OPINION: Mr President, please stop mouthing further grand plans to eliminate poverty, unemployment, inequality, corruption and “build a better life for all” when you well know that you cannot deliver on these, writes Professor Saths Cooper.
It is customary for the president of the country to open the joint sitting of the two houses of Parliament by giving a State of the Nation address (Sona).
Sona is intended to outline key government plans to make the country function effectively in the year ahead, to highlight achievements of the previous year, and generally set the tone for a public compact.
This is a critical start of the year in our democratic processes for all of us to hold to account our political leadership, especially the executive, our public service and other state entities.
All of these are supposed to exist for our benefit, but who almost always seem to be very busy, while getting away with doing the bare minimum.
For most ordinary people anywhere, it would be quite soul-destroying to get a guaranteed monthly salary for not performing.
But this is South Africa where the sense of entitlement has become the norm that feeds into dependency and injures self-worth and affirmation.
All of these persons, who are paid by us and who are supposed to serve us, have continued earning salaries since the start of the pandemic while the rest of us have been in dire straits.
Our country, in nearly all areas, has deteriorated.
The signs of decay and neglect are clearly visible all around us.
Yet somehow, those who are paid to fix this have simply developed a protective cocoon that shields them from this broken reality.
We may well ask, what then is the relevance of Sona, when the usual self-praise and unfulfilled promises are droningly uttered annually.
More recently, rudely interrupted by a jarring crowd of red-shirts shouting points of order when this president and his predecessor took to the parliamentary podium to give their Sona.
Who can forget the ex-president trying to affably sell his “good stories”, completely ignoring the nightmares that most people were living through, with enthusiastic support from one side of parliament.
However memorable in farce and ridicule this was, it did dent our sense of individual and collective pride.
Unlike the stirring inaugural address by founding democratic president Nelson Mandela and the lyrical “I am an African” address by then deputy president Thabo Mbeki on the occasion of the adoption of the current Constitution in 1996, and his “South Africa is a country divided into two nations” address on reconciliation in Parliament in 1998.
Both these leaders’ vision and leadership were evident when they addressed issues that required serious attention.
Sadly then the majority still live “under conditions of a gross underdeveloped economic, physical, education, communication and other infrastructure” and “a theoretical right to equal opportunity, with that right being equal within the black nation only to the extent that it is incapable of realisation… ” (Mbeki 1999).
Mbeki correctly said 22 years ago: “The elimination of poverty remains one of the central objectives of the government and the country. As we are all aware, this poverty is intimately related to the issues of racism and sexism which we have been discussing.”
It is palpable that people are at the end of their tether.
Anger, frustration, loss of hope and alienation from political and other processes are on the rise.
More eligible citizens are staying away from electoral politics and the controversies that some of us may be consumed by.
But they are losing patience with empty promises and the inane repletion of the same promises trotted out year in, year out, and which rise to a mind-numbing crescendo during pre-elections.
The last year has been one of our worst, with the majority of our people merely surviving, many not knowing what the next day holds in store.
Mr President, please stop mouthing further grand plans to eliminate poverty, unemployment, inequality, corruption and “build a better life for all” when you well know that you cannot deliver on these.
Not when the conflation of narrow party interests with the state has seriously compromised government’s ability to meet its constitutional mandate to us, the people of South Africa.
Not when you continue to confront blatant disregard for your authority from within your very bloated and – as most feel, a largely incompetent – Cabinet.
Besides, the various factions within your party bent on gaining unfettered access to state power and state resources that you’ve been trying – and apparently hopelessly failing – to appease, at the cost of the country and its people.
The current president presides over a shadow of a once capable state, which was feted here and abroad and which is now – to use your Covid language – at stage 5, Level 1 of becoming a failed state, where law and order seem best served with militias and other armed groups, where children are kidnapped, where girls and women are unsafe, where the privileged few have jobs and politics has become the new economic enterprise, as witnessed by the hundreds of political parties that are exist.
Take the nation – fractured and disparate as it is – into your confidence and appeal to our goodwill and desire to coalesce into a country that we can once again be proud of.
* Professor Saths Cooper is a former political prisoner and a member of the 70s Group.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.