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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