State of the Nation: The devil is in the detail

2012-02-11 13:25

Inevitably, President Jacob Zuma’s state of the nation address has as many detractors as it has cheerleaders.

It has become a ­ritual for the supporters to praise the ­president while those in the opposition benches decry its lack of substance.

As always, there is enough in the speech to prove the prejudices for or against the ­government’s philosophy for the country. We ­believe the ritual for or against the president is self-serving and misleading. It is neither plausible nor efficient for the head of state to outline every detail of what the government’s priorities for the year will be.

It is reasonable for South Africans to hear their president speak on matters they feel are ­important. And the president has the obligation to remember that, as head of state, he speaks for and to common South African aspirations and not only for and to those who elected him into power.

But in doing this, it is incumbent on us citizens to remember that the state of the nation address is not a sermon preached to those unified by their chosen faith. It is – and must be – an ­attempt to balance the interests and concerns of the varying constituencies that make up the South African body politic.

The president made enough right noises to please various constituencies, but was reticent enough to make us contain our excitement. Positive remarks were made about poverty, inequality and joblessness; gender, land restitution and economic empowerment.

We heard of money being set aside to unlock the value ­constrained by our logistics industries’ capacity. Struggle heroes outside of the ANC got a ­mention. Some vexing questions, such as what to do with labour brokers, remained unresolved.

Like other South Africans, we would have loved to hear the president speak more about how and by when he intends to fill the leadership vacuum in the criminal justice system, which is lead by an acting head of police and an acting head of public prosecutions – not to mention that the Special Investigating Unit is waiting for a permanent leader.

We would have loved to hear a more frank assessment of the role of teachers in crippling the education system. In a world where austerity has become the buzz word, we would have loved to hear how the state intends to fund the many ambitious projects outlined in President Zuma’s address.

We expect that the various ministers and other technocrats will reveal the devil that is in the ­detail. They will have to flesh out in greater detail what the president outlined in a rush. We will be listening carefully and, over the year, watching ­eagerly to ensure that we were not subjected to mere pomp and pageantry.

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