SA Needs Pragmatism and Reassurance – Pre-State of the Nation

A month has passed since the April 22 election. The South African economy has entered its first official recession since the early 1990s. With a contraction of 6.4 percent in gross domestic product (GDP) in the last quarter and zero percent growth forecast for the second quarter of this year, all indications are that the worst of this recession is yet to come. The country needs a dose of pragmatism, reassurance and solutions.

 During the Mbeki years, characterised by stable but unequal growth and a booming global commodities market that meant relative economic stability, the State of the Nation addresses were increasingly mechanical and predictable. Mbeki was not afraid to court controversy and used this platform to espouse his Two Nations thesis, which later developed into a Two Economies analysis. However, criticism of his addresses focussed more on the deafening silences on critical issues, most notably, HIV/AIDS and Zimbabwe.

Jacob Zuma and the ANC ran a strong election campaign, focussing on an agenda of socio-economic transformation. The campaign slogan of Together, we can do more holds an implicit admission that the ruling-party has not delivered enough on its previous goal of a Better life for all, and it is this theme which is likely to take centre stage at Zuma’s State of the Nation address. Given recent public protests at poor service delivery and continued threats of public service strikes within the municipal and health sectors, Jacob Zuma will need to Zuma engage with citizens on these issues and demonstrate strong leadership and will on behalf of the new government to deal balance various competing interests.  Zuma’s address will thus come in for keen scrutiny from the opposition benches and more importantly, he will experience increasing pressure by extra-parliamentary formations such as the ANC’s Alliance partners. The alliance partners will be looking to Zuma for the quid pro quo for their election support and citizens will be looking to him for direction during difficult economic times. In addition, business will want to see continuity in the midst of change. So, Zuma will have to navigate tricky waters if he is going to satisfy the high expectations of a variety of divergent stakeholders.      

Key issues:

 

1.         The economic recession is the most pressing issue facing South Africans. The recession poses a threat to the country’s social fabric, given the very fragile social levels of social cohesion in communities across the country, already plagued by unemployment and high levels of violent crime. Thus, the President must speak to the severe strain the recession will place on the nation’s communities. The President should outline government’s plan for meeting the challenges posed by the recession both in the short and long term. The Motlanthe administration outlined certain plans to deal with the financial crisis- Zuma will need to outline how his administration will operate given the economic situation and the constraints it presents.  What is the government’s policy on baling out certain industries for instance? There has been much talk about a bale-out for Frame textiles: how does this cohere with government policy on bale-outs and assistance during the recession, generally? Zuma should address the larger issue of principle at stake on Wednesday.

 

2.         In all likelihood Zuma will focus on the priority areas outlined in the ANC’s election manifesto such a education, health-care, rural development and crime prevention and land and agrarian reform. The ANC NEC meeting this past week focussed on these key areas and so one can expect Zuma to do the same. 

 

2.         Cabinet has been increased from 28 ministers to 34, with 28 deputy ministers. The ANC has stated that this expanded cabinet will expedite delivery and manage the economy. Firstly, he must explain generally what such an expansion will deliver to the public.  Secondly, Zuma should explain the exact nature of the new Planning Commission and Ministry of Economic Development and how they will function within constitutional constraints. Already, there is an incoherence emerging whether Ministry of Finance will remain in charge of shaping economic policy and ensuring continuity, while the parameters of the Ministry of Economic Development’s policy role remain unclear. The way in which the new structures may contribute to better service delivery should also be explained. Recently there has been an increased number of service delivery protests and mobilisation across the country.  Zuma will have to address the increasing frustration within communities regarding service delivery. Many electoral promises were made and expectations are high amongst ordinary citizens. Clearly there will be some constraints as the recession kicks in and it is likely that Zuma will temper expectations in his speech about what government is currently able to do.

 

3.         The President will have an opportunity to clearly demarcate party and state and separate the ANC from government. He will therefore need to assure the nation that his government has no intention to  deliberately manipulate the Constitution to suit the ANC’s electoral needs or to centralise power in national government at the expense of local government. He should seek to affirm the independence of the SABC, the NPA, the judiciary and disavow the party of its policy of cadre deployment policy, which allows for the abuse of state institutions by individuals and the political party. There has been a great deal of flux within the country’s democratic institutions mostly due to the internal divisions within the ANC. Zuma needs to be sending the right messages in his speech about his office’s commitment to institutional independence.    

 

6.         The president should outline the industrial policy of the country, laying out specific sectors that are being targeted and projected employment and export revenues predicted from targeted sectors. He might choose to focus on the importance of it’s the manufacturing sector as well.

 

If President Zuma is serious about ushering in change and intends to keep at least some of the ANC’s campaign promises, then we should expect a State of the Nation that reflects some or all the issues raised above. Since the start of Zuma’s presidency there has been very little of his ‘own voice’, instead we have had many comments from the alliance partners and others regarding imminent strikes, the workings of government etc, but not much from the President himself. Wednesday will be an opportunity for President Zuma to put his stamp of authority on the Presidency and also to set out his vision for a transformed South African society.    

 

Parliamentary Programme : issues likely to be important as Parliament starts its new term

 

  • Communications Committee and the SABC Budget

The SABC faces a severe financial crisis with a reported debt of R784 million and requires a cash injection from government. In recent months three members of the SABC board have resigned citing a variety of reasons including poor leadership.  The chairperson of the communications committee has also recently indicated to the media that the SABC’s problems will definitely take centre stage.

 

  • PC on Arts and Culture and Robben Island Museum

The entire board of Robben Island recently resigned and the new Minister of Arts and Culture, Lulu Xingwana, has promised to appoint another board to take over. The Robben Island Museum has suffered severe mismanagement, highlighted recently in a forensic report that identified large scale corruption in the museum. This is issue is likely to dominate the budget hearings of the Arts and Culture committee.

 

Bills

Parliament’s focus will more likely be on exercising oversight over the executive rather than passing new legislation.

 

Some of the lapsed bills (bills which need to be revived as they were not dealt with by the last Parliament) include:

 

  1. Superior Courts Bill [B52-2003] (s75)
  2. Traditional Courts Bill [B15-08] (National Assembly  – sec 76 (1) )
  3. 3.      National House of Traditional Leaders Bill [B 56B – 2008] (National Assembly – sec 76(1)).
  4. Traditional Leadership and Governance Framework Amendment Bill
  5. 5.       Medical Schemes Amendment Bill [b58-2008] National Assembly prop – sec 75
  6. 6.      National Health Amendment Bill [B 65-2008] (National Assembly- prop sec 76)
  7. 7.      South African National Water Resources Infrastructure Agency Limited Bill

 

There are a number of bills that were withdrawn last year for various reasons and it remains unclear whether they will be tabled in parliament or not. They include the:

 

  1. Public Administration and Management Bill-it had a clause about post employment restrictions in the public service
  2. Protection of Information Amendment Bill
  3. National Strategic Intelligence Amendment Bill
  4. Intelligence Services Amendment Bill
  5. South African National Water Resources Infrastructure Agency Limited Bill [B 36-2008] (National Assembly prop -75)

 

The introduction of the National Health Insurance policy might perhaps revive the Medical Schemes Amendment Bill [b58-2008] National Assembly prop – sec 75 and the National Health Amendment Bill [B 65-2008] (National Assembly- prop sec 76) though this remains speculation.

The Expropriation Bill may also be tabled again in Parliament, however it may require a review by the relevant department. Thus, it remains unclear whether it will be re-introduced this year or the following year.

 

Constitutional Amendments

Cabinet has also controversially approved the Constitutional Seventeenth Amendment Bill. According to a Cabinet statement

 

“this bill vests national government with new powers of intervention at local government level to facilitate service delivery and to achieve regional efficiencies and economies of scale at local government level.”

 

 The Bill will also facilitate the restructuring of the electricity distribution industry and possible regionalisation of other municipal functions when necessary. This amendment has faced strong criticism from the opposition Democratic Alliance citing the ANC’s interference in the City of Cape Town’s governance. The DA argues that this amendment is unconstitutional and has vowed to challenge it in the Constitutional Court. Another possible amendment to the Constitution will be the reversal of the previous administration’s decision to end cross boundary municipalities. Cabinet has promised the affected communities that it will conduct further consultations on the issue. This was after Cabinet discussed a report on the consultation processes with the communities of Moutse 1, 2, 3 (Limpopo), Matatiele (Eastern Cape) and Ga Ba Mothibi (North West) regarding their choice of provinces. A change in provincial boundaries will require constitutional changes.

 

Appointment of Chapter Nine Commissioners and the Public Protector

Parliament recently called for nominations and the closing date for submissions was the 8th of May. The contracts of a number of commissioners will expire quite soon and parliament will soon begin short listing candidates and the interview process. For example, the Commission of Gender Equality currently requires a chairperson. Other vacant positions include One Councillor for ICASA (Independent Communications Authority of South Africa), Commissioners for the Public Service Commission, and 5 Commissioners for SAHRC.

 1 June 2009
See the PDF on Idasa’s website here.

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