The State of the Nation Address: An open letter to the Presidency

Written by Steuart Pennington

I enjoy the week in our SA calendar when our President delivers his State of the Nation Address.

  • I make a mental list of the things I hope he’ll mention.
  • Then I compare that with what he actually says.
  • Then I compare that with the commitments he made in his previous SONA.
  • Then I inevitably feel let down.

Hopefully this year will be different.

In my view there is a lot that our President has to answer for, I think as a Nation we have more questions than ever before.

Source: News

So I thought I’d write an open letter and ask. I have just two categories of questions:

  • Those critical to our global reputation
  • Those critical to our confidence in the future

zumassOur Global Reputation – my letter of questions:

Mr. President:

1)I understand you intend meeting with SA’s top 60 business executives. In my view the relationship between our social partners (government, private sector and civil society) is at an all-time low. We have to find ways of working together more effectively in a climate of mutual respect and trust.

So, I hope the key elements of your agenda will focus on:

– improving our economic growth prospects

– ensuring an environment of long-term policy stability

– improving both local and foreign direct investment in fixed capital projects

– implementing the dust-gathering NDP

– creating an enabling environment to manage the five scourges bedeviling our country viz. unemployment, inequality, poverty, corruption and incompetent civil servants (please take note of the two that I have added, they are as critical as the first three).

If these 60 executives give you good advice, I hope you will take it?

2) In the context of your commitment to follow the Public Protector’s recommendations in respect of Nkandla will you confirm the role, independence and authority of the Public Protector, rather than have the EFF/DA and Constitutional Court do it for you?

3) Will you explain the logic behind the firing Minister Nene?

4) Will you let us understand how you intend avoiding a ratings downgrade to junk status, and more specifically how you intend to curb govt. spending, reduce the size of government (SA has 35 Ministries, the USA 10, Germany 15, China 20), and improve the performance of the current ministers and deputy ministers – all 74 of them – who, during your 7-year presidency, have an average tenure of 263 days?

5) I understand the civil service has grown by 400 000 jobs over the past 7 years (from 1.1 million to +/- 1.5 million jobs) with little improvement in service delivery. The chopping and changing over tourism visas is but one example of this. Will you give us more certainty on how you intend improving the performance of the civil service while reducing our spending exposure?

Our Confidence in the Future – my letter of questions

Mr. President there is so much economic uncertainty at present:

–      What success have you had against your 9 point plan of 2015?

What do you intend to do about the following economic challenges?

–      Our tax revenue is declining (estimated to be R35 billion over the next three years) yet government spending is on the increase

–      Our debt as a % of GDP is worsening, now creeping up to 50% of GDP

–      Inflation is set to increase to above the target range of 3 – 6% to between 7 – 9%

–      Our deficit as a % of GDP is creeping upwards to 6% from the target of 4%, it wasn’t long ago that we had a surplus.

–      Economic growth is at under 1%.

–      Our formal unemployment rate has worsened and we have very little understanding of what is happening in informal sector estimated to be valued at R500 billion per annum.

–      Our economic policy is confused; why are we still, under Minister Davies, holding onto the notion of 60’s socialism? Why is our own private sector sitting on a cash pile of R trillion… nervous to invest?

–      Why has FDI all but dried up?

–      Why is ‘ownership’ talk still so unclear and in contradiction with the principles set out in the NDP?

–      How are we going to arrest youth unemployment and grow SMME’s?

What are your plans in respect of the above?

Are you going to restore our ability to balance the books by focusing on cost-cutting or increasing taxes, VAT in particular? Most of us think the former is what is needed.

Mr. President there is also so much political uncertainty at present:

–      Why do you continue to allow SADTU to undermine the education of our children?

–      Why are you nervous to read the riot act to COSATU regarding the impending pensions fund legislation?

–      Why do you allow one scandal after the other regarding corruption at the highest levels in government?

–      Why do we constantly feel that the independence of the courts and the freedom of the media are under threat?

–      What is going on with the Gupta’s?

–      If Mark Barnes succeeds with the Post Office will you do the same with SAA, PRASA and all the other para-statals that are paralysed with inefficiency and inertia?

–      What are you going to do about the drought and the impending crisis facing the agricultural sector?

–      Why have you let the NDP go cold with, in particular, so much confusion regarding infrastructure spend?

Your leadership in the face of these challenges is more important than ever before. In that regard I recently read the biography of Winston Churchill by Boris Johnson “The Churchill Factor”. I was interested to read about the many mistakes that Churchill made, many of which almost ended his career.

We all make mistakes.

But there were two things that Churchill never wavered on. He believed that as a leader he should always have a message of hope, he knew how to inspire a nation, and he focused relentlessly on winning the hearts and minds of his people and his social partners – even during their darkest times.

And secondly, he was impeccably honest. As far as I am aware there was never a corruption scandal attached to his name or reputation.

Our media is baying. City Press reports that this will be a week from hell for you, with political, economic, social and of course legal challenges heading your way from every possible direction.


zumamustfallSource: Dispatchlive

  • There is the ConCourt case regarding Nkandla.
  • The City of Cape Town has approved three different marches on the day of the address.
  • The EFF has promised an “eventful week”, and — true to form — threatened to disrupt your address if you don’t apologise for sacking Nhlanhla Nene.
  • Local and foreign investors are bracing themselves for a rocky economic road in the run-up and throughout the SONA as well as the budget speech later this month.

City Press reports further that, according to foreign economists, your SONA address is even more important than the budget speech right now.

So, Mr. President right now we need a message of hope, we need an inspirational message for the future, we need to hear a SONA that is the beginning of a process to restore our, and international, confidence in the political, economic and social direction of our country.

We don’t need scenes of chaos in parliament, we don’t want a SONA that ducks our real and serious challenges, we don’t need to be side-tracked by a homily on the racist evils of our past – important historically as they are, and we don’t need a SONA that blames or polarizes.

We need a strong signal that going forward we are going to work together, to build trust between the social partners, so that collectively we can restore confidence in the future of our special country.

I trust this will be your legacy.