In the haze of chaos of the 2017 State of the Nation (SONA) address, it is important to critically discuss the proposals and plans that President Jacob Zuma outlined for his final two years in the Union Buildings.
The President again reiterated his so-called nine-point plan which is said to help develop and grow our recovering economy. It remains to be seen what the exact impact of these proposals are. The rhetoric from the President that this plan aims to assist our recovering economy illustrates the fact that this plan has been reused each year since the State of the Nation address in 2015. The narrative of recovery is difficult to follow when the rest of the world has actually been recovering while we as a country still talk about the recession as if it just hit us. The fact that our economy was growing at 0.5% in 2016 or the unproven 1.3% that the President ambitiously claims, points to the fact that it has not been the global economy that has been keeping us back but rather poor policy like this three-year-old nine-point plan.
Radical Socioeconomic Transformation
This remains the most problematic policy proposal that was made during the State of the Nation address. In the President’s own words government will aim to go “beyond words, to practical programmes” to achieve radical socioeconomic transformation. The private sector was warned that government was planning on utilising all strategic mechanisms and means available to the government to influence and drive transformation in the sector. This frightening proposed state interventionism seems to be quite ironic given the fact that this grand plan was precursed with the Presidents plans to cut back on red tape to make life easier for small businesses. If one thing remains clear after this recent address by our head of state it is that government only appreciate business when they are under the whims of the ruling party’s ideology. One just hopes that the government realises the error of their ways by looking at other countries who have also tried to gun for the banks, media and mineral sector to no economic benefit to the people. This, unfortunately, seems unlikely, though.
A further unnecessary and detrimental planned intercession by the government is that surrounding the much hyped up but baseless debate of data costs in South Africa. Although the President failed to mention how he plans on lowering the cost of data, it obviously entails some form of involvement of the state either with new regulations, legislation or licensing which threatens the autonomy of some of the biggest employers in the country. Had the President taken the time to read even one of the simplest reports that deal with the issue he would surely have grasped the concept of having wider coverage with higher prices as opposed to weaker coverage but at a cheap price. This briefly mentioned proposal by the President seems to be an obvious attempt to get on the bandwagon of the Data Must Fall movement in an attempt to lure many of the ANC’s lost youth support.
Looming Social Welfare Crisis
The fact that now nearly 17 million South Africans are dependent on social grants was celebrated in the State of the Nation address. This, however, raises two important questions. Firstly, why the President did not touch on the pending crisis that awaits SASSA recipients in April when the declared invalid contract between SASSA and Cash Paymaster Services is supposed to end. One would think that the head of state would like to either reassure or set out his plan for this national crisis. Secondly, it seems gloom-ridden that the President celebrates the fact that more South Africans are dependent on social welfare while ignoring that more and more South Africans are unable to be employed and live a prosperous life. Regardless of where one stands on this particular debate, most would agree that social welfare should not be the support base for a third of the country but rather a catch net for South Africans.
Review Of The Mining Charter
The Mining Charter is set to be reviewed by the government with the aim of recognising the state’s right to exercise sovereignty over mineral and petroleum resources in the country, and to deracialise the ownership of the mining industry. In yet another turn of irony, the President wished to deracialise a key driver of economic growth by influencing the industry along racial lines. One just hopes that this is another one of President Zuma’s annual broken mining sector promises.
All things considered, it remains incredibly important to critically analyse the content and proposals that are made during the State of the Nation address. One must never get too caught up in the muddle of the what happens on our television screens. Many important decisions are brought before the country on these occasions. As the people of South Africa, it remains our responsibility to persist as the unrivalled and final watchdog over government policies and to criticise when needs be.