President Jacob Zuma. Picture: Sumaya Hisham

The common disingenuous refrain was that the SONA recycled the usual stuff. This was not the case, says David Ntshabele.

Johannesburg - Following commentary from the media and opposition parties after the State of the Nation Address (SONA) on Tuesday, any uninformed personmight be forgiven for thinking there was something grossly wrong about what President Jacob did or did not do.

The toxic negativity was swift and sweeping and expressed with supercilious finality by two purportedly independent commentators hosted by eNews Channel Africa (eNCA) for example. It was with almost an express intention to sway national opinion with audacious phrases such as “the nation does not deserve this” as though they were a qualified voice for this big and heterogeneous nation.

The jaded negativity, often evoked with fervour and abandon, is harping on the hoary pastime of Zuma-bashing, characteristic of people who have perfected the art of playing the man, not the ball.

Among others, the common disingenuous refrain was that the SONA recycled the usual stuff over and over again.

This was not the case.

First, in the February SONA the president reflected on the achievements of the past 20 years of democracy mainly – in some cases unavoidably – including the achievements of the past five years, particularly regarding the five priorities of the government. This was a candid reflection, focusing on achievements and challenges. The president also admitted in this recent address that the economy grew below its potential in the past few years.

In this regard, the government had also released the 20-year review document critically appraising its achievements since 1994.

This and other documents such as the Development Indicators reports released in the past by then minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane, as well as by independent organisations such as Goldman Sachs, should have generated interest and debate due to their bold findings and pronouncements, developments which are essentially what the president often articulates.

But they did not.

Thus it should be emphasised that the achievements of the government are well-documented and reported on from time to time as developments occur, the same as the challenges and shortcomings candidly admitted.

Some argue that the president did not assure the nation about job creation. The bulk of the speech, however, leant towards the economy, including dealing with immediate obstacles to economic growth, such as the unstable labour environment in the mines.

Zuma advanced measures, most of them forward-looking and which he will lead, such as bringing social partners together to deliberate on a national minimum wage to find lasting solutions on avoiding many strikes in industry. Acceleration of infrastructure, removing obstacles to doing business in South Africa and addressing energy challenges are all measures that are intended to expand jobs, if looked at carefully, and they complement other measures in place.

In this regard, the president announced that further measures would be introduced to speed up youth employment in line with the Youth Employment Accord.

Also important will be the refocusing of the financing provided by the development finance institutions, which normally support business and infrastructure projects, so it is broad-based and benefits most people. Therefore through this economic focus, the speech addressed job creation substantially as a crucial issue affecting the youth in particular. The priorities of the previous term, such as education, remain the central focus and the president will at any given time reflect on them to assure the nation it has not abandoned its mandate.

The issues in these priorities are not static, which makes it sensible and necessary to report on developments from time to time.

With regard to service delivery, the many projects envisaged in the municipalities, particularly regarding water and sanitation, with a clear target of 12 months, are an indication of the seriousness with which the government views the challenges in the communities. Therefore refrains such as “opportunity missed”, “empty promises”, “does not inspire confidence”, “rehash of past ideas”, “does not have galvanising vision” are usual prosaic responses to the SONA, which are propelled more by political point-scoring than substance.

It is expected that the opposition will always say something even if it does not have anything significant to say, but flagrant lack of objectivity from independent observers is puzzling.

The truth is we have many challenges as a nation in socio-economic transition and the president cannot enumerate all of them in one speech. Instead, programmes rolled out by ministers in the respective government departments often spell out these nitty-gritties and deal with them in their daily operations.

* David Ntshabele is director of communications in the Presidency.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

Sunday Independent