Group executive editor
Johannesburg - The rollout of a comprehensive health care system and steady improvements in outcomes in the education system are the government’s crowning achievements of the last five years, according to President Jacob Zuma.
In an exclusive interview, Zuma told Independent Newspapers that the National Health Insurance (NHI) being piloted in selected public health sites across the country, and splitting education into two departments (basic and higher education and training) were among his government’s best decisions since he took office in 2009.
Zuma was reflecting on his successes and failures of his five-year term which finishes on May 7 when South Africans go the polls in the next general election. However, Zuma did concede that the government’s performance on jobs was less stellar. He said making good on the jobs promise was proving a challenge for governments the world over, especially in the aftermath of the global financial crises which has hit South Africa’s largest trading bloc the EU hard, and left China, its largest single country trade partner, with slower growth.
Unemployment proves to be stubborn and systemic, with youth unemployment twice general unemployment.
“Globally there is no country that doesn’t have that (jobs) challenge. But I can say with a clear conscience that we have made progress.”
The skills dearth which is tied to the country’s education challenge hobbles the government’s best efforts to roll out jobs.
Technology and mechanisation also bedevilled job creation schemes, though Zuma said the state had done “better than the private sector” in creating job opportunities and jobs.
He credited the state’s industrial policy and the infrastructure roll-out as “successes” of his government’s efforts to create employment.
He was sanguine about the achievements in roads, rail and ports to up job numbers.
He slammed the government’s critics who argue that the country’s quality of education left much to be desired.
“We compare well globally.”
The increase in no fees schools and the conversation of student loans to bursaries are among the steps taken to increase access to schooling Zuma said.
“On infrastructure in education, we are rolling out new schools and two new universities and FET (further education and training) colleges,”
The refurbishing of hospitals and the fiscal commitment to the NHI were all in line with his government’s tackling of the twin educational and health challenges faced by poor South Africans.
“They have now been brought into the basket. We are fighting to keep the prices of medicines down. Now international institutions such as the UN are looking to SA as an example of how to roll out HIV/Aids treatment. Before 2009, it was the other way round” he said.
Zuma took a slight dig at former president Thabo Mbeki when he said “now some say there is useless leadership now, and good leadership then”.
Mbeki’s Aids denialism made South Africa the butt of international scorn in the fight against the disease.
Zuma said the government wasn’t deaf to the issue of the matric pass rate and promised to ask Basic Education Minster Angie Motshekga to address more comprehensively the criticisms of how she arrives at the pass rate.