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Hollow words

Jan 11 2011 08:26 Jan de Lange

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SOUTH Africa’s contradictions, evident in the ANC’s annual January 8 statement this weekend, simply leave one bewildered.

President Jacob Zuma made promises of greater government assistance for the population as a whole. And 2011 would be the year of job creation through meaningful economic transformation, he promised.

His deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe, dispiritedly warned people to stop thinking that government could provide everything free of charge.

In his declaration Zuma said that a developing state was under construction – not a welfare state. For that reason the monthly social welfare grants that government was paying to almost 15 million South Africans should be linked to economic activity.

What should one understand from this? There have been too many such contradictory statements and even open dispute to write this off as division that at some point will lead to schism. Yes, the ANC will probably split at some time or other, but people have been predicting that for 15 years – ever since Trevor Manuel’s June 1996 announcement of the Gear strategy.

The new growth plan announced by Ebrahim Patel late last year has been widely criticised. Cosatu, the second-biggest partner in the Tripartite Alliance, attacked certain aspects, but has broadly supported it.

Did Patel’s document bring an end to the years of strife and division that Manuel set in motion in 1996? Perhaps.
Years of political differences may have been laid to rest, but their ideological fault-lines still lie rumbling below the surface, as Cosatu’s response to the new growth plan indicates.

The division will at some time again bubble up in one form or another. Cosatu’s reaction to the January 8 declaration – a terse three-line comment on the 10-page ANC document of more than 6 000 words – is awfully brief and lacks the revolutionary tradition long in force between these organisations. Some in the ANC might even regard it as an insult.

Over the years Cosatu has learnt that the fervent words and promises now being so liberally dispensed are simply election talk.

When the votes are counted and new political office-bearers feel the soft cushioning of their new seats, harsh reality will again strike those not fortunate enough to make the party’s candidate list.

The process has repeated itself four times since 1994, with the ANC seeming to lose some support because it is making huge promises that everyone knows will not materialise.

In his speech on Saturday Zuma promised, inter alia, that government would create tremendous job opportunities this year, that the application of the national health insurance scheme would speed up and that the battle against corruption would dramatically intensify.

Does anybody believe this – especially the promises about job creation?

Is there anyone who thinks that South Africa can significantly change its unemployment rate of about 45% of the economically active population in the next five to ten years?

Isn't it time for analysts to set realistic targets for job creation and for government to be judged on them on public platforms?

When economic growth again begins to accelerate, as it did just before the recession in late 2008, one might hope job creation will again increase, but it will not be nearly enough to make a dent in the concomitant social ills.

In his January 8 declaration Zuma notes that the economy could create jobs in sectors like infrastructure development, mining, agriculture, tourism, green and knowledge-based sectors, rural development, and services in the social economy and public sector.

This is true to an extent, especially if economic activities should increase as they did from 2003 to 2008, but it would not be thanks to government.

It would result from demand for our resources and value-added products insofar as we have the ability to produce goods for which there is a demand.

And this production would largely depend on private-sector investment in South Africa’s capacity to produce.

All government can do to ratchet up job creation is to deliver effective services to the business sector – such as education, health, infrastructure and business services, which would require an efficient public service.

We have a problem with that, Mr Zuma.

Our problems stretch across from the education and health systems to departments that should deliver crucial business services, like Mineral Resources, whose licensing system is a shambles, Trade & Industry, which has enormous problems with simple systems like company records, and Water Affairs, which is literally years behind in issuing water licences to industries and mines. Not to mention the problems with services from local authorities.

Without an efficient public service, policy decisions represent hollow words and empty promises.

These simple issues prevent us from speeding up job creation. Voters should judge government on its progress in this regard – not from high-sounding promises that we all know are unattainable – when they return to the ballot box.

It is to be hoped that some in the Alliance are increasingly aware of this. That’s why Cosatu’s response to the January 8 declaration was so tersely polite and without revolutionary fervour.

- Sake24

For business news in Afrikaans, go to Sake24.com.
cosatu  |  anc  |  jaco zuma
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