State of the Nation: Telling us what we already knew

Feb 11, 11 State of the Nation: Telling us what we already knew

President Zuma’s state of the nation address effectively delivered 82 minutes of well-meaning words telling us of problems and solutions which we already knew, or should already know. His quip mid-way blaming inequality in South African society linked closely with his opening blame of our current problems on colonialism and apartheid, and with that immediately lost the interest of most middle class folks watching. But what should we expect? Humility? This is the president’s address, and as such will be torn apart in due course by the opposition. There are no shocking admissions and no groundbreaking plans for the future. His underlying message of ‘soldiering on, but quicker’ is less optimistic and more honest than we might realise.

That this country remains divided thanks to apartheid and colonialism is not wrong, but it dodges the simple reality that the ANC-dominated government has had 17 years to do more than they have. They cannot be wholly blamed for the current inequality in society, but they have had a hell of a lot of time to do better. Nevertheless, this is hardly suprising rhetoric being issued forth by the president, but at least we are not too surprised anymore.

The problems in South Africa are not a mystery, and neither are their solutions. The president showed in his speech that he expects us to know this by now, and he expects his ministers to know it as well, and to act on it. His determination to reduce unemployment and provide departmental objectives which can be measured is important to note. But like any state of the nation address which we have seen in recent years, we can only really judge according to the quantitative results which manifest.

Overall, Zuma appears comfortable in his position now. His speech, while staid and unremarkable, proved grounded and realistic at least. It would have been far preferable for him to speak more on how he intends to address the many problems we have had for so long. Putting himself and his cabinet at risk by explaining the processes for 2011 by which he intends to make drastic improvements on crime, unemployment, education and so on would have been a speech well-received. As it stands the opposition will almost certainly prove merciless in their responses in the coming days. Sitting hunkered as he did will not prove an adequate defense against the inevitable onslaught.

But outside of the red-carpeted halls, the reality is that the ANC-run government will have almost complete freedom to govern as they wish, regardless of what the opposition may say. President Zuma is beholden only to his party, and not the entire South African population. If we are to witness any major change in the obvious problems of this country, it will be through the ANC’s own volition, and not the people.


Image by World Economic Forum