My thoughts on 2015’s State of the Nation Address by President Jacob Zuma
LAST THURSDAY’s State of the Nation Address (SONA) by the president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, was aimed at outlining the government’s achievements and failures over the past year; as well as the way forward. The president did exactly that: he told the nation what he believes his government achieved over the past year, the challenges they face, and the plan going forward. What I noted with the president’s address though, is that he was not clear on how he’s going to execute his plans; for example, there were no satisfactory details on how he’s going to execute his 9-point plan to boost the nation’s lackluster economy.
On the jobs front, which is one of the most important issues to me right now, the president echoed that the situation on job creation was promising, citing the unemployment statistics for 2014’s last quarter released by Statistics South Africa last week. These statistics showed that the unemployment rate declined to 24.3% from 25.4% in the last quarter of last year.
I do not think there was a need to mention these numbers; because we all know that these were temporary jobs that sprang out of the busy festive season. They were not long-term, lasting jobs that South Africans need right now to keep up with the country’s costly living. After the first three months of 2015, South Africa’s official unemployment rate will return back to 25%. We still face an enormous challenge on job-creation.
INJECTING BILLIONS OF RANDS INTO ESKOM WON’T RESOLVE THE POWER CRISIS
Our directors at Free Market Foundation South Africa have written extensively about how Eskom’s inefficiencies weaken South Africa’s economy. They’ve lamented the government’s wasteful expenditure on Eskom and other perastatals. Billions are injected into these enterprises every year; but the return on the investment is always dismal.
This is the reason I was puzzled and depressed when the president said “The government will honour its commitment to give it around R23 billion in the next fiscal year”. Apparently, this will be aimed at boosting the balance sheet of the troubled state-owned electricity producer, Eskom, and will help address the current power crises we face.
These billions will not eradicate the power crisis we face at the moment. We have poured in money before, and it’s not working because we still live with load shedding every day.
The problems faced by Eskom cannot be resolved by this continuous wasteful expenditure; because the problem is that this a mismanaged government-sponsored non-profit monopoly that fails to meet South Africa’s fast –growing electricity demand. It does not matter how much money you pour into these government enterprises, as long as they don’t have to face up to the pressures of the market competition and not run for profit, they will forever be mismanaged because there is nothing that incentivizes the management to get its act together.
These billions to be spent on Eskom in the next financial year will be a waste of taxpayers’ money, which could be invested elsewhere to better the lives of the South African poor.
The troubles faced by Eskom point to one solution: the free market system.
The free market system would improve Eskom significantly. The company would be exposed to competition along with other nascent electricity producers. This would incentivize the owners to get their act together and provide a much better service to their customers. I’m not talking theory, because we see this very day with many well-run private businesses that aim to provide better services to their customers at low prices.
I have no idea who advises the president on economic policies. I think the man is being misled and not being told the truth. Or perhaps they do tell him, he just does not listen. The solution to South Africa’s power crisis is certainly not what he proposed in the State of Nation address on Thursday. The only viable option we have at the moment, it seems, is a privatized Eskom.
WHAT I DID’T LIKE ABOUT ZUMA’S SPEECH
The president’s speech was entirely about his government, how it will provide for most South Africans; not much was said about “us the people”. It was all about what they will do for us, not what they will do to ensure that we the citizens can thrive and uplift ourselves.
Clearly, the president’s objective was not to champion liberty and propose ways on how South Africans can contribute to the well-being of this country. His address was about how politicians will contribute to the well-being of this nation.
All his plans will result in expansion of the state. My fear with the colossal state, is that individual freedom will be suppressed by the power-hungry political elite. This is the case in many socialist countries around the world – people’s freedom to choose who they associate themselves with, to choose their partner, to choose whom they trade with, to choose whom they vote for, is of less significance. As a result many of these countries remain relatively worst off, be it with respect to the standards of living or political stability.
Our government does not keep most of the promises it makes. So we will be foolish to believe President Zuma’s promises on how to conquer one of South Africa’s big challenges: the staggering unemployment.
I hope that next year’s SONA will enlighten us on how “we South Africans” can make a positive change in this country; not how politicians, whose first priority is re-election, will change this country. Politicians can’t and should not even try. We can.
THE EFF WAS WRONG TO DISRUPT THE PRESIDENT’S ADDRESS
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) members of parliament were not supposed to disrupt the president’s address, in my opinion.
You see, each and every business or institution has documented, agreed upon rules on how it is governed. This applies to our parliament too. Our constitution lays out the guidelines on how the participants must conduct the SONA and other related occasions.
Thursday’s event was not a question and answer session. Thursday’s evening was the president’s night to tell the citizens about the state of the nation, the challenges we face, and how these challenges will be surmounted going forward. In my understanding, in this session, questions are not asked. This is a constitutional, official rule of the parliament. It’s South Africans themselves who chose to do things this way.
There is always a follow-up session days later, where opposition parties pose their questions to the president, and make comments on the state of the nation address. Another session will be scheduled, where the president will respond to their questions. Unfortunately this is how things work.
These are rules that South Africans endorsed at the ballot box. So tell me, was there some consensus on when exactly these rules should be enforced or relaxed? Did South Africans say “These rules will be enforced on Mandela’s State of the Nation Address, not Mbeki’s or Zuma’s?” No, in my understanding they did not.
My point is that if South Africans are not happy with the rules of our parliament, then they have the power to change it at the ballot box. But I doubt they will. Why? Because they are hypocrites and naïve. Last time I checked, they voted for the same political party since 1994.
The EFF should have adhered to the parliament’s rules. We usually say “No-one is above the law”; that statement applies to the SONA too.
It’s a post-apartheid democratic South Africa – where if you are not happy, you either disrupt the parliament like the EFF did and be thrown out of the house, or you can look at other legal avenues to file your complaint. Perhaps the most important thing you can do is to vote for a different political party in the next election.
THE DA LEFT THE HOUSE AT THEIR OWN CHOICE
The Democratic Alliance (DA) was unhappy with the way the Speaker of Parliament handled EFF’s disruptions. It’s understandable. I was not happy too, with the fact that the police were ordered to remove the members of parliament out of the house. I’m not saying the EFF wasn’t supposed to be thrown out of the house; they had to be thrown out according to the constitution endorsed by South Africans themselves. But, this could only be done by the parliamentary security services, not the police.
So Helen Zille’s party walked out of the house. That was fine; they have a right to do so. It’s a free society; well, at least to an extent. You probably switched off your television, or changed the channel when the DA left the house. Again, that was fine, it’s your choice. You are not forced to watch the SONA.
THE PRESIDENT CONDUCTED HIMSELF THE RIGHT WAY
President Zuma is not my favorite president. He’s the product of the African National Congress (ANC) – a confused political party that continues to suppress individual freedoms by expanding the state. But I think the way he conducted himself at the SONA was right. His duty was to address the nation; those who don’t want to hear him could switch off their television if they so choose; the unhappy members of parliament were allowed to leave if they so wish, and they did. So we were all free to do whatever we want; and President Zuma respected that.
Some say he could have said something about the chaos that disrupted his address. Say something to whom? These were adults with functional brains who chose not to be part of the occasion. They made individual choices. You are responsible for your own choices; I’m responsible for my own choices too.
South Africans will remember very little about the content of President Zuma’s speech this year. What they will remember the most are the chaotic events that were caused by the EFF and the ANC. My advise to my fellow citizens is this: Let’s respect the rules of the parliament enshrined in our constitution. Because if we do not, one day, repercussions will be dire. If we are not happy with the way this country is governed, then the cleverest thing we should do is to highlight our discontent at the ballot box in the next election. What we saw in Thursday’s SONA was democracy at play – those irked by the speaker’s alleged bungling of the proceedings stormed out of the house, the speaker executed her mandate by dismissing those who disrupted the president and disobeyed the rules of the parliament, and the viewers at home had a choice, to either switch off their televisions or watch. The president did the right thing by continuing with his address as if nothing happened. Who is he to tell us how we should react to his address? We individuals made choices on Thursday, great. I just hope that next year the President will trust us the people to solve the problems this country faces; and we will only effectively solve them in a free market economy.