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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.