation as a party capable of getting things done will ensure that its appeal widens.

This, coupled with the EFF’s success in portraying itself as the voice of the poor, should get the ANC to consider whether it is the force for change or whether it has become the preserver of the post-1994 status quo.

The next few days will tell.

* Omar is the director of operations at the Mapungubwe Institute.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers

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