By Mzukona Mantshontsho
President Jacob Gedley’hlekisa Zuma at the State of the Nation Address (SONA) 2014 in parliament last night had the perfect opportunity to ‘brag’ about all the successes of the ANC over since the dawn of democracy in 1994.
The recent service delivery protests, some of them violent, the mining industry strikes and negotiations still unresolved, to the latest unemployment statistics released by Statistics South Africa of 24.1%, the poverty levels and inequality still prevalent in our society, Zuma took the country over the successes achieved over the past 20 years and his last five years in highest office in the country.
Luckily for him, the SONA is the only time that the President gets to have a final say in the content thereof. He didn’t forget to mention the fact that only after the National Elections on Wednesday 7 May, can a proper plan and action plan be tabled to the nation for proper scrutiny.
“The 5 year programme will be presented by the new office…..who will be there? Your guess is as good as mine….” he said jokingly to the laughter of the members of parliament.
The absence for the first time of the first leader of a democratic South Africa Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela had to be used to ‘garner a vote’ for the elections. Families of previous ANC leadership of Moses Kotane, Oliver Reginald Tambo and Solomon Mahlangu were distinguished guests that attended the SONA. The 40th anniversary of the killing of Brian Tiro in Botswana and the slain killing of NUMSA’s secretary general and very vocal unionist Jabu Ndlovu, her husband and son, were brought to the table.
President Zuma spoke about how the present government had done away with a corrupt apartheid state and created a well-functioning state – the introduction of Section 9 institutions, a free media and a strong voice in addressing gender equality issues, non-sexism, non-racialism and having an inclusive society.
“Improving our education system, doing away and reducing crime and corruption, rural development and land redistribution, decent jobs for the majority, and the stability of the economy, have been made priority since 1994. The National Planning Commission targeted for 2030 is a clear indicator of the great plans by the government. South Africa is a better place since 1994,” added President Zuma
These are some the numbers mentioned:
“We have made good progress in the land reform programme. Since 1994, nearly 5 000 farms, comprising 4.2 million hectares, have been transferred to black people, benefiting over 200 000 families,” he said.
President Zuma said nearly 80 000 land claims, totalling 3.4 million hectares, have been settled, further benefiting 1.8 million people. He said the next administration will need to take forward a number of policies, legislative and practical interventions, to further redress the dispossession of the black majority of their fertile ancestral land.
These include matters relating to the establishment of the Office of the Valuer-General and thereby opening of the lodgement of claims. Public urged to submit comments: South Africans have been urged to submit their written comments following the publication of the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill 2013 and the Memorandum on the Objects of the Bill. The Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Bill, 2013, proposes certain amendments to the Restitution of Land Rights Act of 1994 to extend the date for lodging a claim for restitution to 18 June 2018.
It also proposes to further regulate the appointment, tenure of office, remuneration and the terms and conditions of service of judges of the Land Claims Court, as well as to further amend certain provisions which are aimed at promoting the effective implementation of the act. The explanatory memorandum of the draft bill indicates that the Restitution of Land Rights Act provides that a claim for the restitution of land must be lodged by no later than 31 December 1998, due to a number of problems experienced in the application of the restitution programme.
The evaluation indicated that the programme had been thwarted by a number of limitations, which resulted in various categories of persons, and communities whose rights in land were taken as a result of colonial and apartheid laws being excluded from the restitution process.
Zuma noted the improved matric pass rate — up from around 61 percent in 2009 to 78 percent last year — and the increase in bachelor passes as some of the indicators that the country was moving in the right direction. The number of children attending Grade R has more than doubled, growing from about 300 000 to more than 700 000 between 2003 and 2011.
The President said more schools to replace mud and unsuitable structures are to be built. To date, 370 new schools have been delivered throughout the country via the Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery (ASIDI). The programme also addresses basic services backlogs and the provision of water and electricity at schools. The programme forms part of government’s Strategic Infrastructure Projects –SIP 13, which involves the rebuilding of schools. The R8.2 billion public-private programme aims to eradicate the 496 mud schools, provide water and sanitation to 1 257 schools and electricity to 878 schools by March 2016. From 22 July until 6 December 2013, ASIDI handed over one school per week in the Eastern Cape.
Touching on other developments in education, Zuma said eight million children are exempted from paying school fees and nine million children are getting food at school. Government also launched the Annual National Assessments to keep track of improvements and interventions needed, especially, in maths and science.
He said fighting corruption within the public service was yielding results, with government recovering more than R320 million from perpetrators through the National Anti-Corruption Hotline. “Since the launch of the National Anti-Corruption Hotline by the Public Service Commission, over 13 000 cases of corruption and maladministration have been referred to government departments for further handling and investigation.”
He said further steps against those involved were now underway. The President said the National Anti-Corruption Hotline had recorded many successes including, that 1 542 officials were dismissed from the public service, 140 officials were fined their three month salary, 20 officials were demoted, 355 officials were given final written warnings and 204 officials were prosecuted.
The Special Investigating Unit is investigating maladministration or alleged corruption in a number of government departments and state entities, through 40 proclamations signed by the President during this administration. Zuma said the public would be kept informed of the outcome of the investigations.
Added to this, in the first six months of last year, the Asset Forfeiture Unit paid a total of R149 million into the Criminal Assets Recovery Account and to the victims of crime.
“This is 170% above its target of R55 million and is higher than it has ever achieved in a full year. Last year, the competition authorities investigated large-scale price fixing in the construction industry and fined guilty companies R1.4 billion.” Zuma said South Africans are united in wanting a corruption free society.
“Also worrying is what appears to be premeditated violence, as is the case with the use of petrol bombs and other weapons during protests,” he said. He said the democratic government supports the right of citizens to express themselves. “The right to protest, peacefully and unarmed, is enshrined in the Constitution.”
However, Zuma said, when protests threaten lives and property and destroy valuable infrastructure intended to serve the community, they undermine the very democracy that upholds the right to protest. “The dominant narrative in the case of the protests in South Africa has been to attribute them to alleged failures of government.
“However the protests are not simply the result of “failures” of government but also of the success in delivering basic services,” Zuma said.
He said when 95% of households have access to water, the 5% 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.
Loss of life during protests:
President Zuma said any loss of life at the hands of the police in the course of dealing with the protests cannot be overlooked or condoned. “Loss of life is not a small matter. We need to know what happened, why it happened. Any wrongdoing must be dealt with and corrective action must be taken. Police must act within the ambit of the law at all times. “As we hold the police to account, we should be careful not to end up delegitimising them and glorify anarchy in our society,” he said.
Zuma said while the culture of violence originated from the apartheid past, South African leaders must reflect on what they did or did not do, to systematically root out the violence that surfaced in protests. He said acts of violence, intimidation, and destruction of property are criminal offences and the police will arrest and prosecute those who commit such criminal activities.
Interventions in place:
Recently, the country has been hit by a wave of service delivery protests over water, housing and houses. In Gauteng, Premier Nomvula Mokonyane has established a high level task team to probe the violent service delivery protests. Earlier this week, North West Premier Thandi Modise placed the embattled Madibeng municipality under administration experiencing several service delivery protests in Mothotlung, Majakaneng and Hebron.
To address issues of service delivery, from 2011, teams from the Department of Performance Monitoring and Evaluation have visited areas around the country to assess and promote service delivery. Government has also been clear that South Africans themselves should participate actively in local decision-making and interact with government through the respective structures to fast track service delivery.
Achievements in service delivery:
The President added that government has made remarkable achievements in increasing access to services such as water, sanitation and electricity in the past 20 years. In terms of the provision of basic services to South Africans, government has begun an intensive programme to eliminate the bucket system as part of restoring the dignity to the people. “Phase one of the programme will eradicate buckets in formalised townships of the Free State, Eastern Cape and Northern Cape. Phase Two will eradicate buckets in informal settlements in all provinces,” said Zuma.
Regarding housing, Zuma said the next administration would focus on promoting better located mixed income housing projects. “In housing, about three million housing units and more than 855 thousand serviced sites were delivered since 1994. Nearly 500 informal settlements have been replaced with quality housing and basic services over the past five years.”
He said some communities still did not have these services, especially in informal settlements and rural areas. All spheres of government were working to ensure the provision of these services, especially in the 23 municipalities with the greatest number of backlogs.
Opposition parties had their say immediately after the SONA: DA Leader Hellen Zille said: “It is true that South Africa is a better place than what it was during apartheid – that is a story that should have been mentioned during the Mandela and Mbeki administrations and not the Zuma administration, infact things have gone backwards”.
UDM’s Bantu Holomisa said: “There is nothing new with this SONA, the President repeated financial reports that we already know, whilst the country is on fire with the service delivery protest in recent days”.
COPE Leader ‘Terror’ Lekota said: “The Nkandla saga should have been part of the SONA, he really hasn’t said much tonight”.
As we go to the Wednesday 7 May 2014 National Elections, perhaps these are some of the thoughts we should have in mind: Every time a new leader or political party is introduced, it allows for new enthusiasm, innovations, ideas and a change of mindset. Observing the politics, emotions and theatrics at play every time there is a change in leadership; people react either with enthusiasm or strong resistance.
Our reaction to new leadership is based on the reputation of the existing leadership, combined with expectations and hopes of improvement from the new one. Either way, the introduction of new leadership and political parties brings with it a weird mixture of uncertainty, combined with hope and excitement.
If we do not like our leaders we must banish them, if we do not like our government, we must fight to change it. If we do not like the way things are going, we must speak out and stop it. Building a great South Africa is the job of each one of us. We can never entrust that to just a few people seated in the comfortable seats of parliament – but we can direct them.