Great expectations

2010-12-28 00:00

WE spent a long time anticipating this year, I must say, with a lot of excitement. The excitement about the much-vaunted football World Cup, taking place on our soil for the first time in its near-century existence, epitomised and drove this heightened anticipation. While much was accomplished during the year, other needs and expectations could not be met, hence, there was a persistent mood of hope and disappointment.

As the year draws to a close, many hopes have been dashed and many expectations remain unfulfilled. The hopes for decent jobs, houses, services and corruption-busting remain unfulfilled. This feeds into the high expectations among many poor people.

The expectations of a real difference being made in the lives of ordinary people inspired by Jacob Zuma's rise to power remain unfulfilled. For them, if the Zuma wonders did not happen in 2010, then they surely must happen in 2011. Of course, Zuma started on low note with the news of the birth of a child out of wedlock, but he consolidated his leadership during and after the World Cup. This had to do with constant emphasis on performance on the part of the public service and public officials.

In politics, especially in a relatively poor country such as ours, high expectations are an albatross around the neck of dominant politicians. They are put into the same den as miracle workers and they have a limited term of government to achieve extraordinary things.

While politics is certainly about wrestling and maintaining power, hopefully for the greater good of society, it is also about managing people's hopes and expectations.

Human life and society in general help generate hope and expectations on a daily basis. Human beings are influenced by this idea of growth and society is sold on the concept of necessary progress. This suggests in the mind of the people that a movement forwards and upwards is to be expected and it is the duty of the government to make it happen. In our case, the exciting run-up to the 2009 election and the election of Zuma as president added to the general mood of high hopes.

The truth, however, is that the expectations will not be met in 2010 alone, nor during the entire term of current government. Realistically, this was the year for the new government to demonstrate a strong unity of purpose towards a better life and a concerted fight against poverty and for development. It could only realistically make visible differences in a few areas of public policy. This included proper support for schools and tertiary education institutions, getting the basics right in public-health facilities, make visible progress towards a coherent fight against corruption and crime, and get even more municipalities to manage their work effectively.

The 10-point health plan and the local government turn-around strategy marked positive steps forward on the basis of getting the basics right. Indeed, there is improvement in health policy, planning, and inter-stakeholder co-ordination. There is a sufficiently simple, but serious local government agenda.

The fight against crime has become even more visible and coherent than before. Again, the incremental approach, which emphasises basic messages and getting police officers to work effectively in partnership with citizens, is making a difference.

The point we want to make here is that 2010 was, in reality, a year to set in place policy approaches and tactical choices. Next year should, therefore, be about visibly effective implementation and action on the ground.

With the local government elections on the horizon, however, the politics of power mongering, point scoring and patronage may rear their heads in the domestic political scene at the expense of public policy action to meet or manage public expectations.

Before factionalism strengthens in the run-up to the African National Congress's elective conference in 2012, the year 2011 should be used to implement speedily the five priorities that many voters supported through their votes. Both the high level of expectations and the political timing justify our expectations that 2011 will make or break the current administration.

So, if 2010 was a year of great excitement, then 2011 will be the year when disgruntlement will be likely, due to unrealistically high expectations and shoddy work done by the government in certain areas, especially those managed by municipalities. I wish, therefore, that the spirit of giving that Christmas espouses will dampen the culture of entitlement and consumption our daily lives promote.

• Siphamandla Zondi is the executive director of the Institute for Global Dialogue, but writes in his personal capacity.

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