Every year I dread the State of the Nation

2012-02-10 06:47

This is a terrible thing to admit for a journalist whose passion is politics. The annual trek to Cape Town is supposed to be fun, exciting and the highlight of our year. For once you have every mover and shaker in South Africa in one place (although for some parliament is a site of struggle) and there is never any lack of stories to chase and gossip to verify.

But the part that I dread is the actual speech, the hour or so that you sit in parliament and hear the president telling you what the coming year will be like, what we should look out for and how to tackle the challenges. Because other than the ANC ‘s January 8 statement, the State of the Nation gives the marching orders for the country, not just for ANC members. So as a citizen, I must take it seriously.

I always have such high expectations. I always believed that I will walk out of the press gallery of parliament, into the pushing and shoving of people wanting to leave the building, and feel a sense of immense pride. Because I may be a journalist, and often one very critical of government, but I still want to believe that the people elected to run the country know what they are doing, and they do it in the interests of the rest of us. But somehow I never quite got that feeling, and then return to my laptop and start writing stories that are frighteningly similar to the ones I filed the previous year.

This year things were different. Although president Jacob Zuma’s speech was a highly technical one and you need to be an engineer to understand how the various railways and corridors fit in with each other, it is clear Zuma in on the right road.

We will probably never get the broad and inspiring vision for the country from him, but it is clear he knows what needs to be done, and infrastructure is the basis on which we can build a world-class country.

The rest of Africa makes one really proud to be from South Africa. Airports here are better equipped than even the ones in the much-maligned West, and although traffic remains a necessary evil, the highway expansion projects make it more bearable.

At the African Union summit in Addis Ababa I ran into some Kenyan government officials, and asked them why the roads in Mombasa, which is a key export hub for Kenya, are so badly maintained. They mumbled that they are starting with infrastructure now, but those who’ve lived in Kenya say this is a standard response.

So yes, the State of the Nation was thin on crime and corruption, and yes, it is a disgrace that only R1,5 billion was spent of the R10 billion that was set aside last year for job creation.

And I couldn’t help but giggle at how Zuma pointed to intervention in the DA-run Western Cape to deal with high-school dropouts – as if there are none in the rest of the ANC-run provinces.

But the president did give us two important political hints to consider. The obvious one is that he sees a bright future for public enterprises minister Malusi Gigaba, who will be expected to make this grand-scale infrastructure projects happen. Gigaba is in an informal battle with sports minister Fikile Mbalula, big tjommie of Julius Malema, to be the leader of the next generation of ANC cadres.

Secondly Zuma’s commitment to a seven-year plan for Transnet, called the Market Demand Strategy, shows he wants to serve a second term and will, at the end of it, want us to look back onto these projects as his legacy.

Which is sound thinking. It will give us something concrete and real to assess him on, and if he does it right, we will enjoy the benefits long after he retires to Nkandla.

And that is how a leader does it.

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