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

The Star Early Edition - - INSIDE -

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.

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