Sipho Hlongwane
Sipho Hlongwane

Woeful State of the Nation Part 1

Lofty ideals. Fanciful notions. Good intent. That is the problem with our government. You see it in the legislature where good intentions pass the Consumer Protection Act which, though intending to protect the hapless consumer, will mostly result in more expensive goods and services. You see it in the judiciary, where lofty ideals abolish the death sentence in the name of the sanctity of human life, which results in the country’s innocent citizens being butchered daily by murderous thugs. You also find it in the executive arm of government, where fanciful notions shuffle from foot-to-foot in the name of silent diplomacy while Mad Bob Mugabe tears Zimbabwe apart.

We also saw government’s other problem writ large last Thursday: hubris. Were you watching or listening to the State of the Nation address? Awful, wasn’t it? The delivery was, and there is no other word for it, terrible. There can surely. Be nothing more. Irritating than listening. To a speech. Delivered three words. At a time. The only part that sounded even remotely practised was that comic-book villain chuckle that our Glorious Comrade Leader gave us whenever he had mangled yet another official language. I switched off in disgust after 35 minutes and went to lie down for a bit.

The Mbeki-era speeches suddenly sounding a lot more inviting, eh?

The content was simply unremarkable. There was less policy in the SOTN address than you can shake a stick at. What we got, which is what we always get from the ANC-lead government, were promises. Some of these sound truly wonderful. Tax breaks for businesses hiring younger people (which incidentally, the DA claims is its own idea. All’s fair in love and politics, I guess). A new independent systems operator which might finally start sourcing power from suppliers other than Eskom. Score sheets for all ministers in the form of delivery agreements, and before you’re tempted you leap up in jubilation, remember that we’re dealing with an ANC government that isn’t very big on firing incompetent ministers. Remember Manto Tshabalala-Msimang? Cheaper broadband was also promised. The operative word being “promised”, of course. We’ve been waiting for cheaper broadband since the Mbeki administration.

So there you go, then. A State of the Nation address that was much like candy floss. Very shiny, very pink and very tasty, but not very nourishing. What bothered me the most was that the president once again chose to ignore the massive elephant in the room, crime. We were encouraged not to buy stolen goods, and that was about it. Oh, and we were promised 10% more cops over the next 3 years. Is that what is really needed to combat crime in this country? I think what we’re getting is 10% more blue-light convoys executing innocent civilians, 10% more bribery and corruption.

Our Glorious Comrade Leader could have been brave and announced some bold policies to counter the scourge of crime in the country. I was expecting something far more meaty in the form of crime-prevention policies, not the fluff we got on Thursday. I suspect that the reason why the ANC government is so reluctant to tackle crime is that it is a problem of a dysfunctional criminal justice system, which makes it a much bigger undertaking than merely arresting more criminals. According to the 2003/2004 SA Survey by the South African Institute of Race Relations, 90% of criminals who commit violent crime are not brought to justice. What makes crime such lucrative business in South Africa is that you’re simply far more likely to get away with it than in other countries. If the cops get you, then there’s a good chance that the prosecution will bungle up or that the courts will simply let you go.

There are solutions to these problems, but they would require our president to grow a pair, politically speaking. President Jacob Zuma runs the risk of being judged by history as one of those who fiddled while Rome burned, but it isn’t too late. Something can be done.

In part 2 of this blog post, a few policies will be suggested, things I would have wanted to hear from a State of the Nation address.

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  • Dawn


  • Mike

    A well-written, thoughtful article, Sipho. Maybe you should write a book instead of studying for that stupid LLB.

  • Minister of TechWoLogy

    “We’ve been waiting for cheaper broadband since the Mbeki administration.”

    And we are getting it! Of course we’ll always want it cheaper, but there is no debate that R30 per GB for bandwidth was unthinkable just 1 year ago. 10 years ago, it was a dream forever unattainable!

  • Marius

    In my view, this article shows what I have started to suspect: there is a thinking youth out there who are not swayed by rhetoric and charismatic speeches but rather through logic and a cool evaluation of reality.

  • Peter Joffe

    When incompetent people run the country we get incompetent results. Incompetent people run the National prosecutions so what else can be expected but that the bad guys get off. Take a look at health, water, electricity, municipalities, home affairs and and and. Most are run by standard 2 graduates so we get standard 2 results. We have a standard 4 graduate as our president so what other result should we expect? Words and promises do not resolve into delivery.

  • granny

    Well said…I look forward to the next letter.

  • Musa

    What did you expect Sipho?This is Jacob Zuma we are talking about.

    He has always been like this, if he can’t sing and dance there is no point in him being on stage, trust me!

    We are all to blame, you cannot ask your drunkard uncle to speak at your wedding and then act suprised when he insults guests and embarasses you.Everyone knew about him all along.

    That is what has happened with Zuma, we all knew he was shoddy at best.Those of us who said it were shouted down with loud chanting and singing.This is the result, chin up and bear it.

  • Sus4th

    I suspect that the reason why the ANC government is so reluctant to tackle crime is that they would need to tackle themselves…

  • X Cepting

    Perhaps doing something about crime would endanger too many friends and business associates of Our Glorious Not-comrade-this-is-supposedly-a-democracy Leader as well? No clever person is going to bite the hand that feeds them.

    I agree about more cops. As the recent matric results proved more cops and teacher won’t do the job as well as better educated/trained and more carefully chosen ones. But this creates a problem as to how to reward those with struggle credentials, but not necessarily aptitude for the job with a job. Kids are not going to complain about bad teaching and neither are victims (usually dead) about bad policing so it is perfect to exploit these areas.

    This seems to be the prevailing attitude of the current government towards the majority who voted for them. If only the majority would wake up and realise how terrible insulting this is to them and the trust they placed with their vote. Worse than the k-word.

    Other government attitudes I have issue with is the “anyone can president as long as HE is ANC and has spend time at Robben Island” and “the office of president is above reproach and the law”.

    Really? As far as I am concerned there is a vast difference between Mandela and Zuma. Mr Mandela was at Robben Island with Pres Zuma, yet Mr Mandela acquired a formal education whilst Mr Zuma did not.

    Until these lies are addressed, every other promise will remain a lie.

  • Sipho Hlongwane

    @Minister of TechWoLogy

    I don’t deny that things have gotten better in South Africa with regards to broadband prices and speeds. The Seacom and EASSy cables should make the situation even better over the next few years.

    However, it does remain a fact that there’s been precious little help from government in improving our information technology infrastructure. Astounding, considering that the biggest gains in entrepreneurship and innovation in the last decade have been in telecomms and the IT services. It’s almost as if government couldn’t be bothered to try and provide the sort of platforms that launched success stories in the States like Google, YouTube and Facebook.

    But don’t take it from me, I am decidedly NOT a geek after all. Read what Toby Shapshak had to say on government’s involvement in the telecomms sector:

    Read and weep…

  • MLH

    Generalising: white people are born hypercritical. We analyse, think things through to find logical answers and ways to improve. We don’t accept a status quo simply because it’s there.

    Which is why we are constantly openly critical of government; any government. Don’t think the Brits don’t figuratively hack their leaders to bits. If you ask US citizens how much the euphoria over Obama has abated, you’ll get an instant earful. Even the Nats received ongoing criticism.

    But one of the most intimidating things, I think, is that so often it is white people doing virtually all the obvious criticising of black government.

    I agree with every word you wrote, Sipho. I am also profoundly grateful to be reminded that people who aren’t white feel as I do. I could only wish that you guys would shout what you feel from the rooftops, the mountains and the top of the Hillbrow Tower. Please let everyone know what you think!

    In passing, provincial transport ministers all signed performance agreements back in 1997, at the beginning of the Arrive Alive campaign. They were expected to cut road deaths by 5% each year. They’ve signed and signed and signed each year since then, but despite the quotas, nothing’s really changed.
    Regulation doesn’t solve issues if it is bad. What we need are pragmatic strategies and more hard work, from the Grade 0 child learning to spell, to the fat cats celebrating their utter lack of usefullness.

  • Graham Johnson

    The three words. At a time. Slow thinking, slow talking, same old, same old. Like you, I turned it off after the first GREAT LIE. “480,000 new jobs. That is 97% of the 500,000 I promised”. No it isn’t, it is 96%, he can’t even get his lie to calculate properly. What a dunce.

  • Dissapointing

    Last year I attended a workshop on the Consumer Protection Act and several speakers from universities including a consumer lawyer told us it was a brilliant piece of legislation. I really think you need to do more research before you make the generalizations you do.

    Of course business want us to think the Consumer Protection Act will be costly because they want to continue getting away with ripping the consumer off as they have in the past.

    In fact the consumer lawyer at the workshop I attended was disappointed the Consumer Protect Act did not go far enough on certain issues.

  • Thami Ngomezulu

    My parents will always vote for the ANC because of the liberation struggle. They were smart enough to educate me and now I have turned my back on the mother ship. Please don’t tell my father.

    What a pity that COPE has disappointed all of us!

  • George Nowak

    A thoughtful piece and a significant put-down of a nothing speech. He may as well have just sung “Umshini wami” for all the meaning and commitment in the speech. It’s pleasing to the supporters and government apparatchiks because it commits them to very little and sounds ever hopeful to the starving masses.

  • John


    As a LLB student I trust you have read the Consumer Protection Act and will have noticed the clause requiring mandatory labelling of genetically modified (GM) foods in South Africa. In Europe where GM foods are labelled it has not increased the price of food in any significant way.

    It is shocking that these products are even allowed on the market in South Africa with its poor health facilities and a poor population prone to disease but so be it.

    Some food for thought:

    “Any politician or scientist who tells you GM products are safe is either very stupid or lying,” geneticist Professor David Suzuki.


    The Health Risks of GM Foods: Summary and Debate:

    If you are going to save lives at virtually no extra cost the Consumer Protection Act must be a good thing.

  • Iain

    A thoughtful and insightful blog – there is a shift in the dynamic, however, unfortunately there is also a huge grassroots support that none of the opposition parties even tried to ‘woo’ during the election campaign which is why they did so badly – it is no good preaching to the converted because you already have their vote. Keep up the good work and thanks

  • Sue

    The Consumer Protection Act will bring South African consumer rights more in line with first world countries. It would be good to elaborate on the benefits of the CPA in future blogs, and put it in terms for us the layperson to understand.

    Consumer rights is an important topic, it affects us all, especially the poor who do not have the leverage to take on business with a panel of lawyers.

  • Tumisho

    Im just amazed at how much Sipho contradicts himself, he says the governments is all talk and no action. But he goes on to suggest that what we need to solve the crime problem is for the President to announce a crime prevention policy and not to tell people to stop buying stolen goods??

    Sipho is further saying the incentive to hire younger people is just talk, I invite him to read the budget review tabled by the minister of finance at tell me if there is no meat backing the talk

    Broadband: compare the year on year prices of broadband and the undersea cable project underway i think will most definetely bring the prices further down.

    No one said government is perfect-just like everyone family- it has its own huge problems from corruption, unemployment, poverty, crime, education and a whole lot more. Who ever thought that after 16 years of this gorvenment everything should be rosy are dreaming.

    If Sipho says now Rome is burning what was it doing in 1994 when the ANC led government took over??????