By Minister Edna Molewa
It is basic expectation in all democracies that elected leaders will address citizens of their nation at regular intervals. The era of social media has enabled leaders to reach their constituents more readily and has empowered ordinary citizens to share their views directly with those in power.
This increasing connectedness has required leaders to be ever more accessible to those they serve.
The State of the Nation Address will take place tonight and President Jacob Zuma will address the entire nation on progress made over the past year and prospects for the coming year.
Traditionally, this address was viewed as a one-way communication, but social media now provides for a robust back and forth analysis and discussion between listeners in real time.
When the President takes to the podium to deliver this annual State of the Nation Address tonight, it will be an opportunity for him to speak directly to every one of us about the state of our nation.
In a robust democracy such as ours, there are likely to be divergent views on where we are as a country. Such views are not only acceptable, but are welcomed and necessary participation in making our democracy stronger.
When the President speaks, his words will be broadcast and heard in households throughout the country. Every sector of society, from hard-working families, pensioners, single parents, entrepreneurs, business owners, students, members of the LGBTI community and all others will want to hear what continuing, and new, promise their country holds for them.
Some may of course lament that there will be nothing new in what the president says, or may infer that undertakings are made but not kept. Whatever their opinions and affiliations, citizens of our nation are invited to listen to the address to ascertain for themselves our progress as nation.
South Africans should also be fully aware that the undertakings made by the president will be thoroughly scrutinised and debated by MPs during debate on the State of the Nation Address. This is one of many mechanisms for oversight within our democracy.
However, it is ultimately the people who will rightly reflect on the state of our nation in the many thousands of conversations on social media and in homes across our nation.
Government is hopeful that these conversations will spark greater collective action on what needs to be done to address our challenges and move our country forward.
The blueprint for harnessing our collective aptitude and work ethic has already been drawn up in the form of the National Development Plan, our vision for 2030. The NDP, as it is popularly known, has widespread support and therefore needs to be driven by all of us.
Government for its part has prioritised the NDP and is busy implementing it systematically through a concerted Programme of Action. The first five-year building block of the NDP is the Medium Term Strategic Framework 2014 – 19. This sets the foundation on which all other actions will follow. The Medium Term Strategic Framework includes 14 concrete outcomes which are vital to our vison for a better tomorrow.
In his State of the Nation address, President Jacob Zuma will speak about our hope for a better tomorrow. The address should not be viewed as a stand-alone process but as a reflection of work in progress and an overall view of the state of progress that has been made and a call to the nation for increased urgency and commitment to achieving NDP.
The Sona galvanises society and gets us talking and reflecting. It influences and informs thinking and ultimately helps to shape and further mould the nation we all want to see.
Taking an active interest in these discussions allows South Africans to fully participate in our democracy and, by implication, to shape the direction of our country. By participating we get to hold our elected leaders to account, and we are also empowered to identify possible gaps or areas where we can make a difference.
Our democracy, that so many fought and died for, does not rest on the shoulders of our elected leaders alone. A working democracy requires all of us to take a stand and make a difference.
Edna Molewa is the Minister of Environmental Affairs.