The 2016 State of the Nation Address SONA will be given on February 11 by South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma to specify the key government plans for the year ahead.
As SONA approaches, South Africans are warming up to hear what the president and the African National Congress (ANC) prioritize as the most important challenges facing the country and the strategies they plan to use in tackling the problems.
Based on the issue of what the president should say at the SONA, Politics and society editor Thabo Leshilo asked three political scientists what to expect. Here are their responses.
Andre Duvenhage (Research Director, North-West University): Rated the four most important issues as the economy and economic growth, social cohesion, land reform and preparing the terrain for the 2016 local government elections.
Growing the economy is important to prevent any form of downgrading from international rating agencies.
Leon Schreiber (Research Specialist, Innovations for Successful Societies, Princeton University) Stated that there is no doubt that the general loss of faith in the economy is the most important issue Zuma must address. While global economic conditions are indeed unfavorable, they are no excuse for the sickly state of the South African economy.
A number of developments point to the government’s general mismanagement of the economy, as well as some own goals. These include: the firing of his finance minister, now known as #Nenegate, the plummeting rand, rising food prices due to government’s failure to come to the aid of drought-stricken farmers, policy flux and soaring government debt.
All have put the country firmly on the path to recession and there is a strong possibility that South Africa’s sovereign rating will be downgraded to junk status. He needs to acknowledge these problems and announce concrete steps to begin to fix the ailing economy.
Related to this is the fact that government’s wage bill simply has to be trimmed. Civil servants’ salaries and benefits consume 35.5% of government’s total budget. This contributed to public debt ballooning by 70% between 2009 and 2014 – from 26% of GDP to 44% by 2014.
The return on this investment has been almost non-existent as the civil service remains unproductive and service delivery protests remain a fact of daily life.
And instead of reining in this expenditure, the public service was awarded a 10.1% salary increase for 2015/2016, while an additional 300 000 civil servants were employed between 2008 and 2015, bringing the total to 1.6 million.
President Zuma must use the speech to signal his willingness to cut this inefficient spending.
It is also time he started to show leadership on the #FeesMustFall matter. The speech provides him with a good opportunity to demonstrate to the country that he has listened to students’ concerns about unaffordable education, and that his administration is committed to finding sustainable solutions. Continuing the current dismissive approach to the issue would add further fuel to the protest fire.
Bheki Mngomezulu (Senior Lecturer and Academic Leader, International & Public Affairs, University of KwaZulu-Natal): The state of the country’s economy has to be the top priority. While economic development is not a panacea for all the problems a country faces, South Africa cannot prosper under the current weak economic conditions.
The reasons for the current crisis, as well as possible solutions, will have to be addressed. This would have two positive effects. First, it would revive hope that the government has plans in place to remedy the situation. Secondly, it would give potential investors confidence. This would dispel the wrong perception that the president does not care about the country’s economy and that he makes reckless decisions.
The president also needs to address the situation at higher education institutions. The call for free education by students and their dissatisfaction with the way in which government has responded to their demands should feature significantly. This is important because, to meet the demand, either the country’s budget needs to be adjusted or taxes must be increased. Either way South Africans would have to dig deeper into their pockets.
And the president needs to address violence both within and between political parties. This is of serious concern. The issue is particularly important because of the forthcoming local elections. Unless political violence is curtailed now it will be difficult to contain – let alone end – around election time.
Judging from the comments from the political experts, President Zuma’s administration has a lot of loopholes especially on economic growth and employment which he needs to address at the SONA.