A year to forget for Zuma


Last year’s farcical state of the nation was one of many events in a horrible year best forgotten for President Zuma

The year 2015 will be recorded in the annals of history as President Jacob Zuma’s annus horribilis (the Latin term for a horrible year).

So horrible, in fact, that most of us may have forgotten the president’s state of the nation address delivered a year ago this week.

In fact, it was delivered in chunks between its disruption by security toughs tossing out the Economic Freedom Fighters when they disrupted the address with the question-become-hashtag #PayBackTheMoney.

The centrepiece of the address was a 10-point plan on the economy meant to bolster confidence and growth.

South Africa ends the political year and starts a new one staring down the barrel of potential recession, with business confidence and investor appetite at their lowest ebb in a decade.

Efforts to resuscitate the economy through a massive infrastructure drive, as well as investor incentives, have worked patchily, if at all, given the numbers.

The president is likely to highlight instances of investor confidence, such as the big facility by Unilever that broke ground last year, as well as BMW’s extension of its manufacturing line to bump up the exports of X3s.

That happened before the president’s decision to fire a highly regarded finance minister, Nhlanhla Nene, and replace him with a North West nonentity, Des van Rooyen.

That cost the economy R177 billion and a toppling of confidence that has seen Pravin Gordhan, back at the helm as finance minister, initiating a series of emergency measures to pull business back on side.

The 2016 address is likely to include placatory messages for a skittish sector.

From February last year (and before), Nkandla has come to define President Zuma’s term as leader, and the fallout from spending on the presidential estate is set to continue.

There were also unpredictable events that set plans asunder. These included the drought that affected a series of ideas mooted by the president last year to expand agricultural output.

The xenophobic attacks that started when Zulu King Goodwill Zwelithini made remarks to his followers about foreigners quickly spread across at least four provinces, and distracted the country from its focus on growth and social-infrastructure spending.

The attacks hardened attitudes to South African businesses operating on the continent, but specifically in Nigeria. And while South Africa bolstered its relationship with China throughout 2015, that economy is now exhibiting the telltale signs of distress, most notably through the superpower’s decision to curtail imports of commodities.

As an emerging market, South Africa is in dire straits, along with a basket of other similar-sized economies. Still, President Zuma is likely to highlight the capitalisation of the New Development Bank for Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) as one of the few highlights of an otherwise horrible year.

Droughts, global currency routs, declining commodities and xenophobic attacks are events that governments can, arguably, manage but not predict. They contributed to a year best forgotten for the president.

But he also delivered several spectacular own goals, from his attempt to delete the importance of the Nkandla scandal (remember the “Nkaandlaaa!” performance at Parliament, where the phrase “Thixo wase George Goch!” entered political lore?) to the unwise firing of Nene, a decision likely to haunt him in 2016.

What is the one thing you want President Zuma to say in his state of the nation address on Thursday?

SMS us on 35697 using the keyword ZUMA and tell us what you think. Please include your name and province. SMSes cost R1.50

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