‘Business unusual’ for SA: Mbeki

 South African President Thabo Mbeki

Khanyi Magubane

South African President Thabo Mbeki has given his assurance that South Africa remains on the path of progress and prosperity.

Delivering his ninth and penultimate State of the Nation Address to a joint sitting of Parliament on Friday 8 February, Mbeki said the country’s government was still committed to the promise of “a better life for all”, made by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) during its successful 2004 election campaign.

“I am confident that 2008 will be one of the most remarkable years of our democracy, as we all work together to realise the core aspiration of our people to attain a better life for all,” Mbeki said.

“I say this because, in our own estimation, it is not often that a nation is called upon to strain every sinew of its collective body to attain a dream. And such is the injunction that history has imposed on us today.”

Friday’s address was the first Mbeki had made while no longer the head of the ANC. In December 2007 the ruling party elected the country’s former deputy president, Jacob Zuma, as president of the ANC. The state of the nation address has been widely perceived as an opportunity for Mbeki to show that he remains firmly in control of the country’s leadership.

Business unusual

Running with the theme of “Business unusual”, much of the speech was concerned with the economic development and service delivery. Mbeki revealed government plans to ramp up its programmes to improve the lives of South Africans, not by changing its policies, but by implementing them in imaginative, more effective ways.

“The entirety of our system of governance is … making the commitment that in the period ahead of us, it will do its best to live up to the imperative – business unusual,” Mbeki said.

“We speak of business unusual not referring to any changes in our established policies but with regard to the speedy, efficient and effective implementation of these policies and programmes, so that the lives of our people should change for the better, sooner rather than later.”

Power crisis

Another focus was on South Africa’s current power crisis. Mbeki apologised on behalf of the government and electricity utility Eskom for the mass inconvenience the power shortages have had on both citizens and business.

He said the departments of Minerals and Energy as well as Public Enterprises had been working around the clock with Eskom to ensure that the national electricity emergency plan is quickly implemented.

“Government will start implementing a campaign to ensure efficient lighting, solar water heating and geyser load management in households, including housing standards for all new houses and developments,” he said.

He also acknowledged the cooperation of the hard-hit mining sector, after major South African mines were forced to shut down for a week to relieve pressure on the national electricity grid.

With regards to the mines’ role in the power crisis, Mbeki quoted from Anglo American chief executive Cynthia Carrol’s address to the Mining Indaba in early February: “I don’t regard the problems of energy supply here as a disaster,” Carroll said. “And South Africa is not alone: there are pressures on supply regarding our expansion projects in Chile and Brazil.

“Sure, the problems here are serious; overcoming them will require ingenuity, especially in energy efficiency and energy saving, as well as the development of alternative power supplies. But if all of us can forge strong partnerships to tackle the situation, we will all come through … this is not a time for finger pointing, but for working together in finding solutions.”

On track for 2010

During his hour-long speech Mbeki reassured the nation that, despite the setbacks of the power crisis, South Africa was still on track to successfully host the 2010 Fifa World Cup. “[T]he current challenges we are facing have led some elsewhere in the world once more to question whether we will be able to host these tournaments successfully,” he said.

“I have absolutely no doubt that we will honour our undertaking to Fifa and the world community of soccer players and lovers to create all the necessary conditions for the holding of the best-ever Fifa Soccer World Cup tournament.

“The sense that we get, across all sectors of South African society and further afield, represented by the actual daily progress we are making in terms of our all-round preparations, is one of business unusual: All hands on deck for 2010! We must ensure that we sustain this approach.”

Apex priorities

Remaining with his theme of business unusual, Mbeki revealed 24 Apex Priorities which the three spheres of government – national, provincial and local – will focus on to ensure “a better life for all”.

“We have taken the necessary steps to ensure that the Annual Budget the Minister of Finance will present later this month makes the necessary allocations to give us the means to implement the Apex Priorities.”

Mbeki identified the main categories of the priorities as:

  • The further acceleration of South Africa’s economic growth and development
  • Speeding up the construction of the infrastructure the country needs to achieve its economic and social goals
  • Improving the effectiveness of interventions directed at the second economy, and poverty eradication
  • Enhancing the impact of education and training programmes
  • Accelerating the advance towards the goal of health for all
  • Revamping the criminal justice system to intensify the offensive against crime
  • Further strengthening the machinery of government to ensure that it has the capacity to respond to development imperatives
  • Enhancing the focus on key areas of South Africa’s international relations, with particular focus on African issues and south-south relations

Education, health and housing

Turning to education, Mbeki announced the launch of the Kha Ri Gude (“let us learn”) mass literacy campaign, which comes after an overhaul of the adult basic education programme in 2007. The new campaign will include teaching master trainers, who will provide basic literacy classes to 300 000 adults and youth in 2008.

On health, Mbeki said the South African government plans to intensify the implementation of the National Strategic Plan against HIV/Aids. The Department of Health also aims to reduce the rate of tuberculosis (TB) defaulters – those who fail to complete their treatment – from 10% to 7%. It also aims to train over 3 000 health personnel in the management of the disease, and ensure that all multi-drug-resistant and extreme-drug-resistant TB patients receive treatment.

Regarding housing, Mbeki said considerable progress had been made in sorting out backlogs in the Department of Housing.

“In the programme to provide sustainable human settlements,” he said, “we are now able to provide 260 000 housing units per annum, and an agreement has been reached with the South African Local Government Association to place a moratorium on the sale of land that can be availed for the housing programme.”

Social development and justice

Mbeki also spelled out his vision for an inter-departmental strategy to effectively combat poverty affecting children, women, the youth, people living in rural areas and urban informal settlements, people with disabilities or chronic illnesses and the elderly.

He said that his dream was to see many government departments working at the same time to achieve the goals of poverty alleviation.

“We require a national war room for a war against poverty, bringing together departments such as Social Development, Provincial and Local Government, Trade and Industry, Agriculture and Land Affairs, Public Works and Health as well as provincial and local administrations.”

Mbeki also announced an imminent overhaul of the Department of Justice.

“In the spirit of business unusual, Cabinet has agreed on a set of changes that are required to establish a new, modernised, efficient and transformed criminal justice system,” he said.

“Among other things, this will entail setting up a new coordinating and management structure for the system at every level, from national to local, bringing together the judiciary and magistracy, the police, prosecutors, correctional services and the Legal Aid Board, as well as other interventions, including the empowerment of the Community Police Forums.”

Looking to the rest of Africa

Mbeki then spoke extensively on pan-African issues. He spoke of South Africa’s desire to strengthen organisations such the African Union and its development programme, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development. This, he said, would take place through the consolidation of regional institutions and activities.

Mbeki said South Africa was still committed to a free trade area in the Southern African Development Community (SADC). The government plans to use South Africa’s position as chair of SADC in 2008/2009 further to give impetus to these and other regional endeavours.

The Zimbabwe talks were also given attention. “Over the past year, we carried out the mandate of SADC to assist the political leadership of Zimbabwe to find a lasting solution to the challenges they face,” Mbeki said.

“In short, the parties involved in the dialogue have reached full agreement on all matters relating to the substantive matters the parties had to address. These include issues relating to the Constitution, security, media and electoral laws, and other matters that have been in contention for many years.”

He also condemned the violence in Kenya. “We are particularly concerned by the senseless violence and killings in both Kenya and Chad, developments that clearly set back the progress we have been making in the last few years with regard to the regeneration of the African continent. We call on all African compatriots to do whatever we can, together, to help bring a stop to all these negative developments.”

International relations

On the global front, Mbeki said South Africa would continue to make its presence felt at international political round table discussions.

“Impelled by the desire to promote the improvement in the quality of life of all peoples, particularly in the developing countries, we shall focus on further strengthening our participation in the India-Brazil-South Africa forums, the New Africa-Asia Strategic Partnership, the Non-Aligned Movement, the Group of 77 and negotiations to complete the SACU-Mercusor trade agreement.

“In the same measure, we shall continue to contribute to the realisation of the objectives of the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change and ongoing improvements in this regard, and in giving further impetus to the negotiations on the WTO Doha Development Round.”

Mbeki concluded his address by again giving his assurance that South Africa is still firmly on track.

“Having said all that I have said, I come back to the question: What is the state of our nation as we enter 2008?

“What I do know and hereby make bold to say is: whatever the challenges of the moment, we are still on course.

“With all hands on deck, and committed to conduct our business in an unusual and more effective fashion, we shall sustain the process of our reconstruction and development and take it to even higher levels.”

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