In recent weeks South Africa has seen a rise in increasingly violent, sporadic protests as the country stands on the cusp of elections. South Africa seems to be gripped in a cycle of anger and violence, which provides a rather difficult context for President Jacob Zuma as he comes to Parliament this week to address the nation.
South Africa also celebrates 20 years of democracy this year, and while Zuma will no doubt emphasise the progress that has been made in transforming the society, it will also be a moment to reflect on what still needs to be done.
The reality that Zuma will have to address is that 60% of South Africans are now urbanised and moving to cities in search of employment, with 4,5 million working-age citizens between the ages of 15 – 64 unemployed at a rate of 25,7%. The population is young: 20 million South Africans are under the age of 20, and the working-age population increases by about 635 000 people per year.
In the 2009 election, the ANC promised five million jobs by 2020. This year it is promising six million ‘job opportunities’ by 2019 instead. This would include short-term jobs created through the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP), which has been effective, although an ‘elastoplast’ response to the structural issues that stymie economic growth. Another key point of progress that is likely to be highlighted is the signing into law of the Employment Tax Incentive Act following lengthy negotiations with the trade unions. The act will create incentives for companies to employ young people between the ages of 18 – 29, who earn above the minimum wage but less than R6 000 a month.
Economic growth is sluggish, however. Both Gill Marcus, Governor of the Reserve Bank, and Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan have warned that this will be a belt-tightening year. Investment in infrastructure is key to the Zuma administration’s vision of state intervention in the economy, in partnership with the private sector.
The ANC also seems to want to utilise these projects to boost youth employment by allocating 60% of available jobs in certain projects to young people. Corruption in massive infrastructure projects is a perennial challenge, and perhaps Zuma will announce the formation of the centralised Tender Board; an idea that has found its way into the ANC manifesto. Certainly some kind of centralised tendering mechanism might be welcomed.
Minister of Public Service and Administration, Lindiwe Sisulu, has grand plans for increasing efficiency and combatting corruption within the Public Service. The Public Administration Management Bill seeks to put an end to public servants doing business with the state by employing a ‘revolving door’ mechanism between the public service and the private sector, and prohibiting the re-employment of public servants dismissed for corruption-related offences. The bill also seeks to set up an anti-corruption bureau to deal with related offences. Of course, even the best-laid plans will come to naught if there is no political will to make difficult decisions when necessary.
Despite all these facts, figures and pieces of legislation, there can be no papering over the cracks of the real governance concerns that South Africans have – as has indeed been proven by the recent increase in protests. Our understanding of participatory democracy continues to be stretched and challenged as police brutality during such protests has again come under the spotlight.
The past year has also seen a furious battle between ministers in the security cluster and the Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, about the release of the report on the R206 million spent on the president’s homestead at Nkandla. Uncertainty remains as to when this report will be released. Should the final report make a negative finding against Zuma, the government’s response will provide some indication of its commitment to the independence of institutions such as the Public Protector’s office.
Madonsela has repeatedly come under fire from within the ANC for her allegedly ‘political’ approach to investigating matters. Yet, corruption allegations within the Zuma administration persist; not only around the president, Nkandla and so-called ‘Gupta-gate,’ but also against his former minister of communications, Dina Pule, and Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, ‘Teflon’ Tina Joemat-Pettersson.
Against this backdrop, it is our social compact – which has been so carefully constructed in the years since 1994 – that is truly fraying at the edges. The 2012 strike at Marikana, which resulted in the police shooting 112 people, of which 34 died, was an indication of strained relations between workers and employers. This further highlighted our seeming inability to find consensus and broker deals to ensure stability.
But perhaps that too is indicative of what is happening within the union movement, as new independent actors such as Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) fill traditional spaces. The National Union of Mineworkers (NUMSA) has withdrawn its support for the ANC in this election and has repeatedly asked for the scandal-ridden Zuma to resign.
And so the president speaks to a country that in some areas is in no mood to listen; to citizens who are tired of waiting for ‘delivery’ and still others who believe corruption is on the increase and that South Africa is losing its way.
Meeting the challenges of employment, development and a more equal society will require leadership and social solidarity among all the actors in society: government, labour, business and civil society. That would entail high levels of trust in government’s ability to deliver, and also to end grand-scale corruption. The real question for 2014 is therefore a political one: can the Zuma government deliver trust to the people for the next five years?
Judith February, Senior Researcher, Government Crime and Justice Division, ISS Pretoria