15 February 2013

South Africa: Cosatu's Response to Sona 2013

Photo: GCIS
The Parliament of South Africa.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions welcomes many of the positive measures announced in President Zuma’s State of the Nation Address, based on his commitment to continue with a programme of action to eradicate poverty, inequality and unemployment, in line with the five priorities that the ANC adopted in its 2009 manifesto – education, health, the fight against crime and corruption, creating decent work and rural development and land reform.

It is good to hear that from 2009 to the end of March this year, government will have spent about R860 billion on infrastructure, including improvements to water and transport provision, and that the National Health Insurance Fund will be set up by 2014. This should be starting to bring new jobs on stream.

COSATU welcomes the President’s assurance that "by saying education is an essential service we are not taking away the Constitutional rights of teachers as workers such as the right to strike", and fully endorses his view that “we want the education sector and society as a whole to take education more seriously than is happening currently”.

The federation also welcomes the creation of a Presidential Commission to investigate employment conditions of public service workers.

On land reform it is good that the concept of ‘willing buyer, willing seller’ will be replaced by the ‘just and equitable’ principle for compensation, and that we will shorten the time to finalise a claim. In this, the centenary year of the racist 1913 Natives Land Act, this must be implemented urgently.

There is some encouraging news on the war against corruption, with the president’s report that the capacity of the Special Investigating Unit has grown from 70 staff members to more than 600, that he has signed 34 proclamations directing the SIU to investigate allegations of corruption, fraud or maladministration in various government departments and state entities, and that criminal investigations were initiated against 203 accused persons in 67 priority cases under investigation by the end of September 2012. Still more needs to be done however.

COSATU also applauds the President’s clear statement that government’s measures to tackle the massive crisis of youth unemployment will be those agreed between constituencies at NEDLAC on which discussions have been concluded, and agreement reached on key principles, which do not include the discredited Youth Wage Subsidy.

The federation is however disappointed that the speech did not adequately confront the massive problems of poverty and inequality, which, together with unemployment, constitute the triple economic crisis facing the country. There was no articulation of a radical alternative growth path for economic transformation.

COSATU is particularly disappointed that the President is basing so much of his future programmes on the National Development Plan, which appears to be being elevated to the status of the Freedom Charter, but which is not a programme for fundamental economic change.

In reality, as he himself concedes, it is merely “a roadmap”, which gives us a beautiful “vision” of the country over the next 20 years, at the end of which all South Africans “will have water, electricity, sanitation, jobs, housing, public transport, adequate nutrition, education, social protection, quality healthcare, recreation and a clean environment”. Of course we support such a vision, but the NDP gives no clear strategy on how we are going to achieve all this.

What this confusing and self-contradictory Plan lacks are concrete proposals for tackling the problems of poverty, inequality and unemployment, without which it will be doomed to fail.

COSATU welcomes the President’s strong condemnation of the “brutality and cruelty meted out to defenceless women” as highlighted by the rape and murder of Anene Booysen, and his direction to law enforcement agencies to treat these cases with the utmost urgency and importance”. The trade union movement pledges its total support for the national campaign to rid South Africa of this drive to eradicate this scourge.

Finally, we welcome the President’s firm commitment to solidarity with Cuba, Palestine and Western Sahara and are especially encouraged with the President’s firm call for the lifting of the economic embargo against Cuba.

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