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President Zuma’s State of the Nation address – as it should be

At this time of year, you will see plenty of stories about “what the president should say” in his State of the Nation address on Thursday. Ours is different. This is the speech we believe President Jacob Zuma should actually give. The twist: Based on our analysis of the ANC, and the Alliance, and the mood of the country generally, we believe this speech is politically possible.

“My fellow South Africans, 2010 is a year of great promise. We must live up to that promise. We must think about what is best for our nation, and what it best for our compatriots. This is our guiding principle for this year.

“In the ruling party’s manifesto it talks about an economic policy that will focus on creating jobs. At the same time, as government, we realise the damage that inflation can do to any economy, and particularly a developing economy such as ours. We have promised a debate about economic policy, and in particular, the Reserve Bank’s mandate. We will have a disciplined debate about this. It affects all of us. We believe there may be some space to move towards creating jobs. However, we understand that targeting inflation must remain the Bank’s priority. We want everyone involved in this discussion to realise that inflation destroys value, and affects the poor more than anyone else. This will be our guiding thought during this discussion.

“My fellow South Africans, our economy has sailed through the storm of a recession. We are not creating enough jobs. We will make it easier to create jobs. Companies that employ fewer than 100 people will become exempt from much of the current labour legislation. We will create a new set of baseline laws covering working hours only for start-up companies. This will mean new companies will be able to hire people easily, and, if the company is not doing well, will be able to let them go with no interference from government. We understand that our comrades in the union movement will want to talk to us about this. We will talk to them. They want to create jobs too.

“This is how we can go about it. We need to improve the lives of the working poor. But we need to first get everyone jobs, and decent jobs. The poorest of the poor have always been, and must continue to be, our priority. We must lift them up. Small companies that can show they have created jobs will be given a tax write-off. The details of this will be explained by my finance minister during his budget speech.

“Ladies and gentlemen, municipalities are our Achilles’ heel. The ruling party has taken a decision that they will be the primary focus of this year. With an integrated civil service, we will move some of our experienced, competent managers to local government. There they will help train and educate workers on how to maintain infrastructure and look after their people. Corruption will not be tolerated. City managers will have to account for their money, mayors will be asked in public, in unannounced checks what they have done with their accounts. Service delivery for the people is of prime importance in the local government sector. Councils and councillors must take responsibility for what happens in their municipalities. To this end, my governance minister, Sicelo Shiceka will soon announce how national government will be intervening in this sector, in a constructive way. It is because of problems in local government that our roads, our water pipes and sometimes our electricity billing systems are in chaos. This can, will and must be jacked up. We will also be looking to members of the public for help.

“It has become apparent to all of us that, while our priority over the last 15 years has been to improve the provision of services, to make sure that all our people have access to clean water, tarred roads and electricity, maintenance has been neglected. The relevant ministries will make 2010 the year of infrastructure renewal. The people who designed and built our infrastructure will be called on to come back to us, to help us make sure our water pipes stop leaking and that our roads do not get potholes. We will make provision for local councils to have the maintenance budgets they need. No longer can two weeks of rain reduce our biggest city to a disaster zone, and that only 150 days before the World Cup.

“HIV/Aids is killing our nation. As a government, we have spoken about this consistently, and we want to preach the message of one-person-one-partner. Mistakes have been made in this sector, both in previous governments, and in this one, new as it is. We all make mistakes, and we need to accept that we have made mistakes, even in our personal lives. I apologise for my mistakes. I am taking responsibility for what I have done, and will continue to do so. This is the one lesson that can be drawn from previous mistakes. I speak now to the men of South Africa. If you make a mistake, take responsibility for it. There is nothing as wonderful in this life as raising a child. Help your women to raise good children, love them, care for them. If you don’t have much money, spend time with them, get a social grant from my government. Teach them to respect others, to respect their mothers and to respect their partners. Teach them through your own actions that being a man doesn’t mean being violent or harsh, but loving and kind.

“Tell them about Aids, about how it’s killing our nation. Tell them about the pain and misery it causes. Tell them they will not be a part of this pandemic, unless they choose to. Tell them about condoms, about abstinence, about how relationships should be conducted. All of us have much to do in this regard.

“My government will continue the roll out of antiretroviral drugs. My Presidential Hotline will soon have a special number for people who need these drugs. With one number to call, they can get help, counselling, and will be told where to go to get these drugs. To encourage them further, the operator will make arrangements with the local health-care facilities, so that we can follow up with people who need help. We need to care for those among us with Aids. For too long they’ve been allowed to die. I want every one of us to be helping at least one person with the disease, making sure they have the medication they need, and assisting their family.

“This year we want to explore in its totality the idea of a National Health Insurance Scheme for all. But we have examined the health system and have decided we need to focus on rebuilding our state health system first. In his budget my finance minister will announce more money for doctors and nurses, who have been working so hard for so long. Managers will be given the power to manage, with targets and access to the help they need. There has been too much politics in our health system, for the next few years we have to put patients first. If this means we have to rethink the unionisation of nurses, then so be it. If we find that health workers are stealing sheets and food or leaving people waiting for hours for no acceptable reason, we will take strong action. These people will be fired.

“We do want to make health care more equitable, we need to improve access to quality care for all our people. But we need to make sure we do the basics first. It is a hard fact of life in South Africa that the richer you are, the healthier you are. We want to make everyone healthy, without killing some of the good and well-functioning hospitals we now have. We must learn from the private sector in this regard. We want some of their managers to help manage our hospitals. But I also want to take steps to monitor health-care inflation. It is wrong for people to be dropping out of quality health care because their medical aid bills are too high.

“When it comes to electricity infrastructure we need to learn from the mistakes of the past. There has not been a coherent workable policy in our energy sector for too long now. For this reason my energy minister Dipuo Peters has been working on a new policy. We are going to publish this in the next week for public comment. Particularly important is the provision we’ve made for independent power producers to come in to this sector. We realise that it was partly because of government’s mistakes that they have not contributed adequately in this sector in the past. We want to rectify it now. This new policy, once we’ve listened to the private parties, will become policy for a long time to come. This will bring the needed stability to this area, and allow investors to know what the risks and rewards of investing in power stations will be. This will also be the priority for the National Planning Commission. I have asked my planning minister Trevor Manuel to meet with private companies involved in this sector next week to hear their concerns and suggestions.

“My fellow South Africans, saving power is now a national priority.  All of us, from Bryntirion to Tembisa, from Qunu to Cape Town, from those people who own diamond mines to those who can only dream of working underground, we all need to save electricity.  We have not worked hard enough on this in the past, both as a people, and as a government. Starting next month, every minister will speak about saving power in every speech they make in public. We’ve asked the media, both the SABC and our friends in the privately owned commercial media to work with us on a campaign to get everyone to save power. If you save power in your house, we will find a way to reward you. Eskom’s solar-powered geyser project is going to be up-scaled soon, and yes, we will work hard on getting the sun to power our traffic lights.

“Ladies and gentlemen, our police service is beginning to make a real difference in the fight against crime. We must salute those brave men and women who are putting their lives on the line to protect us. I look to the family of Captain Carl Scheepers, who gave his life for his country, and I want to thank them publically, and tell them that we are all with them.

“We will stop merely talking tough, and also start acting tough on criminals. It’s not enough to make big statements. The talking stops now. We must act. Our government will enable police to do their jobs. We will use the best brains in the country to generate crime maps, to find out about new technologies and to look at our Constitution to see how it can help us. We want criminals to fear the police. We do not want our people to fear coming between the police and criminals. Our police will get the best possible training, we will import the skills necessary to train them. They will also get more training on the law, how to use it, and why they must respect it.

“Our state-owned enterprises are in a crisis. We want to debate the current structure, and we need to think about whether they should become partners of government. In the meantime, until any legislation is passed, I want to quote my public enterprises minister Barbara Hogan on this when it comes to the boards of the SOEs, when I say, ‘yes, hell, they must govern’. I want them to control the organisations they’ve been asked to run. And ministers must not get involved in issues that are beyond their purview. It is not their business. If they have a problem, they must bring it up in cabinet.

“Ladies and gentlemen, my fellow South Africans, we are still a vibrant, exciting country; we will have a vibrant, exciting Fifa World Cup. We must work together to do more for all of our countrymen and women. We must work hard. We must take responsibility for our actions, and when we act, we must ask ourselves, is this what is best, not for ourselves, but for our country. Thank you.”

2010 State of the Nation address prepared by Stephen Grootes.

(Grootes is an Eyewitness News reporter)

Photo: Reuters


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