No mention of service delivery - analyst
Cape Town - It was very worrying that President Jacob Zuma made no mention of plans to improve local government following many complaints by South Africans, political analyst Steven Friedman said on Thursday.
Friedman said this gap in Zuma's speech raised eyebrows because Zuma had declared 2011 as a year of turning around local government.
"There was no single word on how government plans to improve services. That is key and ignoring it won't solve the problem. Most people don't think that was done [last year]," said Friedman. He welcomed the focus on infrastructure, saying it was expected as it was what the country needed to create jobs.
Zuma put the economy at the centre of his fourth State of the Nation address on Thursday night. He told Parliament the government saw its role as guiding the economy to grow faster and announced steps to stimulate mining, integrate rail and road infrastructure and help exporters.
This year will see a massive infrastructure drive, with Limpopo - which has been recently placed under administration - mentioned first as the focus of infrastructure development.
Friedman said apart from infrastructure investment, the president was "repeating what we already know", particularly on economic transformation. Zuma spoke of government's plan to amend the Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment Act. He admitted that the land redistribution process was "slow and tedious" and acknowledged that the willing buyer-willing seller option had not been the best way to address this question.
Only eight percent of land, of the 30% target by 2014, had been distributed.
Another analyst, Aubrey Matshiqi of the Centre for Policy Studies, described Zuma's address as "very ambitious", and said it lacked detail on implementation.
"The targets are not completely related to an agenda for 12 months. It means we'll have to judge the ANC government in terms of promises made in the speech and how much progress is made in the short to medium term," said Matshiqi.
He was struck by what Zuma said on land redistribution and was waiting to see what the government was doing to change direction in that regard.
"We are mourning 100 years of the deposition of black people from their land. It would be interesting to see what specific measures will be put in place to accelerate land restitution," he said.
Matshiqi said Zuma reiterated what former President Thabo Mbeki had said about the willing buyer-willing seller approach being a blunt weapon.
Matshinqi said it was interesting that Zuma made no mention on international relations.
However, should the economic plans announced in the speech materialise, South Africa would in the medium term become a haven of economic growth and job creation, he said.
Should plans on infrastructure development materialise, they would depend on a partnership between government, the public sector and civil society. Matshiqi said it would also depend on the performance of the global economy.
"One weakness is the absence of a pact between our social partners like labour, the private sector and the state," said Matshiqi.
"With the absence of these, all plans will come to naught."
Matshiqi hoped Zuma and his successors would in future focus their attention on this "special pact".
Matshiqi said Zuma was correct to avoid any mention of nationalisation but spoke of beneficiation in the mining sector, unlike his two cabinet members, National Planning Minister Trevor Manuel and Mining Minister Susan Shabangu who made pronouncements on the issue earlier this week.
Idasa analyst Judith February said some of the critical issues Zuma did not emphasise were corruption and tenderpreneurship, considering the number of tenders that would be rolled out as a result of this big infrastructure programme.
February also raised the issue of the Budget, saying Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan would have to give an indication in his Budget speech.
Political commentator, Susan Booysen, said she expected more detail from Zuma's speech. "It was a typical type of talking, assuring people that government was working on it but not much said on implementation," she said. Booysen said it was going to be quite a few years before South Africa saw any impact from the infrastructure investment plan.
There probably was not a short-term solution to problems in the country.
"Desperate people will be looking around at how they can survive and bring food on the table this year and next year," she said.