Year of action?

2010-01-11 00:00

AFTER the festive recess, it has become tradition in South Africa to start the new political year with the ANC’s January 8th statement, which marks the occasion of the founding of the organisation. The ANC was founded in January 1912 and this year it celebrated its 98th birthday in grand style with a huge bash in Kimberley on Saturday.

Since the ANC became the ruling party in 1994, the January 8th statement has taken on an added significance; this keynote address by the president of the ruling party is seen as a precursor to the State of the Nation address delivered in Parliament in February. It is also seen as an indicator of what the government’s plan of action will be for the year ahead.

There were no surprises in this year’s January 8th statement, some commentators have described it as bland and a reiteration of the party’s election promises. Reading through the document, it does seem like a list of New Year resolutions, and we all know how difficult those are to keep. However, President Jacob Zuma has no choice, 2010 is a year the nation is expecting action, not only on the soccer field, but on the political front as well. This is because talk can only take you so far, and it really is time to deliver on those election promises.

Indications, so far, are that 2010 is going to be tough year for the ruling party. This was already evident in Kimberley. While the president was talking unity and a commitment to strengthening the tripartite alliance, the cracks were beginning to show. The air was simmering with tension among members of the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) and the South African Communist Party (SACP), who each carried their own banners in support of their leaders. There were also the barbed comments made against each other by the Youth League’s Julius Malema and alliance leaders. Zuma will have to be more decisive in settling these petty squabbles in order to get moving on delivery.

Analysts have picked on the ruling party’s failure to deliver on its promise of 500 000 new jobs last year. On Saturday, Zuma warned that the country’s economic recovery will be slow and there will be a lag in the creation of new jobs. However, he added that the ANC is confident that the progress made in the past nine months in implementing the expanded public works programme will lay the foundation for the attainment of its target of creating four million work opportunities by 2014. Economists are sceptical that the party will reach this target and believe that much more than an expanded public works programme is required. There has to be a lot more strategic planning around job creation. A key issue in this regard will include fixing the floundering education system. A reminder of things to come is a story in this week’s Sunday Independent. It is about contract workers involved in the construction of the world cup stadiums who only have work until March . After that most will once more be unemployed.

Delivery on jobs in the expanded public works programme also relies on having functional municipalities. Zuma’s administration has openly spoken about the failings of local government. In his keynote address on Saturday, the president said the party believes that municipal employees should not hold leadership positions in political parties. He also promised to crack down on incompetent and corrupt municipal employees. He said the ANC will tighten its deployment procedures to ensure that people with political integrity and who are professionally competent get jobs in municipalities.

For ordinary citizens it is hard to know whether sufficient jobs are being created by government, but they can see what is happening in their local municipalities and whether all the tough talk by the government is actually being translated into action.

If the ANC is indeed tightening up on its deployment procedure, will action be taken against non-performing municipal officials or will they be protected by their friends in the party’s regional executive committees (REC’s)? As Co-operative Governance Minister Sicelo Shiceka once said, it is also political interference in the running of municipalities that has to be stopped.

According to analysts, another tough challenge for Zuma is that the country’s tax revenue is shrinking. They question how government will find the money to deliver on many of its promises. These include the costly national health insurance scheme as well as pay increases promised to doctors, soldiers and other public servants. They also point to the problem of money-guzzling para­statals like Eskom, which are relying on state coffers rather than helping to fill them.

It certainly looks like 2010 is going to prove a year of action both on and off the field.

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