R Munusamy: The 20 years from Mandela to Zuma
It is perhaps a pity that government's 20-year review document was released two months before the national elections. It is now viewed through the prism of electioneering rather than as an in-depth look at the state of South Africa after 20 years of democracy. Some opposition parties have already accused President Jacob Zuma of using it as a brag book and claim he is skewing the findings to support his 'good story' narrative. But what if it were President Nelson Mandela presenting us with the very same document? Would we believe it then? Zuma, though, does not believe the ANC government could have done any better. So this is as good as it gets.
The 20 Year Review released by Zuma on Tuesday appraises government's performance since the ANC took power in 1994. It builds on the research of the 10- and 15-year reviews, as well as the National Development Plan (NDP), and tracks the journey over two decades of creating a nation out of the apartheid ashes.
"The 20 Year Review is packed with facts and figures to support its analysis and it is honest and frank in its approach. Where the facts indicate that we have made progress, we say so, and where the facts indicate that we have challenges and have made mistakes, we also say so," Zuma said.
And indeed, while the document is expansive about the achievements and delivery record of government, it does also set out the shortcomings and weaknesses (if you have the fortitude to sift through the 165-page document), all of which you would already know if you live in South Africa.
The National Planning Commission's diagnostic report was specifically compiled so that there could be full understanding of the country's problem areas and their underlying causes. The review, while showing how the face of South Africa has changed for the better, also delves into these same problem areas.
In assessing local government, the coalface of delivery, the review states that many municipalities have been affected by a shortage of technical skills. "Poor recruitment practices and political interference in appointments have further complicated matters at municipal level. In response, national government has recently developed minimum competency requirements for senior managers in local government. Rigorous implementation of these regulations will help ensure that municipalities recruit the right skills for the job," the document states.
The explosion of service delivery protests around the country, however, show that ordinary people are becoming fed up waiting for such interventions to start showing meaningful progress. The review states that the increase in service delivery protests provides visible evidence the state is struggling to ensure that poor communities feel they are being heard. It says the protests are prompted by a range of concerns, including access to services, the quality of services and the perceived non-responsiveness of local government. "The priority is therefore to ensure that mechanisms for promoting participation, accountability and responsiveness are used effectively".
With regard to electricity, the review states that over 5,8 million households have access to power, and government's electrification programme has reduced the percentage of households without electricity to 14%. Between 1994 and 2002, it says, "comparatively little investment was made in electricity generation". So, as everyone who has experienced load shedding would tell you, demand has exceeded supply since early 2008. And like us, the review pins its hopes on the two new coal-fired power stations still under construction, Medupi and Kusile, to generate enough power to keep the lights on.
The review gives a little nudge to the e-tolling system for future development of South Africa's national roads to meet rising vehicle volumes. It says 'societal acceptance' of the user charge principle will ensure higher quality roads. "In comparison with the national roads, the standard of many provincial and local roads has not kept up with demand. Many were originally designed during the apartheid era for a smaller vehicle population, and have deteriorated with the increase of vehicles due to rising prosperity in the democratic era, poor maintenance regimes and resource constraints."
The review states that surveys show that public perceptions of corruption in government "have worsened slightly over the past 20 years". This is despite the fact that fighting corruption "has preoccupied successive democratic governments". "The JCPS (Justice and Crime Prevention Cluster) is currently developing an anti-corruption framework to give effect to the NDP's recommendation to establish a resilient, multi-agency anti-corruption system," the document states.
Regarding policing, the review says the recent deaths of citizens during public protests "indicate that there is a need to improve the training of public order policing units, and their command and control structures". It says "moral decay in society" has contributed significantly to the problem of crime. "The urgency of addressing moral decay and instilling positive values is underlined by the recent spate of terrible violence and sexual offences against women, children and the elderly. It is also underlined by the increasing tendency to turn to violence during public protests against failures or the perceived failure by government to deliver services."
The review leans heavily on the NDP in terms of the way forward, which is why Zuma was insistent during question session that there would be no delay in the implementation of the plan. He said opposition to the plan from Cosatu and its largest affiliate, metalworkers' union Numsa, would not stop government pressing ahead with implementation. "We have been engaging with Cosatu on these matters, and continue to do so… We are proceeding with implementation. The views are not overwhelming. But the door is not closed for debate," Zuma said.
There are not many chances to ask Zuma questions and so Daily Maverick took the opportunity presented by the launch of the 20 Year Review to ask the president what he thought went wrong under the ANC government and what he would like to get right in the incoming administration. It was a question that gave Zuma the opportunity to take the nation into his confidence and level with his people.
The answer? "There isn't anything we could have done better."
Zuma said at the start of his administration, they asked what could be done differently and decided to focus on the five priority areas in government: education, health, crime, job creation and rural development. They will continue to focus on these areas, he said.
Zuma said the review was dedicated to South Africa's founding father, Nelson Mandela, and the ideals he stood for would be carried forward. One wonders if the review had been released by Mandela rather than Zuma, would people be less skeptical of it? One thing that's for sure is that Mandela would have answered our question differently, owning up to what went wrong and pledging to get them right.
There are many memorable lines in Mandela's speech at his inauguration. A part of the speech, less quoted than many of the others, sets out the mission for the democratic government and the vision of a rainbow nation that is arguably at the level of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address:
"We have, at last, achieved our political emancipation. We pledge ourselves to liberate all our people from the continuing bondage of poverty, deprivation, suffering, gender and other discrimination. We succeeded to take our last steps to freedom in conditions of relative peace. We commit ourselves to the construction of a complete, just and lasting peace.
"We have triumphed in the effort to implant hope in the breasts of the millions of our people. We enter into a covenant that we shall build the society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity - a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world."
Can Mandela's successors honestly say they have done their best to fulfill this mission? The 20 Year Review is the long answer to that question. And South Africa's 51 million people have their own life experiences which answer that question in different ways.
The 20 Year Review is what it is, a comprehensive assessment of democratic governance - from the perspective of the state. As to be expected, there is plenty of information to trace South Africa's development and progress and a smattering of not-that-good stories to tell. It is not the kind of thing you would read at the airport or at the beach, but for academics, investors, analysts and those who find themselves on party election lists, it should be essential reading.
It is the story of the life and times of South Africa during the post-democracy honeymoon period. Chapter one of our story is now done. Chapter two begins on 7 May.
This column appeared on Daily Maverick.