When President Jacob Zuma finally began delivering the SONA2017 the action was long over.
The SACP’s Willie Madisha had been kicked out, with the EFF and the DA in tow. All that remained were the ANC, and a scatter of other inconsequential parties.
Zuma’s speech was characteristically dry. He read out a list of successes and actions taken by the government over the past year – as has become the signature SONA speech by Zuma. Except, he wasn’t all that convincing this time around.
Listening to Zuma is usually hard enough, but given the goings on outside Parliament, it was even harder. Especially considering the drama that had come before, which highlighted the fact that the ruling party cannot control the loose cannon that Zuma is. It was difficult to focus on anything afterward. The public seemed to have suffered serious Zuma fatigue.
Either way, he did the things and said the stuff. The Daily Vox team rounds up.
Good news on this front. The results in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study and the Southern and East African Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality show that the performance of South African learners is improving. Among the participating countries, South Africa has shown the largest improvement of 87 points in mathematics and 90 points in science.
The government is building schools to replace inappropriate structures under the programme called the Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative. 173 inappropriate structures have been removed since 2011, and 895 new schools were opened.
Zuma gave a shout out to protesting students from 2015, saying that the “caring government responded appropriately by taking over the responsibility to pay the fee increase for the 2016 academic year”.
Government has settled debts of NSFAS students and extended coverage to more students, provided funds to ensure that students whose combined family income is less than R600, 000 will not face fee increases at universities and TVET colleges for 2017, re-prioritised R32 billion to support higher education, and the debt of NSFAS-qualifying students for 2013, 2014 and 2015 has been addressed.
He said government will look into the students’ concern that NSFAS’s R122, 000 threshold is too low, a threshold that may be raised in the future. Zuma also said it would look into universities that charge higher fees, therefore getting students into higher debt.
National Health Insurance is to be implemented in 14 years, in three phases. Government is busy with the first preparatory phase.
Zuma is “deeply distressed” about the Life Esidimeni tragedy, as the mentally ill are some of most vulnerable members of society, that need protection from state and society. He Instructed the health minister to ensure the Health Ombudsman’s recommendations are wholly and speedily implemented without reservations, and affirmed the need to review National Health Act and Mental Health Act.
The president gave his condolences and said government is to provide support to families, assured by Gauteng premier David Makhura and Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi.
Zuma addressed the question of land, saying eight million hectares of arable land has been transferred to black people, which is only 9.8% of the arable land in South Africa.
There has been a 19% decline of households involved in agriculture from 2.9 million households in 2011 to 2.3 million in 2016.
The Expropriation Act has been passed back to Parliament in case it doesn’t pass constitutional muster. Zuma blames this on inadequate public participation during processing.
The bad news is that reopening of land claims is on hold because the Restitution of Land Rights Amendment Act of 2014 was declared invalid by the Constitutional Court, which found that public consultation process facilitated by NCOP and some provincial legislatures did not meet the standard set in the Constitution.
He announced the strengthening of Relatives Rights programme, also known as the 50-50 programme: farm workers join together in a legal entity and form a new company with the farm owner, and then they all become joint owners. Thirteen proposals for this have been received to date, worth R631 million, benefiting 921 farm dweller households.
Zuma appeals to land claimants to accept land instead of financial compensation. Over 90% of claims have been settled through financial compensation, which doesn’t help things. It only perpetuates dispossession and undermines economic empowerment.
Zuma mentioned something we all know by now. That the majority of black people are still economically disempowered. The inequality between black and white people remains stark – Zuma says that white households earn five times more than black households. He spoke about plans for “radical socio-economic transformation”, which is to make a “fundamental change in the structure, systems, institutions and patterns of ownership, management and control of the economy in favour of all South Africans” – who are mostly African and female.The government seems keen to empower women, but it remains to be seen whether rhetoric turns to action.
“Twenty two years into our freedom and democracy, the majority of black people are still economically disempowered. They are dissatisfied with the economic gains from liberation. The gap between the annual average household incomes of African-headed households and their white counterparts remains shockingly huge,” said President Zuma.
To see Zuma’s numbers in comparison with what’s been uncovered independently, here’s AfricaCheck’s report on the numbers.