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A reply to Saunderson-Meyer’s ‘Zuma does semantic yoga’ blog

By Bongani Majola

William Saunderson-Meyer has written a shockingly condescending Thought Leader piece with racist undertones entitled “The intellectually supple Mr Zuma does some semantic yoga”.

Saunderson-Meyer claims that President Jacob Zuma’s speeches are illogical and do not make sense. In a shocking feat of cultural arrogance he suggests that President Zuma’s speeches reflect a situation of a person who thinks in a language that is rich in metaphor (presumably isiZulu) and speaks in another “that revels in precision and nuance” (which is English in his view). What qualifies Saunderson-Meyer to pass judgment on isiZulu and compare it unfavourably to English is unknown. What is clear is that the negative insinuations regarding the use of English clearly evoke notions of cultural superiority and even imperialism — where this language and culture are elevated to impregnable benchmarks of excellence, often at the expense of experiences acquired in other cultures.

It may assist Saunderson-Meyer to take a break from analysing President Zuma with prejudice as he does all the time and to look at the track record of government under his leadership.

It is a fact that South Africa is now a much better place to live in than it was before 1994. Where there are challenges such as the need to continue expanding basic services as well as promote unity and eliminate racism — the country is doing very well. We have the National Development Plan which is a credible and much-acclaimed roadmap to the future of prosperity and unity. This was developed under the watchful eye of President Zuma.

The country has made progress in many areas. Let us take education as an example. Government has increased investment in early childhood development (ECD) as an investment in the future. To date government spends R1.8 billion on ECD benefitting 948 768 children nationwide. Over 1.5 million children access ECD from 26 000 registered programmes. Government pays a subsidy of R15 per child a day for 264 days of the year.

The National School Nutrition Programme has reached more than 9 million learners daily over the past few years, offering nutritious meals to over 20 000 primary, secondary and special schools nationally.

To improve the learning environment, the Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (Asidi) has demonstrated the capability of the state in dealing head on with infrastructure backlogs. To date, Asidi has delivered 123 state-of-the-art schools. A further 520 schools were provided with water, 395 were given decent sanitation and 293 were connected to the power grid. These interventions have been life changing for the learners and educators at these schools.

Government continues to improve access to higher education despite the increasing number of young people who seek access to institutions of higher learning.

This year, funding for students through the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS) has been increased from R3 billion to R9.5 billion. Due to this exponential increase to its funding, the NSFAS has awarded approximately R50 billion in loans and bursaries to about 1.5 million students. This has opened opportunities to students from poor families to attend institutions of higher education, something which would not have been possible without the support from government. President Zuma recently appointed a commission of inquiry to look at the funding of higher education institutions and other issues related to the transformation of the sector. This is a demonstration of his fundamental belief in the importance of education in developing our society and changing people’s lives.

For the first time in post-apartheid South Africa, two new universities have been established under the leadership of President Zuma. They are the Sol Plaatje University in the Northern Cape and the University of Mpumalanga. In addition the Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University is a welcome new addition in the medical field.

Government under the leadership of President Zuma has also invested significantly in the area of Technical and Vocational Education and Training colleges (TVETs). Since 2009 enrolments at TVET colleges have increased from 340 000 to well over 700 000 in 2015. We hope to increase current enrolments to about 2.5 million in 2030. This means the government is working hard and succeeding in expanding access to higher education for all, especially the poor and working class.

The life expectancy of South Africans for both males and females has significantly improved and is currently 62 years across genders, which is an increase of 8.5 years since 2005. Other than improved living conditions and healthcare, this is also largely a result of the turnaround announced by President Zuma in 2009, which has seen an expansion of HIV treatment. South Africans living with HIV live healthier lives due to the leadership of the president and his government.

Progress has also been made in various sectors of the economy with active government support. These include efforts to promote investments in order to grow the economy and create jobs. The review of the Automotive Production and Development Programme (APDP) and the policy certainty that the department of trade and industry has created have grown the country’s auto sector. The APDP has leveraged private-sector investment of more than R25.7 billion over the last five years. In January 2015 we reported the investment commitments including Mercedes committing to invest (R2.4 billion), General Motors (R1 billion), Ford (R3.6 billion) and the Metair Group (R400 million). In addition to that investment, we can report on the following new investments including BMW committing to invest R6 billion in manufacturing the X3 range at its Rosslyn plant, Goodyear R670 million and VW R4.5 billion.

Unilever has invested R4 billion in South Africa in new plants and expansions across the country. Multinationals such as Nestle, Samsung and Hisense have also affirmed South Africa as a regional manufacturing hub and have retained and expanded their investments in new plants.

South Africa is also becoming a frontier for new sectors of foreign direct investment such as the green economy, oil and gas, ship building and the ocean economy amongst others. Our Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Programme has become world renown and a policy blueprint for other countries and has attracted R190 billion in investment.

The government’s Clothing and Textiles Competitiveness Programme has yielded results. Between the inception of the programme in 2010 and March 2015, more than R3 billion was approved to support investment in the sector. As a result 68 000 jobs were retained in the sector, 6 900 new jobs created, 22 new factories in the leather and footwear sector opened. The sector has been successfully stabilised, is steadily regaining domestic market share and is beginning to grow exports.

In the leather and footwear segment, the department of trade and industry is partnering with the private-sector to establish a national footwear and leather cluster. The work of the cluster has already been directly responsible for the creation of approximately 2 000 sustainable jobs and a reduction of R1.4 billion in the sectoral trade deficit. A lot more progress will be shared as we head towards the 2016 State of the Nation Address.

Good work is being done in South Africa and progress is being made by the people of South Africa.

It would help the country if the likes of Saunderson-Meyer recognise this fact and celebrate the success of their country. He may find inner peace if he stops his obsession with President Zuma and begins contributing to building a prosperous South Africa.

Bongani Majola is the director of communications at the Presidency and acting spokesperson to the president.

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    • Peter Leyland

      Any criticism of the ANC is deemed to be racist, by default.

    • Rusty Bedsprings

      If you want to truly define Zuma’s track record, just look at the last election results. The ANC’s decline in the polls tells the true story of his performance.

    • Richard

      “…racist undertones” seems to be the ANC’s big gun. Rather like Samuel Johnson’s referring to the argument that people who suggest that patriotism be used as a motive for action as “the last refuge of a scoundrel”?

    • CharlieTango

      Giving credit to Zuma for the past 21 years is disingenuous by Majola – there were two other presidents prior to Zuma. In terms of Zuma’s tenure, while there have been some developments (which I believe could have been more significant with the right ministers in those portfolios) under Zuma, South Africa has steadily moved from a democracy (for the people) to one where the state is run for the benefit of a small group of individuals at the expense of the majority. Examples of Zuma disasters include Nkandla, the removal of Nene as finance minister, the R1 trillion nuclear deal (to be fuelled with uranium from Gupta mines), the SAA saga, Eskom, overspending (debt has climbed from 26% of GDP in 2008 to almost 50% today), the fact that Zuma is hellbent on destroying media freedom and the courts, interference in the NPA and the IEC, etc. The values that saw the ANC come into power in 1994 are steadily being destroyed under Zuma.

    • CapnVan

      If I may:
      “Saunderson-Meyer claims that President Jacob Zuma’s speeches are illogical and do not make sense.”

      No, he doesn’t. “It is *sometimes* difficult to follow President Jacob Zuma’s explanations of events.” [My emphasis] He states that at some times his speeches are illogical. And then focuses on one particular speech to make his point. (That’s called precision in language.)

      “In a shocking feat of cultural arrogance he suggests that President Zuma’s speeches reflect a situation of a person who thinks in a language that is rich in metaphor (presumably isiZulu) and speaks in another ‘that revels in precision and nuance’ (which is English in his view).”

      What *exactly* is culturally arrogant in stating, “the vagaries that inevitably surface when one thinks in one language, the metaphorically rich one, but speaks in another — one that revels in precision and nuance.”

      Where is the value judgment, save in the mind of Mr. Majola? That there are differences in the way people think due to the language they think in? Is there a linguist, sociologist, or anthropologist who would disagree? Does Mr. Majola really believe that Sanderson-Meyer is unaware of the extreme oddities, contradictions, idiosyncrasies, and difficulties in the English language?

      And then Mr. Majola continues by issuing a press release of what has transpired in South Africa under Mr. Zuma, and, oddly, previous presidents. Completely ignoring the Nene issue.

      Which makes the vast majority of this less of a “response” to WSM, and more of a simple attempt to deflect criticism for an action which cost South Africa billions of rand.

    • Suntosh Pillay

      William Saunderson-Meyer has one story to tell and keeps on telling it, over and over and over again. It is a modern miracle that he is given a regular column space in newspapers – every article can be summarized as “I hate Zuma”.

      I agree with Majola that the article had racist undertones. If you do not understand why, that is EXACTLY the problem.

      However, it is also disingenuous and intellectually lazy of Majola to give us a copy-and-paste list of JZ’s “achievements” as a rebuttal. Rather, offer us a more nuanced analysis of why Meyer’s discourse is problematic. After all, the central argument – that JZ is hopeless at explaining himself – is not without merit. It is the construction of this argument that is the problem.

    • Rusty Bedsprings

      No, I do not see the racism in Saunderson-Meyer’s piece. For the sake of building a better South Africa, can you explain this to me please?

    • Peter Leyland

      I fear that Racism is the election theme of the ANC for the upcoming local elections.
      Certainly covertly, perhaps even overtly.

    • Peter Leyland

      Don’t hold your breath for a cogent or coherent response.
      Apparently, Blacks cannot be racist, towards whites, they can only be insulting or prejudiced.
      Whites, on the other hand when criticising black people’s behaviour are being racist by doing so. At the same time, they may be insulting and displaying prejudice.
      I kid you not – that is the explanation I have received from a number of Black colleagues.
      Looks like as always, we need to define our terms.
      What exactly is racism?

    • Rusty Bedsprings

      I hope you are wrong Peter. Based on Suntosh’s previous writing, I would consider him a constructive social commentator, who is genuinely trying to add to the South African narrative.

      I am genuinely interested in his opinion.

    • Suntosh Pillay

      Dear Peter and Rusty
      Racism is subtle, nuanced and sometimes embedded deeply in discursive practices that appear rational and non-racial.
      Good luck with unlearning these practices and removing the shades that prevent you from seeing it.

    • Peter Leyland

      Can blacks be racist. yes or no?
      Was Idi Amin’s behaviour racist when he deported all Indians from Uganda in the 1970’s?
      Were the Rwandan Hutus racist when they massacred over 2 million Tsutsi’s?
      The racism that I come across is anything but subtle or nuanced.
      I think that you are mistaking elitism with racism.
      I have no issue with any other human being based solely on their race, sex, or religion.
      I have lots of problems with certain behaviours, which can be perpetrated by any and all races, sexes and religions , so perhaps that is an elitist / behaviourist view?

      You know nothing about me and the arrogance shown by assuming facts and attitudes not in evidence is breath-taking.

    • Johan van Wyk (ouboet)

      I disagree. There were no racial undertones to the Saunderson-Meyer article. Majola’s article is ridiculous. It goes off on a tangent from the very important issues that Saunderson-Meyer raises in his piece on article.

    • WSM

      @Suntosh PIllay: As a matter of record, I supported Zuma vocally in the first 18m of his tenure, including arguing that Zapiro should drop the infamous showerhead motif, which he briefly did. I think we reverted for the same reason: Zuma’s feckless behaviour.