It was a rather transparent move by the presidency to convene two media briefings this week after the rather awkward session in Parliament when President Jacob Zuma admitted to being ignorant of major issues affecting the country. So rather than let 'President Angazi' catch on, Zuma addressed a media briefing on Tuesday to give a progress report on the 2015 State of the Nation Address (Sona). There were more promises about jobs and economic growth and more work for Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa. And a lot more 'unintended consequences' for the Zuma administration. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
Had the Zuma presidency not been perpetually consumed by the Nkandla scandal, there would have been a lot more focus on its delivery record. It is not yet clear which is worse – Zuma’s legacy being defined by a litany of economic failures and non-performing government institutions or the Nkandla monster chewing up taxpayers’ money and the ANC’s credibility.
This week there is a concerted effort by government to change the narrative and focus on achievements and plans to jack up performance and economic growth through a nine-point plan announced in the Sona in February. The media briefing by the president and some senior Cabinet ministers came a few days after Zuma stunned the nation by saying in Parliament that he could not be expected to know about things like impending job losses in the mining sector because he was not a sangoma.
Zuma also claimed not to know that Police Minister Nkosinathi Nhleko had told a police meeting that some judges were biased and corrupt. “It’s literally the first time I hear (of it),” Zuma said in response to Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema who asked whether the president had condemned Nhleko’s comments. Zuma also floundered on questions of the economy, job creation and illicit financial flows, causing Malema to remark: “How can a sitting state president know so little about so much?”
So government’s PR machinery kicked into gear over the long weekend, prompting the “mid-year State of the Nation Address implementation update to the media” based on the outcomes of the recent Cabinet lekgotla. Presidential media briefings – all media, not only the SABC – are few and far between and always welcome. Having the president take questions from journalists is an added bonus as he usually bustles off to other important engagements after briefings. Zuma had Minister of Finance Nhlanhla Nene, Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe, Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform Gugile Nkwinti and Minister of Economic Development Ebrahim Patel on hand to assist with the questions.
While it had all the making of a successful PR event, it was difficult to swing the narrative to an optimistic Hlaudi Motsoeneng-approved storyline. As always, much of what goes wrong is blamed on factors other than poor leadership and government action/inaction.
‘Unintended consequences’ is the euphemism for monumental blunder.
The second problem was that apart from rattling off the usual list of statistics, there was not really much good news and progress to report. By Zuma’s own admission, the growth rate is wholly inadequate to meet the National Development Plan’s (NDP) ambitions. “We committed ourselves to a 5% growth rate by 2019. The 1.5% economic growth rate attained in 2014 is a distance from that NDP ambition,” Zuma said.
Zuma blamed the poor economic performance on the global climate rather than domestic conditions and policy failures. “Is the EU (European Union) not in a crisis? Is the globe not in a crisis? I think the globe is in a crisis since 2008. South Africa is part of that,” Zuma said.
Unintended consequence of existing in the world, you see?
In response to a question about other African economies enjoying improving performance, Zuma said it was an unfair comparison. “Other countries in Africa never had a racially-based economy. Never… Our unskilled huge majority is a result of the system. If all South Africans were skilled and normal I am sure our position would be totally different… What we always forget is what we are coming from. We are trying to address the legacy of Apartheid and it is going to be with us for a long time,” Zuma said.
Unintended consequences of Apartheid – along with all its intended consequences.
The president acknowledged that electricity shortages were currently costing the economy close to one percentage point in economic growth but said “substantial progress has been made in resolving the energy challenge”. “For the medium to long term electricity supply, the nuclear build programme is at an advanced stage of planning and the procurement should be concluded within the current financial year,” Zuma said.
Many people would be surprised to discover that plans for nuclear build are at an “advanced stage” when details from government have so far been minimal. Nene said the Treasury was playing a support role in the process. “Our role is to support the Department of Energy at arriving at the most cost effective and most appropriate procurement process,” the Finance Minister said.
If you’re worried about the unintended consequences arising from building six to eight nuclear power plants costing trillions of rands, and that the whole process is controlled by the Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson, you’re not alone.
As opposed to being unaware last week of the looming crisis in the mining sector, Zuma said the threat of job losses in the mining and steel sectors was “of serious concern to government”. He said the Minister of Mineral Resources had convened a meeting with business and labour last week and they identified a number of areas to save jobs and to find alternatives to job losses. Zuma said he would be a launching a fast-track programme on minerals beneficiation by the end of the year.
The most newsworthy announcement by the president was the establishment of an interministerial committee on immigration regulations. While interministerial committees and task teams are a dime a dozen these days and the default response of government to big problems, this one is the first acknowledgement from the highest office that the new immigration regulations have backfired.
Or had ‘unintended consequences’. Or consequences that would have been fairly obvious had there been a proper consultation process prior to the new regulations being implemented.
Until last week Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba was digging in his heels that the ‘combatting of child trafficking’ was more important than the negative impact on tourism.
But the statistics seems to have forced government to have a re-look. “We have also noted with concern, the complaints about the new visa regulations,” Zuma said. “I would like to announce the establishment of the interministerial committee (IMC) on immigration regulations. The IMC will address the unintended consequences of the new immigration regulations on various sectors, including tourism and investment.”
Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, who had previously been called to firefight other problem issues such as e-tolls, the electricity crisis and troubled state-owned entities such as South African Airways, will chair the committee comprising the ministers of Tourism, Home Affairs, Trade and Industry, Social Development and Small Business Development.
‘Unintended consequences’ in this context will probably mean Ramaphosa will have to help Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom placate the beleaguered tourism industry and show Gigaba which way to backpedal.
Ramaphosa has also been charged with being the ‘interface’ between business and labour to ‘normalise’ labour relations. Some would argue that that is the purpose of the governing party being in alliance with a labour federation and the function of the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac), but apparently Ramaphosa has to really work to someday earn the honour of missing out on being president to a woman candidate.
Sorry Comrade Cyril, unintended consequence of being a man.
In response to a question as to when he would be filing the vacancy in Cabinet following the death of former Public Service and Administration Minister Collins Chabane in March, Zuma said that was the “business of government”. “There is no time limit in which we have to do this. It will be done at the right time, at the right moment.”
The question seemed to have caught Zuma off guard, almost as if he had forgotten that Arts and Culture Minister Nathi Mthethwa has been acting in the portfolio for five months. This at a time when the public service needs to be streamlined and should be functioning optimally to carry out the programmes of government.
There are many ‘unintended consequences’ in running South Africa, including maintaining internal stability with the use of the army through Operation Fiela. The abnormality of the South African National Defence Force being deployed to assist the police with civilian policing functions is not recognised.
“Measures being undertaken include legislative and regulatory reform, improved policing through Operation Fiela and the promotion of peaceful co-existence and togetherness between citizens and nationals of other countries,” Zuma said.
There may not have been much in the way of detail, but the unintended consequence of not being able to answer questions in Parliament last week resulted in a report back to the nation this week.
And then off-script reflections about the country.
“I wouldn’t say in South Africa there is doom and gloom,” Zuma said. “South Africa is a very dynamic country, very open. I can dream, wake up and say ‘SA is about to fall’ and radios will play it. It won’t fall.”
“I think if I was a journalist, I would feel at home writing about South Africa… There is so much to say,” Zuma said.
Indeed there is, Mr President. DM
Photo: South African President Jacob Zuma addressing the media on progress made since the adoption the Medium Term Strategic Framework as outlined in his State of the Nation Address, in Pretoria, South Africa, 11 August 2015. Zuma said government support had taken the automotive sector from the production of 356,800 units in the year 2000 to more than 566,000 units in 2014. This support had grown auto exports from 11,000 units in 1995 to more than 270,000 units in 2014. As a result 300,000 jobs had been created in the automotive sector. EPA/KOPANO TLAPE
Watermelons were originally cultivated in Africa.