What Zuma didn’t say
The president must be commended for speaking out against factionalism and loss of support for the ANC. But he avoided Nkandla, the elephant in the room, writes
T WAS the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its nosiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
Former president Thabo Mbeki would have used this quote from Charles Dickens’ novel A Tale of Two Cities, published in 1859, to describe the state of the ANC and the country today.
But his successor in the party, President Jacob Zuma, avoided this line of analysis and introspection of the ANC and the state he leads.
Zuma was expected to use the January 8 statement to make and announce concrete proposals of the trajectory of the state.
Without disputing much of his announcements, Zuma talked about the state of the economy and how he planned to reignite growth.
His target of 2.9 percent growth this year is a story for another day.
Analysts would disagree with his target as the economy struggled last year, and shed thousands of jobs.
The government has been battling to achieve growth of more than 4 percent since 2008. That was the last time South Africa achieved growth averaging 4 percent. When he came into office in 2009, Zuma said South Africa would achieve 5 percent growth by 2019.
The president also touched on land reform, which is a matter at the heart of ANC policy.
Since the 2007 Polokwane conference, the ANC has promised to aggressively pursue land reform and, at the 2012 Mangaung conference, it decided to get rid of the willing-buyer, willing-seller principle because it was not working. The party adopted the equitable model to fast-track land reform.
The ANC also approved the Expropriation Bill in Parliament, to be used in tandem with other existing land laws, to speed up land reform.
These are all the right things that Zuma touched on to reflect on progress to be made over the next few years, including the multibillion-rand infrastructure investment.
Despite Zuma saying the right things in the January 8 statement, he failed on a key area which threatens the existence of the ANC.
He could have used the opportunity to apportion blame on himself regarding Nkandla for the loss of key metros in the August elections.
Nkandla has been a hot potato for the ANC since the issue came to public attention a few years ago.
However, it became even more embarrassing for the party after the damning Constitutional Court judgment on March 31 last year, ordering Zuma to pay millions of rand for non-security upgrades at his private house.
This was at the height of the election campaign, and the ANC paid dearly at the polls in August.
But for Zuma this was not an issue that impacted on the loss of support for the ANC.
The ANC shed almost 10 percentage point support in the August 3 elections, and Zuma continued to deny Nkandla had had a role in this.
At the weekend he did not mention it, and touched on other issues that helped to caused the loss of support.
This was a self-introspection that was required of Zuma. But, for a man under siege from his own party and the veterans, apparently other factors were to blame for the ANC’s poor showing at the polls.
The next few months will be crucial for how Zuma plans to deal with divisions and factionalism.
Zuma also spoke strongly against corruption, but did not touch on the State of Capture report.
Perhaps the president is waiting for his court challenge of the report. He has denied any allegations on state capture, and has maintained his innocence, saying former public protector Thuli Madonsela had jumped the gun on the matter.
Zuma had wanted Madonsela to hand over the investigation to her successor, Busisiwe Mkhwebane.
Zuma had the support he needed at Orlando Stadium at the weekend to strengthen his hand in the ANC.
However, the key issues he raised in the January 8 statement will require much more commitment and tangible results in the next three years.
The country is battling major challenges in the economy, education, social spending and infrastructure investment. But the demands outstrip the funds available in the fiscus.
On education, the government is struggling to deal with the funding crisis for higher education.
Zuma insisted that the government has gone beyond the requirements of the Freedom Charter to provide free higher education on merit.
He said this was because the funding covered needy and poor children.
The Department of Higher Education has said in the national legislature that it would require R51 billion to fund fee-free education over three years.
The Fees Commission, chaired by Judge Jonathan Heher, will table its report in the next few months.
Rest assured that the students will not wait for the Heher report before taking to the streets again.
Zuma needed to come up with a plan to contain the expected protests by students again this year.
The president may be hoping that the students will listen to his message to remain calm before the report is finalised and made public.
On land reform, the state is facing a huge challenge of funding.
In its own study, done two years ago, the government said it would need between R127bn and R179bn to settle land claims.
However, the government has not said where it will get the money to go ahead with land reform. The budget of the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform is about R10bn, which is a drop in the ocean.
Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform Gugile Nkwinti has complained that people take up cash instead of the actual land.
But Zuma must be commended for speaking out against factionalism in the ruling party.
This was the firm message that the ANC wanted to put across to its members. The ANC has been ravaged by factional battles in the last 10 years, leading to splits and a drop of support at the polls.
BATTLING CHALLENGES: President Jacob Zuma addresses ANC supporters at Orlando Stadium during the party’s 105th birthday celebrations on Sunday. Despite saying the right things, he failed in a key area, the writer says: he did not discuss the effect of the Nkandla issue on the loss of key metros in the August elections.