So, what is the State of our Nation?

Today was the traditional Opening of Parliament.

It also meant that most of Cape Town was brought to a standstill. Literally. And that’s not because of load shedding but because various roads in and out of the city centre were closed to traffic at various times. I miraculously made it through to UCT on the N2 and M3 this morning, with free-flowing traffic. I noticed, though, that police cars had blocked off the onramps from UCT onto the M3. During the course of the morning, several people said to me that they had spent the last 2-3 hours stuck in traffic, both from the Southern Suburbs (Mbeki’s ‘residence’ is in Newlands, so the M3 is closed) and from the N2, which had clogged up completely.

I would love to know why the rest of the population has to be so inconvenienced (albeit “only” for a day), when the President and his entourage and all the other Ministers and their entourages travel to Parliament at supersonic speed? Have they never considered joining the rest of us on our congested highways and byways and spending 1-2 hours travelling to work? Or are they afraid that someone might hijack or hurt the President? He’s got so many minders and bodyguards around him that nobody would get near him anyway. I know it’s protocol for the Prez to travel at high speed, but seriously… How can we expect him to know what problems commuters experience every single day on the road, if he never ever shares them?

Imagine, for a moment, what you would do if you were sitting in traffic, and you looked around and saw President Mbeki sitting in the big black car next to you (imagine NO tinted windows), either preparing his speech on his laptop, or listening to the radio, or meeting with his team right there in the car. Imagine that you made eye-contact and greeted him with a friendly smile and a wave, and he greeted you back?

I think that we would have a lot more respect and admiration for him if he lived a less isolated ivory-tower life and was more approachable by ordinary people. Just a little!

This morning, then, President Thabo Mbeki gave what is probably his last annual State of the Nation speech (my guess is that Jacob Zuma will take his place next year as the new Prez of SA… MGPU*).

Much to my amazement, I found that the previous State of the Nation speeches have actually been stored on the Internet, on the South African government website. I’m sure they would make for really interesting reading … if I had the time. Today’s speech was up on the same site, almost before he had finished giving it. Anyhow, here is the link if you have the time to plough through 13 pages:

Some of the things he said:

  • Nelson Mandela, our beloved and revered Madiba, is turning 90 years old on the 18th of July [which is also my birthday].
  • He came up with a new catch-phrase, which was repeated throughout his speech, viz. “Business Unusual” [as opposed to Business as Usual]: However, this will not mean that any existing policies will change, but that their implementation will be sped up. [Not sure what exactly that means and I doubt that he has any control over that anyway.]
  • The government has identified “24 Apex Priorities”, which will involve all three tiers of government (national, provincial and local) dealing with certain problems. Among these, he mentioned an “industrial policy action plan”, a “motor industry development plan”, “state owned enterprise programmes”, the “Joint Initiative on Priority Skills Acquisition”, “further education and training facilities”, mass literacy campaigns”, the provision of housing for the masses, a “determined rural development programme”, a “comprehensive anti-poverty strategy”, etc. [these sound so great in theory, but what is happening about them in reality?]
  • The main areas needing attention are the following: economic growth and development; infrastructure building; poverty eradication; education and training; health; fight against crime; strengthening the machinery of government [what the blazes does that mean?]; international relations [i.e. continuing to faff about in Zimbabwe, the DRC and now Kenya and Chad, while SA is experiencing several national crises].
  • He acknowledged the fact that many South Africans are feeling a bit depressed about the state of our nation (because of electricity failures, increases in interest rates, food and fuel prices, and threats to our democracy), and did cite a few particular issues. He also described the new emphasis on energy efficiency (mentioning efficient lighting, solar water heating and geyser load management, reduced consumption of electricity), and the implementation of new co-generation and gas turbine projects, improving maintenance of the existing infrastructure, and ensuring a supply of good quality coal.
  • But at the same time said that those who had money should implement these measures themselves. [Gee, thanks! Not only will the price per unit of electricity shoot up (he said “the era of very cheap and abundant electricity has come to an end”), so that we have to pay more for what we use, but we also have to buy a whole lot of other gadgets to supplement our electricity supply… I would have felt a little less resentful if he had promised that government would bring down the cost of solar power panels, solar water heaters, wind generators, batteries, inverters, gas stoves etc.] Talk about a cop-out.

I found the speech as a whole rather disappointing. The outspoken Helen Zille of the Democratic Alliance said in her weekly newsletter today that President Mbeki revealed himself to be a lame duck:

“It is now clear that President Mbeki is a lame duck. He has failed to lead, failed to inspire and failed to offer hope. He has made it clear that his government will not accept responsibility for the very real crises facing our country.”

* May God Preserve Us

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