587 President Jacob Zuma accompanied by his wife MaKhumalo greets supporters at the Union Buildings after being sworn in for the second term as the president of the Republic of South Africa president in Tshwane 0794691382 240514. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu

Nothing in what President Zuma proposes for the next five years would meet the usual understanding of that term, says Vukani Mde.

Johannesburg - President Jacob Zuma made “radical economic transformation” the central theme of his unusually short inaugural address on Saturday , suggesting strongly that this would be the centrepiece of his second term of office.

But the most radical thing could very well be Zuma’s – and the ruling party’s – redefinition of the term “radical”, since nothing in what the party and the president propose for the next five years would meet the usual understanding of that term.

Despite the promise of radical changes over the next term, the president’s speech was actually short on programmatic detail. What detail there was came straight out of the well-worn playbook of ANC conference promises, with as yet no indication of what would be done that would be radical enough to shift our developmental trajectory as a country.

To be sure, it is still possible that the detail of what radical changes are planned could emerge from Zuma’s State of the Nation address next month, or the budget process that will follow it. Both the State of the Nation and budget speeches usually focus more closely on what is to be done, rather than the desired outcomes that the inaugural address limited itself to.

The National Development Plan, which the ruling party is doing a diligent, if awkward, job of presenting as a manifesto of radical change – the bourgeois Communist Manifesto, if you will – again took centre stage.

There was a repetition of the NDP’s poetic vision of who and what we want to be in 2030, but very little of the pragmatic actions that will have to be taken in 2014.

“At a social level, as outlined in the NDP, our vision is to develop communities where households will have access to housing, water, electricity, sanitation, safe and reliable public transport, health, education, security, recreational facilities, a clean environment and adequate nutrition, to count a few.”

In other words, we are committing to the radical notion that in 2030 we will all have the things that human beings simply cannot do without.

Zuma and the ANC have got themselves into a bit of a pickle over the last few years, since talk of a radical second phase of the transition started.

This is the crux of the ANC’s paradox: there is a clear need for “radical change” in South Africa – in economic policy, delivery of social services, our approach to education and health, the deal that workers get, gender relations, and policing. In fact, there is a need for radical change in all the areas that may broadly come under the heading “social justice”.

South Africa cannot any longer afford to trundle along in the zigzag fashion of the last 20 years. Zuma and the ANC know it, we all know it, and the entire world has woken up to it.

But the ANC really has neither the stomach nor the inclination for what it calls “radical change”. It’s not in its nature now, and nor is it in the interests of its self-interested elites.

So the ruling party has taken to repackaging the things that we all acknowledge are needed now – even things they have been doing for two decades, such as delivering water, lights and decent public transport – as radical new ideas that will form part of the “next phase” of our transition.

If the NDP is the central pillar of the next phase of South Africa’s transition, then that phase is best characterised as “doing things better”, not “radical”.

There is little in the text of that document that represents a fundamental break with the current trajectory. And where the document does contain genuine changes, these represent a belated realisation of things that have been obvious since 1994, but which the ANC ignored as it fell into the grip of stale orthodoxies.

An example of this is the newish approach to the economy’s industrial base, and renewed attempts to promote reindustrialisation as a driver of growth and employment. On this the president said, taking his cue from the NDP: “Economic transformation will take centre stage during this new term of government as we put the economy on an inclusive growth path.

“As the National Development Plan outlines, the structure of the economy will be transformed through industrialisation, broad-based black economic empowerment, and through strengthening and expanding the role of the state in the economy.

“State-owned enterprises and development finance institutions will become engines of development, complementing the state in promoting inclusive economic growth.”

This certainly marks a shift of sorts from the “live and let live” approach pursued by Zuma and all his predecessors over the last 20 years, when it was thought that market-driven growth would naturally deliver employment and redistribution.

But the notion that a robust industrial base is a necessary condition for sustained prosperity, that we cannot be diggers of dirt and importers of manufactured goods for much longer, that the racially skewed ownership patterns of our economy are morally repugnant and politically dangerous is neither new nor radical.

And it stands as an indictment of ANC rule over the last 20 years that such ideas should now be seen as part of a separate new phase of the transition. Besides the formal establishment of democracy, what exactly was the point of the first phase?

More than 11 million people decided to give the ANC another chance in this month’s election, something Zuma acknowledged as a privilege and a responsibility when he addressed the 20 000 gathered on the south lawns of the Union Buildings yesterday.

The vast majority of those millions did so because they believed the rhetoric of radical change, and they buy into the vision of a different country by 2030. But they will judge the ANC’s sincerity and ability to deliver this vision in 2014 perhaps as early as next month?

* Vukani Mde is Independent Newspapers’ Group Editor of Oped and Analysis.

Sunday Independent