Protests a measure of our success
Cape Town - President Jacob Zuma used his State of the Nation address (SONA) on Thursday night to call for respect for the law, life and property in the wake of an alarming spike in violent protests around the country.
Opposition politicians accused him of electioneering in a speech that was thin on information about the plans for the country, and crammed with highlights from the governing ANC’s 20 years in power.
But Zuma said this was because it was up to the incoming government, after the May 7 elections, to spell out a programme of action.
In the meantime, his government had been working on a medium-term strategy, ”designed as the first five-year building block of the National Development Plan”, which he hailed as one of his administration’s key achievements.
It was “worrying” that there appeared to be premeditated violence and the use of petrol bombs and weapons during protests, Zuma said.
On the other hand, the police needed to be held to account, the president said in response to concerns about the deaths of protesters at the hands of police.
Zuma said while the police officers should answer for their actions, “we should be careful not to end up de-legitimising them and glorify anarchy”.
He contested the the view that protests were largely a response to the government’s failures, saying they were also a measure of “the success in delivering basic services”.
“When 95 percent of households have access to water, the 5 percent who still need to be provided for feel they cannot wait a moment longer.
“Success is also the breeding ground of rising expectations,” Zuma said.
This is in contrast to a University of Johannesburg study released this week, which found that citizens opted for violent protest as a last resort, after trying vainly to be heard by their public representatives.
Zuma promised to boost efficiency at local government level – a major source of frustration leading to protests – by ensuring qualified and experienced staff were employed.
“The fight against corruption must be intensified as well, especially given reports that some services are interrupted or stopped so that certain people could provide those services at cost to the state,” he said, referring to reports that officials in Mothutlung had tampered with water systems so they could benefit from contracts for water to be trucked in.
Noting the “difficult period” the economy was experiencing, Zuma struck an upbeat tone, saying the country had risen from such trials before and “we can cope with this period of turbulence”.
“We will, in fact, emerge stronger if we do the right things,” he said.
Growth of over 5 percent was needed to create enough jobs. To this end, the government was already working with business to lift performance, leading to streamlined regulatory and licensing approvals for environmental impact assessments, water and mining licences.
Zuma hailed an improvement in labour relations on the mines after talks facilitated by Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe. He cautioned mining bosses and unions to avoid actions that could destroy jobs.
The president said the Employment Tax Incentive Act – commonly known as the youth wage subsidy – would encourage employers to hire younger workers. The cabinet had set a target of 6 million job opportunities by 2019, focused on the youth.
DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko said it had been “a pretty dismal speech” in which Zuma had “tried to ride on the coat-tails of his predecessors”.
“We all acknowledge that South Africa is a better place to live in today than it ever was, but is it a better place to live in in 2014 than it was in 2009, when President Zuma took office? The answer is no.”
Freedom Front Plus leader Pieter Mulder called it a “brag speech”.
“It was all about the past and very little about the future, and that was my worry. If it is such a good story, why are so many municipalities burning?” Mulder said.
United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa said the “rosy picture” painted by Zuma was “contrary to what we see in the street, because almost every day this country is on fire because people are complaining about lack of service delivery”.