Pretoria — The eyes of all South Africans will be on President Jacob Zuma this evening as he delivers his first State of the Nation Address in the new Parliament.
President Zuma will deliver the speech during a joint seating of the National Assembly and National Council of Provinces. In an election year, there is a second State of the Nation Address once a new President has been elected and inaugurated.
President Zuma's address will be broadcast live on radio and television and 50 public viewing areas.
The State of the Nation Address has become more than simply a ceremony of state with Parliament this week saying it will use the event to invite public participation and celebrate the country's 20 years of democracy. The address will, as in previous years, be a full ceremonial occasion, involving all branches of the state and including public participation. This includes, among others, a mounted police escort and a military ceremonial motor escort, a red carpet at Parliament lining the President's route to the National Assembly building, a national salute by the Ceremonial Guard of the SANDF and a and a 21-gun salute.
But apart from the pomp and ceremony, most people will no doubt be looking forward to the actual speech which is significant for several reasons.
Not only will it be the first speech for President Zuma in the new administration following the elections, it will also coincide with the beginning of the second phase of the country's transition, two decades after the first democratic elections. Last month, President Zuma announced members of his new Cabinet which, he said, would help implement the five-year Medium Term Strategic Framework (MTSF) of government.
This evening, he is expected to give a first indication of government's Programme of Action for the next five years which will no doubt build from the successes and challenges of his first term in office. This particular MTSF has been developed using the National Development Plan and the ANC Manifesto for the recent elections. In the new Cabinet, announced on 25 May, some ministries and departments have been reconfigured while others have been expanded to improve capacity.
Since 2009, government has placed its focus on five top priories including fighting crime, improving education and health, rural development and land reform as well as job creation.
Government boasts several substantive achievements in those priority areas including the increase in the number of people accessing HIV treatment from 923 000 in February 2010 to a staggering 2.4 million in 2013. South Africa currently has the largest antiretroviral treatment programme in the world.
The matric pass rate surpassed the 75% mark to reach 78.2% in 2013, while statistics showed a drop in crimes like armed robbery and cash in transit heists. Despite a weaker rand and a turbulent global economic climate which has been refusing to relent since 2008, a record of achievement on the economic front has begun to emerge. The Jobs Fund, announced in 2011, continues to approve funding for business initiatives, including innovative incubation models to develop SMMEs, according to the Treasury.
The Employment Tax Incentive Act has also been put in place to encourage employers to hire younger workers. More than 650 000 jobs were created last year, according to Stats SA while 3.7 million work opportunities were created over the past five years.
On foreign affairs, South Africa became a member of the influencing BRIC bloc made up of Brazil, Russia, India and China. The government of South Africa also successfully lobbied for former Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma to be elected first female chairperson of the African Union, a move many say demonstrated Pretoria's increasing influence in continental politics.
A landmark achievement for President Zuma's first administration was Cabinet's adoption of the National Development Plan, a policy blueprint which offers a long-term perspective for South Africa. A second term in office could focus on its implementation.
Early in his Presidency, President Zuma also announced the biggest infrastructure development rollout in the country's history. His priority to increase the pace of public infrastructure delivery was demonstrated when the Presidential Infrastructure Coordinating Commission (PICC) was established in 2011 to oversee all major infrastructure projects across the country. The government identified 18 infrastructure projects to take place in the next 10 to 20 years. These were drawn from the 645 projects identified by the PICC Commission. It was estimated the projects would cost R4 trillion over the next 15 years, and would cover all sectors of the economy including, among others, rail, roads, energy, water infrastructure and telecommunications.
Just recently, he signed the Infrastructure Development Bill into law, now known as the Infrastructure Development Act which aims to fast-track regulatory decision-making in the delivery of critical infrastructure needed for economic growth and service delivery.
The speech will be aired from 7pm.