It’s time for Zuma to talk tough

2013-02-12 00:00

LAST year was a difficult year with a wave of public protests, violent strikes, retrenchments, corruption scandals and failures by the government, especially in education and intergovernmental work. But it was also a year when the country adopted the National Development Plan (NDP); a vision and plan for development until 2035. Here lies Zuma’s opportunity to change the way this country functions. He should insist on a single overriding plan and set of measures to ensure that the government and society religiously adhere to it.

The president cannot make the usual State of the Nation address. We are living in uncertain times and he is expected to lift the spirit of the country and assure us that we are going to make the hard decisions necessary to put the country on a sound footing economically, politically and socially.

He cannot please everybody. He must just do what is right and leave it to history to judge his approach. The fundamental challenges we face are outlined in the diagnostic report of the National Planning Commission, summarised as poverty, inequality and unemployment. These underpin high levels of crime and corruption, popular discontent, pressure on government services, child and women abuse, faltering rural development, collapse of community structures, weak social cohesion and national unity, low self-confidence, weak political parties and low self-reliance among people.

These structural problems have not been dealt with effectively by the ANC government. The NDP suggests a stronger focus on building the capacity of the state, its relationship with the private sector which is responsible for economic growth, a strong social pact, rethinking the country’s approach to international relations and active citizenship. This has to be demonstrated by hard decisions about how the government is going to change its usual approach.

We are approaching 20 years of freedom. We have to reach the moment that other developing countries, such as Brazil and India, reached when they matured and changed tack. They broke with the usual approaches and started to act boldly to change their societies. This, which Cosatu calls the Lula moment, is what the country needs and I will call it an NDP moment. The Growth, Employment and Redistribution (Gear) programme helped stabilise and grow a lethargic economy inherited from apartheid. The NDP must achieve economic prosperity for all. The work begins now and Zuma must make the call.

The worst thing Zuma could do would be merely to update previous addresses. He should announce drastic measures to ensure the NDP is a unifying and energising vision and plan, as well as a set of radical measures to enhance the capacity of the state, especially at municipality level. If need be, let us import skills and expertise while we fix education and other skills sectors. He should announce tough and legal measures against incompetence and corruption, for these simply rob the poor of their entitlements and opportunities.

The five priorities that the governing party is guided by must be subordinate to the NDP as the overriding framework. The NDP already echoes these priorities in that it places education and skills training above everything else. This is wise, not just because it will boost economic prosperity, but also because it enables citizens to empower themselves and depend less on the government. However, will Zuma announce radical measures to make fixing the education system the country’s singular obsession?

The NDP makes creating jobs an outcome of radical steps to strengthen relations with the private sector, to increase the size of the sector through co-operatives and SMMEs, and radically improve skills development. Zuma has to announce what different measures will be undertaken to move from a promise to delivery.

Health development is essential to human development, and the president has to indicate what radical moves will be undertaken to speed up the turnaround so citizens can benefit. The fight against crime and corruption has to improve drastically, but this needs strong leadership from the police service.

Much work will be needed to ensure that all public officials, public servants and citizens understand this plan. It is simpler and more realistic for us to have just one long-term vision that is religiously adhered to if we are to emulate China, Brazil, Turkey and Chile.

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

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