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South Africa: All Eyes On President Zuma Ahead of SONA

Photo: GovernmentZA
President Jacob Zuma delivers the State of the Nation Address 2014.

Pretoria — All eyes will be on President Jacob Zuma tonight as he delivers his sixth State of the Nation Address and the last one for the current administration.

The speech will be delivered live on television from 7pm, as has been the case in the past few years.

The initial focus of Zuma's agenda during his term was notably centred on job creation and economic infrastructure development. He came in at a time when the world was battling to come out of an economic recession from which South Africa was not totally insulated. From the New Growth Path, Jobs Fund to the National Development Plan, SAnews Features Editor Chris Bathembu looks at the five years that was.

2009

It was a cold winter afternoon on 3 June 2009, when President Jacob Zuma stepped in the National Assembly in Cape Town to deliver his first State of the Nation speech following the elections of that year. The world economy was reeling with the effects of the recession. More than 900 000 South Africans had lost their jobs between 2008 and 2009, while some companies continued to cut staff due to rising costs of oil and energy. It was not going to be an easy speech for Zuma. Some even cringed when he announced that between June and December 2009, the economy would have created about 500 000 job opportunities. The important element to the job drive would be the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP). The initial target of one million jobs from EPWP had been achieved by 2009.

In that year, Zuma also knew something needed to be done fast to cushion the poor from the aftermath of the most devastating economic crisis since the great depression. He announced the introduction of the training layoff scheme. Though it was met with opposition from COSATU and the National Youth Development Agency, the plan would help protect workers who would ordinarily have faced retrenchment due to economic difficulty. Companies in distress would also be assisted to train inexperienced workers. In the end, these workers would, instead of being retrenched, be kept in employment for a period of time and re-skilled.

Zuma announced that a scaled up Industrial Policy Action Plan would be developed. The lead sectors in this were to be automobile, chemicals, metal fabrication, tourism, clothing and textiles as well as forestry. This made way for the development of the New Growth Path (NGP) a year later. The administration identified five key priorities i.e. education, health, the fight against crime, creating decent work as well as rural development and land reform. They would be a focal point for the rest of the five year electoral term of the current administration.

Zuma ended that speech by saying: "Since the implementation of our programme will take place in the face of the economic downturn, we will have to act prudently. No wastage, no rollovers of funds - every cent must be spent wisely and fruitfully. We must cut our cloth according to our size."

2010

It was 11 February, and this speech was to be delivered in the evening. There was much hype and enthusiasm around it as the date coincided with the release of Nelson Mandela from prison back in 1990. At 7pm, many working people would be at home, government had believed, and would be glued to their television screens to watch the speech, some of them for the first time.

As expected, Zuma began his address by reminding South Africans of Mandela's release, a watershed moment that changed the country's history.

"The release of Madiba was brought about by the resolute struggles of the South African people," he said.

Then it was back to the business of the day. Zuma reminded the nation that the global economic crisis had cost the economy about 900 000 jobs. Many of those who lost their jobs were the breadwinners in poor families. He announced that to ensure a safety cushion for the poor, government would extend the Child-Support Grant to children over 14 years of age. In the next three years, this would be extended to benefit children aged 15 to 18 years.

More than 480 000 public works job opportunities were created, which was 97% of the target Zuma had set the previous year. The jobs were in construction, home and community-based care, and environmental projects.

But one major announcement Zuma made in 2010 was probably the R846 billion he said government would spend on public infrastructure. He also said the NGP had been adopted as the framework for economic policy and the driver of the country's jobs strategy.

In 2010, Zuma also announced that from that year, all grade 3, 6 and 9 pupils will write literacy and numeracy tests that are independently moderated. Government had set a target to increase the number of matric students who are eligible for university admission to 175 000 a year by 2014.

Zuma wrapped up that speech by saying: "Inspired by our icon Madiba, it is my honour to dedicate this 2010 State of the Nation Address to all our heroes and heroines, sung and unsung, known and unknown. Let us work together to make this year of action a successful one for our country."

2011

This speech was delivered on 10 February and it became known as the "speech of jobs" in economic circles.

In it, Zuma announced the establishment of a Jobs Fund to the tune of R9 billion over the next three years to finance new job-creation initiatives. The Industrial Development Corporation had set aside R10 billion over the next five years for investment in such economic activities with a high jobs potential. Up to R20 billion was to go towards tax allowances or tax breaks to promote investments, expansions and upgrades in the manufacturing sector. For a project to qualify, the minimum investment must be R200 million for new projects, and R30 million for expansion and upgrades.

In that speech, Zuma also announced that South Africa had joined the Brazil-Russia-India-China economic bloc. This is an important bloc of emerging economies. He noted that more than 400 000 additional people were connected to the country's water supply the previous year. About 81% of the country was electrified as compared to 63% in the year 2000.

About R44 million was recovered from public servants who were illegally benefiting from housing subsidies. Just over 5 million HIV tests have been done since the launch of the testing campaign in April of the previous year.

Zuma concluded that speech by saying: "We must therefore act together as a united people, for national reconciliation, for nation building, for the birth of a new world."

2012

This speech was delivered on 9 February and much was said in it about the historic centenary of the governing party, the African National Congress. The address focused on several key things that government would have to do to grow the economy.

The National Development Plan (NDP) would look at where the country wants to be in 20 years. The plan would address the elimination of poverty and inequality as critical points that must be attended to. Zuma used this speech to report back on a number of issues. The Jobs Fund, which was announced in 2011, began operating and 2 500 applications were received in the first round. Project allocations of over R1 billion had been committed. Seven projects with an investment value of R8.4 billion were approved for the R20 billion tax incentive announced in 2011. Transnet would invest R300 billion over the next seven years in capital projects. Of this amount, R200 billion was allocated to rail projects and the balance, to projects in the ports. Zuma said the state would develop a major new South Eastern node that will improve the industrial and agricultural development and export capacity of the Eastern Cape region, and expand the province's economic and logistics linkages with the Northern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

In the former Transkei part of the Eastern Cape, a dam would be built using the Umzimvubu River as the source, in order to expand agricultural production. More than 220 000 solar geysers were installed in homes nationwide. The government target was one million solar geysers by 2014-2015.

Zuma wrapped up that speech with these words: "I would like to appeal to all our people to join hands as they always do, as we deal decisively with the triple challenge of unemployment, poverty and inequality. Nobody will do this for us, it is in our hands. And we are all equal to the task."

2013

Inevitably, Zuma began this speech by referring to the crisis in the Eurozone, which he said affected South Africa's economy. The Eurozone is SA's major trading partner, accounting for around 21 percent of the country's exports. Zuma spoke at length about the NDP, which outlines interventions that can put the economy on a better footing. The speech set the target for job creation at 11 million by 2030. But the economy needs to grow threefold to create the desired jobs. Zuma said from 2009, government would have spent about R860 billion rand on infrastructure. Various projects are being implemented around the country.

The Judicial Commission of Inquiry, led by Judge Ian Farlam, had been appointed to probe the tragedy in Marikana where more than 44 people were killed during a strike by miners.

Investments amounting to R400 million in green economy projects have already been approved for municipalities, other organs of state, community organisations and the private sector across all provinces.

The Family Violence, Child Protection and Sexual Offences Units had secured over 363 life sentences, with a conviction rate of 73% for crimes against women above 18 years old and 70% for crimes against children under 18 years of age.

Zuma ended the speech by saying: "As South Africans, we should continue to have one primary goal - to make our country a truly great and prosperous nation."

2014

The year marks 20 years since South Africa attained its democracy. All eyes will be glued on Zuma tonight as he delivers the last State of the Nation Address in this current administration.

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