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PRESIDENT Jacob Zuma is often extolled as the man of the people, the leader who speaks the people’s language. He is praised as the man who has not abandoned those values most of his voters hold dear. His decisive victory in Mangaung is proof of how popular he is with ANC members.
Tonight, in his State of the Nation address, he has an opportunity to convince the country that he is not only the leader of the ANC, but the president of all 52 million South Africans. He has an opportunity to show that he does not pander to narrow interests of the ruling alliance, as he has often been accused of doing.
As he addresses the joint sitting of Parliament and millions on television and radio, he will be doing so from a non-partisan platform, not speaking from an alliance podium.
The country is crying out for inspired leadership. It looks for hope from a president who has in the past four years of his presidency promised so much but delivered so little.
Clothed in the mantle of a man of the people, he came into office promising millions of jobs and better government services.
Sadly, to many South Africans, these promises remain unfulfilled.
Uppermost in the minds of those who will be watching and listening will be the recent events that have shaken our society – farmworkers’ strikes, widespread service delivery protests, Marikan, and crime, epitomised by the horrific case of Anene Booysen in Bredasdorp.
He will set the tone for what the government aims to focus on.
And is there a lot that needs attention – health, the education crisis, rampant corruption, gender inequality and youth unemployment, among others.
It remains to be seen whether he will be able to rouse South Africans not to lose hope in the face of a multitude of challenges.
What the country does not want is another typical Zuma speech – lacklustre, incoherent, all bluster and little substance.
It wants achievable goals and time frames.
His legacy may just depend on it.