Cape Town - President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) failed to touch the nation and was by no means a game-changing speech that dealt in detail with major concerns like energy problems, say political analysts and academics.
Some concurred that the address was nothing more than a regurgitation of the themes in the ANC’s January 8 statement, while others said Zuma’s speech was merely a collection of inputs from various state departments.
Political scientist Keith Gottschalk said the most unexpected announcement was the proposal for South Africa to choose between Cape Town and Pretoria as the sole seat of government – after Parliament had started massive building plans around its precinct in the Mother City.
“Surely, far more use could be made of video-conferencing to minimise officials commuting between our two capitals? Cape Town can be counted upon to lobby against this proposal,” he said.
Gottschalk said he anticipated that the response from the general public would be muted, because they remember how the government failed to implement promises such as 5 percent economic growth per year, not to mention the 7 percent growth pledged in the ANC’s 1994 election manifesto.
Listing the lows in Zuma’s speech, Gottschalk said these included Cope leader Mosiuoa Lekota objecting to Zuma being president as he had broken his term of office; the EFF MPs chanting “Zupta must fall” before leaving the Chamber and intermittent heckling from MPs following almost every paragraph of Zuma’s speech.
“Clearly, we can expect the same during each of Zuma’s three remaining State of the Nation Addresses,” Gottschalk said. The biggest loser appeared to be Speaker of the National Assembly Baleke Mbete. After her failure to control EFF MPs, she was very publicly chided by a fellow ANC MP, cabinet minister Naledi Pandor.
“After that, the NCOP chair effectively took over chairing the session from Mbete, just as during the 2015 SONA,” he said.
He noted that at the end of the speech, when the two presiding officers posed with the president and deputy president, Mbete failed to conceal her glum facial expression.
Gottschalk said it was predictable that the the opposition parties would see their job description as taking potshots at the speech.
“The leader of the Opposition made his sound bite theme the eight million unemployed workers hoping for a concrete plan from government to create jobs.”
Gottschalk said there was at least one surprising omission. “While the government’s determination to build 9 600MW of nuclear power was yet again reiterated, there was silence about the Inga hydropower project.”
“Construction was supposed to start in October 2015. But not only has no construction started, both the contractors and the finance package have not been finalised,” he said, adding that South Africa was entitled to an explanation of what caused these delays and what the revised schedule will be.
Gottschalk said the directives to curtail ministers’ and officials’ travel, and end departmental budget vote celebrations – with a call for parastatals, provinces, and municipalities to follow suit – were positive steps.
“Another high was the Water Department project to train 15 000 unemployed youth as plumbers and other artisans.”
He added that the spot checks on municipal supply chain management, and forensic investigations, were welcome and overdue.
Controversial points included a reiteration of a 12 000ha maximum size of farms. In Kalahari districts in the Northern Cape and North West, a commercially viable size for desert ranching and pasture might be larger than this, he said.
“It is also surprising that another commission of inquiry into funding higher education is needed, after we have already had more than one inquiry into this, including an inquiry led by our Deputy President. We were promised that the Budget speech will give more details,” he added.
Tackling policing issues, Professor Guy Lamb, UCT’s Director: Safety and Violence Initiative, said the SAPS “Back-to-Basics” turnaround strategy, which was referenced by the president in the SONA 2016, appears to contain nothing new with respect to how the SAPS intend to police South Africa into the future.
“Instead, it appears to be an attempt at re-building trust with Parliament and the general public by means of a recommitment from high political office that SAPS willseek to reinvigorate its efforts to systematically contain and reduce crime through improved discipline, dedication andvisibility,” Lamb said.
He added that the strategy also implies that Operation Fiela-type policing may become a more regular feature of policing in South Africa.
According to Lamb, 2015 was not a good year for the SAPS, in particular after being rocked by a series of leadership crises, including the suspension of two SAPS provincial commissioners and the national police commissioner.
“The reputation of the SAPS was blighted by the publication of the findings of the commission of inquiry into the 2012 Marikana massacre and the online posting of CCTV footage of a Krugersdorp crime incident, both of which indicated that the SAPS officials involved may have perpetrated extra-judicial killings,” he said.
On electricity and nuclear issues, UCT Professor Trevor Gaunt said since 2007, when the limit of South Africa’s electrical power capacity was reached, the country had been on a restricted energy diet while the economy has lost weight.
“Oil supplements and intermittent renewable energy snacks have proved expensive and inadequate. The large projects needed to restore sufficiency have been bedevilled by political interference, inefficiency and a wasting exchange rate,” he added.
Gaunt said Zuma’s good news contained in SONA 2016 was that Ingula – a pumped storage power station for peak-demand generation – will be brought into operation during 2016/7.