Zuma to make modest promises

2009-06-02 13:05

Cape Town - President Jacob Zuma's maiden State of the Nation address is likely to see him make modest promises of better delivery, and reassure the poor his government will help them weather the recession, analysts say.

"He has a lot to prove; he has come in on a back foot and it is a tricky speech for him to navigate in tough economic times, under intense scrutiny. There are high expectations and he will try to temper those," Institute for Democracy in SA analyst Judith February said.

"But he will have to focus on the recession and its impact on the social fabric. I think what one wants to see is some recognition of the impact on ordinary people."

Election manifesto

February and others expect Zuma to return to the ANC's election manifesto on Wednesday, as he names his top priorities - job creation, crime, education, health and rural development. But, they say, the first of these may take precedence, given the bleak economic outlook.

"The jobs issue is huge. He cannot but refer to it, and it is the most complex issue he has to address," said University of the Witwatersrand political analyst Susan Booysen.

Zuma's expected call to business to preserve jobs, and his dance with the ANC's alliance partners on labour issues, would provide clear clues on the president's philosophy.

"It will be very interesting how he will... hopefully persuade the private sector to go slow on retrenchment," Booysen said.

But Zuma's "most intricate balancing act" would be keeping labour on his side, as South Africa navigates its first recession in 17 years, she said.

Labour demands

Economist Abedian Iraj said failure to resolve escalating wage disputes, which has seen the Congress of SA Trade Unions threaten paralysing strikes, would undermine whatever blueprint Zuma chooses for the next five years.

"I have no doubt that the whole issue of labour demands will have to be dealt with very carefully because it could derail a whole lot of processes," he said.

February pointed out that Zuma will have to address mounting social delivery protests, threats from the taxi industry and a hospital system in disarray.

But analysts agree that, faced with a shrinking economy and declining fiscal revenues, the president could not hope to deal with service delivery backlogs by throwing money at the problem.

Iraj said Zuma would have to go back to the basics of good governance, improving service delivery without extra spending.

This would mean vowing to eliminate "waste, corruption, abuse and delays", which would in itself increase efficiency in many areas of government.

Coupled with that promise would likely come a call on the public to show more patience, and an explanation by Zuma of the reasoning behind his restructuring the Cabinet, and the role of the new planning unit headed by Trevor Manuel.


"It will be about communication and packaging. There will be an appeal for patience," said Iraj.

Booysen thought the long-suffering electorate was likely to show understanding because the April elections had proved voters still overwhelmingly trusted the ANC.

At the same time, the party also understood it had to set out time-frames, albeit modest, for improved delivery.

"The ANC has a good idea that this is make or break time, in challenging circumstances. It will go back to basics on democratic governance, on being accountable to the people.

"There is a lot of forbearance. The ANC knows it has that level of trust, but it also knows that we are no longer in post-liberation euphoria," she said.

February said Zuma was sure to make a rallying call to South Africans to get behind his administration, and not lose hope in hard times.

But, she warned, the man whose long battle to become president had exposed abuse of the National Prosecuting Authority needed to reassure the public he will respect and rebuild scarred democratic institutions.