Address by President Jacob Zuma in response to the Debate on the State of the Nation Address, Parliament, Cape Town, 9 June 2009
Speaker of the National Assembly,
The Honourable Prime Minister of Kenya, Mr Raila Odinga,
Ministers and Deputy Ministers,
One of the most wonderful things about being a South African is our very progressive Constitution.
It allows a multiparty constitutional democracy, which enables the government of the day to benefit from the views and opinions of many political parties. This enriches the work of government.
In the Presidential Inauguration address we called for a partnership for reconstruction, development and progress.
We believe we moved one step closer to that goal during the debate on the State of the Nation Address, which was our first interaction since the inauguration.
The debate has been both instructive and encouraging. It has demonstrated that all parties in this House without exception are earnest in their commitment to this country and to harmonious relations amongst its people.
Regardless of our differences as political parties, I believe that we have a common goal, which is to make South Africa a great country. We take all contributions to the debate in that spirit.
We have noted too, Honourable Speaker, that this House will seriously hold the Executive accountable. As Hon Thaba Mufamadi said, this will be a “strong activist Parliament”.
As the national executive, we welcome increased oversight to assist us in achieving our target of effective and efficient government. We will work harder and smarter and the South African people will be the beneficiaries of this constructive robust role of Parliament.
There will always be moments when we have no choice but to work together for the common good of our nation.
It is when we are able to work together in that manner, that South Africa will be more united and prosperous.
When opening the debate, the Chief Whip of the Majority Party, the Honourable Mathole Motshekga, reminded us to focus on that which makes us human.
He referred to the call by former ANC President, Rev ZR Mahabane, for “the recovery of the humanity of all people”.
That has been a guiding tenet of the ANC for the many decades of its existence. It will be a central feature of our shared efforts over the term of this government, because we know that working together we can do more to build a great South Africa.
Decent work and a steadily improving quality of life are essential for the recovery of the humanity of all our people.
So too is empowerment through access to quality education and skills development. Safe water, affordable energy, decent shelter, and cohesive, secure and vibrant communities are similarly all important for the recovery of this humanity.
To be treated with respect and dignity, by one’s fellow citizens, and by those who have the responsibility of providing a public service, is important for the recovery of our humanity.
Central to this recovery of our humanity is also the need for access to economic opportunities and to earn a living. That is why we are determined to lessen the impact of the economic dowturn on the most vulnerable.
Honourable Members, we agree with a number of speakers about the seriousness of the global economic crisis.
We can draw some encouragement from the fact that as South Africans we have not experienced the worst effects of the global downturn, due to the prudent macro-economic policies that had been followed.
From the Ready to Govern document of the early 1990s, the pursuit of our objectives has always been based on the maintenance of a stable macroeconomic environment. This is not going to change.
The Honourable Kenneth Meshoe has raised a concern, whether or not we would have sufficient funds to bail out companies in distress during the downturn.
You will be pleased Hon Meshoe to hear that there is no intention on our part to utilise the fiscus for general company bail-outs.
As we indicated, we are working with development finance institutions such as the Industrial Development Corporation to identify such companies and, where appropriate, mobilise assistance.
The Hon Ryan Coetzee is correct in saying that the steps we take now must not undermine our ability to take advantage of the upturn.
It is also important for us to ensure that the interventions we make do not distract us from our longer-term socio-economic objectives.
We must also keep the productive capacity of our economy intact so that it can respond in a timeous fashion to the revival in demand as the global economy recovers.
It is important that our manufacturing, agriculture and mining sectors are ready for the recovery. That means we must do our best to retain skills and labour.
Honourable Patricia de Lille summed up what should be our approach as a nation to this problem when she said:
“The global recession means that we need a plan around which all South Africans can rally, a plan that can tap into our collective patriotism, skills and wisdom, and bring us together as a nation”.
Honourable Members, a number of speakers made reference to the targets we have set with respect to the second phase of the Expanded Public Works Programme.
I reiterate that we intend to create about 500,000 work opportunities this year, as part of our goal of creating about 4 million such opportunities by the end of this five-year term.
Let me emphasise that these measures are not a substitute for the permanent jobs that must be created and sustained in the economy.
The key sectors of the Expanded Public Works Programme are as follows:
Firstly, the infrastructure sectorprogramme. Key programmes are road construction, water reticulation, sewerage and waste water management.
The second programme is the social sector, aimed at creating work opportunities through the provision of public social services.
The key programmes in this sector include the Home and Community Based Care programme which entails provision of care and support for those infected and affected by HIV and AIDS, as well as personnel required for the expansion of the Early Childhood Development programme.
The third EPWP intervention is in the environment and culture sectors. Programmes include Working for Water, Working on Fire and Land Care. New initiatives on waste management, including the Food for Waste Programme, will be expanded.
This is one of the measures that government has put in place to alleviate poverty and provide income, work experience and skills development to many who are unemployed.
The Minister of Public Works, Hon Geoff Doidge, will provide more information during the department’s budget speech.
Honourable Members, as part of the war against poverty, Government has also committed itself to specific goals concerning the development of a comprehensive social security system.
The new system seeks to ensure access to social security as provided for in Section 27 of the Constitution.
We are working on reforms in the areas of retirement provision; national health insurance; unemployment insurance; compensation for injuries and diseases on duty; and road accident insurance.
Honourable Bantu Holomisa, we have noted your emphasis on the need to deliver quality services in the rural areas. We are fully committed to change the face of rural areas.
We must heed the clarion call of the Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform, Hon Gugile Nkwinti, who said “phezukomkhono”, “vukuzenzele”, “siyazondla”, imploring all to swing to action to make the Comprehensive Rural Development Programme a reality.
There has been a lot of interest in our new national Planning process. In the coming two months, the Presidency should have completed work on the systems and structures to deal with this matter.
This will form the basis of a Green Paper for public discussion in Parliament and by the nation at large, as explained by the Minister in the Presidency responsible for National Planning, Hon Trevor Manuel.
We are also encouraged by the universal support for the monitoring and evaluation system.
It should be emphasised though, as also pointed out by the Honourable Matladi of the UCDP, that the monitoring and evaluation system will not be aimed at punishment. This is not a trap- and-catch exercise. The intention is to improve service delivery.
The Monitoring and Evaluation system will include an early warning system to assist us, working with the affected Departments, to ensure that urgent corrective action is taken when weaknesses are identified.
There are no super Ministries, but just colleagues who will be working together to find new ways of doing things more effectively.
The Honourable uMntwana wakwaPhindangene, Inkosi Mangosuthu Buthelezi raised various critical issues.
Shenge also raised issues related to the elections. Our confidence in the Independent Electoral Commission is unwavering. The men and women of the IEC have never been found wanting with regards to delivering free and fair elections.
This includes their handling of complaints when problems were brought to their attention.
I also wish to thank uMntwana for his counsel on the economic situation. I continue to hold uMntwana in very high regard. He is a tried and accomplished elder statesman of our nation.
The IFP and the ANC have come a long way.
Working together under extremely difficult conditions we managed to bring about peace and stability nationally, and in particular in KwaZulu-Natal.
We must respect the will of the electorate, and work together to improve the lives of our people, especially the poorest of the poor.
We fully agree with Hon Dr Pieter Mulder that the public service belongs to all South Africans, and it should serve all South Africans, regardless of party political affiliation.
We have also noted the comments of the Hon Dene Smuts on the judiciary.
Amongst the key principles in the Constitution is that of the separation of powers between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary, with appropriate checks and balances to ensure accountability, responsiveness and openness.
When we speak about the pace of transformation in the judiciary, Honourable Members, it is not because we want to infringe on its independence, which we uphold and will always defend.
The transformation of the judiciary entails amongst others having a court system that the people of South Africa have confidence in.
Obviously as part of this, we need to ensure that judicial officers reflect the demographics of our country. If the numbers of women and Black people acting as attorneys or advocates are low, we cannot avoid looking for the obstacles that hamper their representation.
The transformation of the judiciary is however more than just a question of the composition of the Bench.
It is also about ensuring an integrated, accessible and affordable court system; it is about judicial training and ensuring that we have judicial officers who are steeped in and reflect the progressive values of our constitution.
It is about ensuring that all people have access to justice both in the criminal and the civil courts.
I would like to assure Honourable Smuts and the House that when the President exercises his powers when it comes to the appointment of judicial officers, in terms of the Constitution, he will act in the best interests of the country.
Honourable Members, we noted the call by the Minister of Police, the Honourable Nathi Mthethwa, to the youth to join the fight against crime.
This being Youth Month, we trust that the youth will join the Minister and government in this national duty. We agree with the Minister that we should all be part of the effort to “reclaim our peace, security and comfort”.
In my address, I stated our concern at the deterioration of the quality of health care, aggravated by the steady increase in the burden of disease in the past decade and a half.
The AIDS epidemic is among the conditions chiefly responsible for the latter. The Hon Sandy Kalyan feels I should have said more about HIV and AIDS.
The Honourable Member has been outspoken for years about health care in our country, and her concern is well known.
Government is firmly committed to the full implementation of the AIDS plan, which offers a comprehensive response to this grave epidemic.
Importantly, the targets described in this plan are not merely government targets.
They were set together with our social partners after extensive consultation. The targets require a properly functioning public health care system to which all our people have access.
That is why we have emphasised our plans to construct and rehabilitate public health care facilities, improve management and other systems, and address with urgency the working conditions and remuneration of health professionals.
This includes finalising all matters relating to the Occupation Specific Dispensation, particularly proposals to address all the remaining categories.
We are pleased that all the parties share our commitment to education. We have started to step up our efforts aimed at providing resources and skills to our schools.
For example, to bring our educators into the 21st century we intend to introduce a Teacher Laptop Initiative. The project will be phased in over a two-year period starting from the 1st of July 2009.
Our aim is to ensure that by 2012, every teacher has access to a laptop computer and the Internet.
I am sure that this will contribute immensely towards motivating our educators to improve the standard of teaching and learning in our schools.
The Hon Narend Singh underscores the point that we must act now to ensure our natural resources are protected for future generations.
We will strengthen our capacity to investigate and prosecute environmental crimes, enforcing a zero tolerance approach to illegal and unsustainable exploitation of resources.
A critical starting point is to ensure that all organs of state themselves comply with environmental legislation.
Honourable Members, our arts, culture and heritage define our national identity.
During the election campaign I had the opportunity to engage with our creative arts fraternity.
I was informed of the challenges faced by artists, and they requested government to intervene to transform the industry.
After the State of the Nation address, I received an email from Eugene Mthethwa of the popular kwaito music group Trompies.
He expressed disappointment that I emphasised sport as a unifying force, to the exclusion of arts and culture in my address. I would like to assure Eugene and all in the creative industries sector that we remain fully committed to supporting the development of our country’s arts and culture.
Music, including kwaito helps us to bridge barriers and is one of the most unifying elements of our arts and culture.
Kwaito may have started as a township art form, but today attracts a steady flow of young people from across the racial divide.
We reiterate also that the artists must organise themselves without any delay, so that government can interact with them as an organised formation. The Department of Arts and Culture is planning to meet with the artists soon to take these matters forward.
Honourable Speaker, some of the speakers lamented the lack of extensive detail in the State of the Nation Address on these issues.
Naturally, a State of the Nation Address immediately after an election deals with the translation of the election mandate into a five-year government programme.
As such it becomes almost impossible to go into detail on each issue. As I indicated last Wednesday, the Medium Term Strategic Framework and the detailed programme of action will be published.
In addition, the relevant Ministers will elaborate these issues during their Budget votes this month.
Honourable Members, I cannot ignore the fact that our country is abuzz with the forthcoming kick-off of the Confederations Cup on Sunday.
The growing confidence within Bafana Bafana and the arrival of visiting teams has added to the soccer mood all over the country!
We welcome all our visitors and wish them an excellent stay in our country. A warm welcome to FIFA Secretary General, Jerome Valcke and Danny Jordaan, CEO of the Local Organising Committee, our special guests who have brought the Confederations Cup trophy which is on display in Parliament today. It should inspire all of u to fill the stadiums!
May the best team win. Of course no one can blame us for believing that that team should be Bafana Bafana! Let us all go out and support the beautiful game.
Ladies and gentlemen, let me reiterate that the debate on the State of the Nation Address has made me optimistic that it is possible for us to find issues on which we can interact constructively as elected representatives.
It has reminded us of the need to recover our humanity, which transcends political differences. I am convinced that we are going to work very well together as parties represented in parliament.
Our view is that we are now gravitating towards identifying national interest issues. Unity, reconciliation, constructive and decent engagement, and tolerance are emerging as common issues that we all feel strongly about.
The recession and 2010 FIFA World Cup are some of the issues that are beginning to bring us together.
It is not an easy period given the economic climate. We are given strength by the warm words of many colleagues in the Opposition Benches.
Honourable Athol Trollip remarked that it is not the best time to become a President due to the recession.
But perhaps we should hope that this adversity will draw out the best in all of us.
Thank you to all for the words of encouragement.
Working together we can and will do more to build a great South Africa!
I thank you.