Zuma disappoints analysts

2009-06-03 22:12

Cape Town - President Jacob Zuma's first state of the nation address was disappointingly low on detail and failed to inspire hope that he could set South Africa on a brave new course, analysts said on Wednesday.

"It was very low on detail, very much broad brush strokes. I didn't see any new policies. To be convinced that it was different from what came before, we needed a bit more," said University of the Witwatersrand analyst Susan Booysen.

"To be enthusiastic we would have to interpret this in the context of what we know the new ANC regime intends to do."

Nor did Zuma seem to go beyond sketchy, established thinking on handling the recession, or re-adjust government's stated targets to factor in its expected ravages, she added.

No set plan for economy

The president had stated at the outset that the first recession since the early 1990's could slow the implementation of programmes, but still promised government would create half a million new jobs by December.

"He mentioned the global meltdown up front, but then did not draw the links on how this would impact on the local economy and government's plans," said Booysen.

"We knew the current achievement of having created one million jobs took a lot longer to achieve than they thought. In this context, how is this going to be any different?

"South Africans who are living this crisis daily are not naive, and they needed him to give them something more tangible. I think this seemed all too ambitious; it would have made more sense to be more modest."

View 'hard to find'

Idasa analyst Judith February said Zuma's hour-long speech did not live up to the hype that had swept him to office seven months after Thabo Mbeki was recalled.

"Jacob Zuma comes in on a ticket of change, but there were no big issue ideas. It was hard to find his view, to see the president in this.

"It was a speech of the collective, from the people around him in the Union Buildings - we don't know which ones exactly - and in Luthuli House. And I think we should get used to that."

February said she suspected Zuma was unlikely ever to prove a president who focused on the finer details of policy-making or implementation, and said South Africans would now have to wait for individual ministers to outline their programmes.

A lack of clear direction from the president also meant powerful ministers in powerful economic portfolios, such as Trevor Manuel, Rob Davies and Ebrahim Patel, were likely to determine key policies in a potentially bruising debate among themselves.

Mbeki govt 'with a smile'

Centre for the Study of Democracy director Stephen Friedman said although Zuma had displayed some of his trademark human touch, there was little in his speech that promised to set his fledgling administration apart from former president Thabo Mbeki's nine-year reign.

But, he added, it was unrealistic to expect Zuma to overhaul the policies of the previous administration, when in fact it was oversight that would resolve delivery problems.

"I think it is the same approach as the previous administration with a smile on its face. He is trying to communicate in a more friendly and open manner than his predecessor, and that will be his style throughout his presidency.

Friedman lauded Zuma for pinpointing specific concerns - from fighting HIV to resolving the stand-off over doctors' salaries - as it showed that he would try to address South Africans' concerns directly.

But he said the president had failed to explain how he would follow up on complaints to his office, or how the new monitoring unit in his office, headed by Collins Chabane, would function.

"I don't think anybody has worked it out. That was very much Mbeki's approach. Put somebody in an office and make them check on people, and it did not work."