Mandy Rossouw

A blank email from the president's office

2012-01-11 13:50

The email sent to a journalist on January 8, supposedly containing the presidential address of the ANC centenary celebrations, was empty.

Obviously whoever sent it simply neglected to attach the text version of the speech and will probably send it again once he realised his oversight.

Telling mistake

But in a way it was the most telling mistake an ANC official could have made, given the most prevalent criticism of the speech was that it lacked substance.

The speech was protected by Zuma’s flunkies in the run-up to Sunday like a piece of gold. Even when reporters for Sunday newspapers begged for a background briefing on the speech, the answer was a curt no.

When communicators do this we suspect one of two things: Either the speech is going to make some ground-breaking announcement and they don’t want premature reporting to sully its effect, or they know there is painfully little to talk about that was new and interesting. In this case it was clearly the latter.

Expectations for this year’s January 8 statement was anyway quite low. President Jacob Zuma had given his all last year with all the talk of jobs and money for jobs. In addition, no-one would have expected a new commitment to houses for everyone after Tokyo Sexwale’s new housing policy of “each one settle one” – that basically tells people to ask their neighbour for a house, as if the homeless have neighbours.

B-listers in the house

Clearly the low expectations were shared by the guests. Painfully few of the much-vaunted 46 sitting heads of state got up and came to Mangaung for the celebration. The party was a hangout for the B-listers in African politics – former heads of state and delegations of MPs. Not even Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe, who is in desperate need of publicity to show he won’t die anytime soon, wasn’t bothered to come.

Zuma has been criticised for “living in the past” because his speech can be read as an elaborate history lesson. I don’t have a problem with that, if there was a time for the ANC to dwell on the past this is it.

There is no way that the past leaders of the ANC could have foreseen the party turning out the way it did. The effect of government tenders on party politics was certainly never contained in an ANC policy discussion document, but neither was the eurozone crisis, the problem of jobless growth and the effect of bling.

So the ruling party needs to be cut some slack – it is faced with new tendencies all the time and it is no easy task to re-invent itself if you have to consult 1 027 389 members and fulfil the aspirations of about 46 million more.

A different world though

So it’s easy for critics to say this is not the party of OR Tambo and Chris Hani anymore, but this is not the world that they lived in either. And it’s anyone’s guess how they would’ve dealt with the current challenges, but I’d venture to say it would have been very difficult, even for esteemed gentlemen as themselves.

So the nitty gritty of whether we will get jobs, houses or electricity this year is not what one wants from a January 8 statement. We want a vision. We want to know where we will be at the end of the year, decade and century.

And this is a hard task, but made easier by the fact that there are a few key documents developed over the last few years by Zuma’s ministers which already set out that vision.

One of these is the national plan developed by the planning ministry and put before the nation last year. In it government and South African society are asked to make some tough choices, but the rewards will be a more just society, the one the leaders we like to quote, will be proud of.

And that’s what we wanted from Zuma – more than just an empty email, but a vision to be proud of.

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