Opinionista Onkgopotse JJ Tabane 19 February 2013

State of the nation: The good, the bad and the ugly

I suppose the fact that President Jacob Zuma did not seek to overtly characterise “state” in his State of the Nation Address, has meant that all of us, after listening to what was essentially a report-back to the nation, can pretty much make up our own minds about the state of our nation. At best, if we’re honest, it’s a pretty mixed bag.

There is no one adjective that can singularly define where we are at present as a nation. Anyone who avers otherwise would border on the extreme and will not be taken seriously by the rest of society, who daily experience otherwise. The very fact that the markets reacted positively seems to be conveniently ignored. Often used as a benchmark for whether the world believes in us or not, the strength of the rand must, in the first place, give us hope that South Africa, despite all the negatives dished out by 2012, is a “going concern”. But that is not the totality of the story.

Let’s be bold and say: The state of our nation is good. The facts and figures that show huge progress in the infrastructure arena, where millions were expended to make good on the promises from the previous State of the Nation address, must be commended. We have to commend the state for taking bold decisions on the stabilisation of the policy environment – clarity on the question of nationalisation, for example, must be one development that stands out as good. This is a huge development given the instability that has been created by a possible policy switch on nationalisation created by the debate on the matter over the last few months. Such policy stability is crucial, especially following the Marikana tragedy as well as other violent strikes that have scared off investors from the country. While there are challenges that must still be addressed, the state of our nation is good. There is a vision that the whole country share in the way of the national development plan. This plan, which can be said to be truly the glue that can hold our nation together, cuts across partisanship and elevates the country above all else. Never at any stage in our nation’s history were we more able to speak with one voice about where the country must go than now. The progress we are making in international bodies such as the African Union and United Nations says that the world still believes in us. The recent warm reception that our country received in Davos and the fact that one of our own is at the helm of the AU must be celebrated.

Let’s be brave and admit: The state of our nation is ugly. The ugly face of the rape and murder of teenagers and elderly people gives our country an ugly name across the world. There is no nation that can stomach so much ugly violence. It’s is clear that such an ugly state of affairs requires urgent and decisive action on the part of the state. Action being mooted includes harsher sentences for offenders, as well as mandatory life sentences for certain offences. While welcome, this is not enough to end the scourge of violence. Community action is crucial. The president’s condemnation of such violence is an admission of how ugly this makes us look. The state of our nation is truly ugly if women and children are not safe walking in our streets. The state of poverty that has seen houses of people being demolished, the state of education that have seen text books not being delivered in Limpopo – all these things paint our country ugly and the future bleak, if not dealt with decisively.     

Let’s be honest and admit: The state of our nation is bad. The recent census, which painted a picture of rising levels of unemployment and inequality, shows the bad side of things in our country. Many young people are without jobs and we have yet as a society to crack the formula to deal with youth unemployment. The fact that the youth wage subsidy has been under discussion by Nedlac for almost a year, says a lot about how bad we are at underlining priorities for our country. One wonders how long the matter would have been sitting idle at Nedlac if it had to with salaries of civil servants or pay increases for labour. We still sit without finality on the matter, although there are signs of hope that some agreement has been reached. Most recently, a disturbing report that states that 12 million South Africans go to bed hungry should make all of us stand up and take notice. A nation that can’t feed its own must admit: The state of our nation is bad.

The national development plan that has been billed as the centre of our future has to be broken down into implementation milestones very soon. The nation is nervous after several plans have been doled out throughout the last 20 years. From the RDP to the NDP, this has been a path littered with good intentions. What gives me comfort is the overwhelming support that various parts of our nation have thrown behind the plan. What makes me nervous is the subdued elucidation of the timeframes for implementation. The lack of such details, however, should not be cause for concern just yet. The various ministers must reveal these as they brief the media this week and through their budget vote speeches, scheduled over the next three months. 

When all is said and done, we must build on what is good about the state of our nation and seek to reverse what is bad and ugly about it. Then we will be poised to live in honesty and not denial.  DM  


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