Last week saw the fancy dress parade of the political elite that is the opening of parliament in South Africa. Having said this, the presidential address in 2012 prompted much applause. Mr Zuma, at last, seemed at ease in his role and switched from English to Zulu with charm. For once, he showed his enjoyment, and his ability to command an audience.
His speech was predictable, but significant. The government’s National Planning Commission (NPC) has finally starting doing something that could be considered valuable. A master plan for the reindustrialisation of South Africa leading to significant job creation is proposed. This will involve expansion of mining, beneficiation of raw materials and the imposition of legal requirements regarding local content in state procurement. Particular regions where industrial/mineral complexes can be strengthened were identified. Massive upgrading of rail, road and port facilities as well as the provision of reliable power and water supplies are the key elements.
However, will it be churlish to say that we have heard all this before? After all, the Reconstruction and Development Program (RDP of the early nineties) made exactly these points. GEAR, which followed the RDP, made similar commitments although here it was the private sector that was to deliver. As such, why were they not implemented in the past when our financial resources were far greater and the sense of mission (and social commitment) on the part of ANC cadres was infinitely higher? Why have we lost over a decade during which we have become bogged down in a culture of corruption, entitlement and thuggery?
The answer is not straight forward, but is also not that complex. The situation, globally and locally, is greatly changed. At the macro level, the 2008 financial meltdown removed the illusion of sustainable growth without state guidance. Indeed, the finance sector’s excesses exposed the myth of a benign market that can deliver human societies from poverty of the mind and body. The role of the State has thus been vindicated. However, on the micro level, the internal dynamics appear to be extremely negative.
The ANC is racked by internal division. Opposition parties are slowly gaining support while service delivery dissatisfaction rises and Zuma is forced to fight off a relatively powerful faction that does not want to give him a second term. Given this gloomy picture can the ANC really deliver on the NPC plan’s potential and build a solid foundation for sustainable and ecologically sound growth or will it prove to be just another example of grandstanding, another attempt by a discredited leadership to distract from the many crises (particularly in education, health care and job creation) that are sapping our society? In other words, has the rot been left for too long so that the state machinery necessary to execute such a plan does not exist – witness the collapse of key provincial departments in Limpopo, the Eastern Cape and Gauteng, not too speak of the chronic mismanagement in Mpumalanga and North West.
Watching Zuma’s address was thus a soul wrenching experience. The future of South Africa is very much dependent on this plan’s success but the credibility gap induced by past incompetence and corruption does not give one much hope. Indeed, the most telling comment made by Zuma was that a summit is to be held soon to draft an implementation plan. This begs the question: how much work has been put into the detail, into plotting the time frames for each project and the costings? How much local capacity do we have to pull this off or do we require a Big Brother (e.g. a FIFA) to push deadlines and make it happen? It was significant that Zuma made repeated reference to the Soccer World Cup’s success and that we need to revive the energy and commitment we produced then.
In other words, will this summit be the long awaited Economic Codesa we have been crying for? The bringing together of all social partners to combine resources and expertise, crossing class lines for the common good in a systematic and honest way so as to impart a sense of collective will and spirit to a society that is showing the symptoms of greater and greater stress. Only time will tell if the ANC is able to play an effective leadership role and defy the pattern of negativity that currently holds sway. Much will depend on the Zuma presidency’s performance over the coming months – it may well be a decisive watershed for not only South Africa but the whole of the region.
Wonkie is curious to read your thoughts on Jacob Zuma’s 2012 State of the Nation address, and the prospect of a brighter future for all.
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