This is the State of the Nation Address that Solly Moeng would have liked to hear.
Speaker of the National Assembly, Ms. Thandi Modise,
Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, Mr. Amos Masondo,
Deputy President David Mabuza,
Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng and esteemed members of the judiciary,
All protocols observed, etc., etc.
In 2019, I stood and faced you from behind this podium. And in facing you, I faced the people of South Africa, whom you in this house represent; and I took you on a journey of the South Africa we could have been by now - a South Africa we have failed dismally to become, but one that we can still be if we work together.
I also told you that my government was committed to building an ethical state that would focus on seven priorities: economic transformation and job creation; education, skills, and health; consolidating the social wage through reliable and quality basic services; spatial integration, human settlements, and local government; social cohesion and safe communities; a capable, ethical, and developmental state; and a better Africa and world.
After making reference to the Natives Land Act of 1913- reminding you of where we have come from - and in an attempt to provide context for what was to follow, namely government’s promise to accelerate the provision of well-located housing and land to poor South Africans over the next five years, I came back into our more recent history of 25 years as a young democracy and referenced the progress we have made.
I reminded you that if we are to achieve the South Africa we want, we need a new social compact; and I said the following:
We need to forge durable partnerships between government, business, labour, communities and civil society. This places a responsibility on each of us and all of us.
Government must create an enabling environment, use public resources wisely and invest in developing the country’s human potential.
We would like business to consider the country’s national strategic objectives and social considerations in their decisions and actions. We agree that labour should advance the interests of workers while, at the same time, promoting the sustainability of businesses and the creation of jobs.
Civil society needs to continue to play its role in holding government to account but must also join us in practical actions to attain our common goals.
We look to the parties in this Parliament to be a vital part of this partnership, lending support, insights and effort to promoting the national interest. This social compact requires a contribution from everyone. It will also need sacrifices and trade-offs. It is upon the conduct of each that the fate of all depends.
I ended my 2019 address by quoting the inimitable Ben Okri, who wrote:
Will you be at the harvest,
Among the gatherers of new fruits?
Then you must begin today to remake
Your mental and spiritual world,
And join the warriors and celebrants
Of freedom, realisers of great dreams.
You can’t remake the world
Without remaking yourself.
Each new era begins within.
It is an inward event,
With unsuspected possibilities
For inner liberation.
We could use it to turn on
Our inward lights.
We could use it to use even the dark
And negative things positively.
We could use the new era
To clean our eyes,
To see the world differently,
To see ourselves more clearly.
Only free people can make a free world.
Infect the world with your light.
Help fulfill the golden prophecies.
Press forward the human genius.
Our future is greater than our past.
Fellow South Africans, please be assured that I do not start the 2020 address by quoting myself out of a simple need for self-indulgence. I do it to reassure those of you who fear that we politicians simply say things without meaning them, and expect everyone to quickly move on, forgetting the content of the promises we make while retaining only the beauty of our words; the political poetry.
You are not fools
Today I stand before you as president of our Republic of South Africa; not of any political party. I have listened to the cries and have seen the pain and the frustration. And I know that you, our people – united in your diversity – are not fools. Politicians might fool all of you some of the time and some of you all of the time. But I know that no one can fool all of you all of the time. The truth always catches up with those who are foolish enough to try doing this.
Now, despite my often clumsily expressed shock and apparent silence on a number of things that matter to you, I know that you can tell the difference between what we promise and what we do. I am quite aware, not shocked, that the health of our economy and social cohesion is in tatters because of the actions of our political leaders over the past decade or more. I also know that many of you will not forgive us for what has been done to our country until there is serious criminal action, consequence, against those found guilty of wrongdoing following the groundwork laid by numerous investigative media and commission reports.
I may not say it often – and I know I should – but many of the people implicated in wrongdoing against the interests of our country are my own comrades. Some, who have heavy question marks hanging over their heads, are walking the streets or living in comfortable retirement, while others have either been re-elected into powerful political party positions or deployed into government posts and other arms of the state. Those of you who have done so are correct to wonder what quality of legislative or administrative work can be expected from people who must still clear their names and restore their reputations before the courts of our land. I may seem quiet, but I share your concerns.
We had a vision
I have known and worked with some of the people I’m talking about over many decades. Perhaps this is what has made it hard for me to publicly speak out. I cannot possibly do so if I address you while wearing my hat as political party president, but I can do so while wearing my hat of president of our Republic of South Africa, which I know I must do more often if I am to reassure all South Africans that we can still build together.
Many of you know of the role that I played during the multi-party negotiations that gave birth to our post-apartheid democracy. In those early days we developed a vision for a nonracial, non-sexist South Africa. It is a dream I remain determined to see come true and, if needs be, it is a dream for which I’m prepared to sacrifice party interests in favour of country interests.
Please do not be fooled by my apparent silence. I may not speak out as often or as strongly as many of you want me to, but I fully understand the historic significance of the presidential relay that you have placed in my hand. I remain determined to use the powers vested in my office to help South Africa become the wining country it can still be. Our celebration of the 30th anniversary of former president Nelson Mandela’s release from almost three decades of incarceration and what he came to stand for, for our country, will not go to waste.
Now, in term of my government’s program for the next year…
* Solly Moeng is brand reputation management adviser and CEO of strategic corporate communications consultancy DonValley Reputation Managers. Views expressed are his own.