This year's State of the Nation Address (SONA) delivered by President Jacob Zuma was a defining moment for us as a country. It marked the end of the tenure of his administration as we head towards the fifth national general elections on 7 May 2014. The country also celebrates 20 Years of Freedom.
Many who watched were undoubtedly overcome by bittersweet emotions since this was the first SONA since the passing of former President Nelson Mandela. President Zuma paid tribute to Madiba by reminding us that his long walk to freedom might have come to an end, but that our journey of creating a better life for all continues.
We have a collective responsibility to live up to Mandela’s legacy and continue to build a united, democratic, non-racial and non-sexist South Africa. Highlighting the achievements of the past twenty years, President Zuma stressed that South Africa has a positive story to tell. Working together we have changed South Africa into a better country. We have delivered basic services to the majority of our people who were neglected under apartheid. So, therefore we do have a good story to tell.
The President stated: “Over the past 20 years, remarkable achievements have been made in increasing access to services such as water, sanitation and electricity. In housing, about 3 million housing units and more than 855 000 serviced sites were delivered since 1994. Nearly 500 informal settlements have been replaced with quality housing and basic services over the past five years.”
Today we look back with pride at our remarkable achievements to ensure justice, peace and human dignity for all. We also don’t baulk at the challenges that still lie ahead, in particular to liberate our people from the bondage of poverty, inequality and unemployment.
However, the implementation of the National Development Plan (NDP), the National Infrastructure Plan, the New Growth Path and the Industrial Policy Action Plan are all geared towards boosting investment and providing support to businesses so we can create jobs and grow the economy.
The President furthermore reflected on the gains his administration has made in the fight against HIV and Aids, and efforts to improve the quality of healthcare for all South Africans. South Africa today has the largest ARV programme in the world while our other healthcare interventions has led to improved life expectancy from 56.8 years in 2009 to 59.6 years in 2013. He also stated that some of the successes have resulted in improved confidence in our health system.
“The HIV and AIDS turnaround is one of the biggest achievements of this administration and we are used as a model country by the United Nations Aids Programmes, (UNAIDS). Mother to child transmission of HIV has declined sharply and we have doubled the number of people who are receiving anti-retroviral treatment, from one million to 2.4 million people in 2013. More than 20 million South Africans have taken the HIV test since the launch of the campaign in 2011 which indicates confidence in the health system”, said the President.
A defining achievement of this administration has been the establishment of the Department of Performance Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME) and National Planning Commission (NPC). The DPME ensures continuous improvement in service delivery through performance monitoring and evaluation while the NPC produced the National Development Plan that aims to eradicate poverty, increase employment and reduce inequality by 2030. Our monitoring and evaluation system has also ensured that departments focus on measurable targets and track their implementation.
“Our monitoring and evaluation indicates that many services continue to improve. For example, social grants and identity documents now take a shorter time to be processed. But many others still require further work,” he said.
President Zuma also highlighted the many advances we have made in education; today there are more learners who attend and succeed in school. The matric pass rate has steadily increased over the past 20 years from 53.4% in 1995 to 78.2 % in 2013. He emphasised government’s success to improve the quality of education at the foundation phase.
He said: “We are happy therefore that there is a huge increase in the enrolment of children in school, from pre-primary to tertiary level. The number of children attending Grade R has more than doubled, moving from about 300 thousand to more than 700 thousand between 2003 and 2011. A Draft Policy Framework towards Universal Access to Grade R has been gazetted for public comment, with a view to making Grade R compulsory.”
The President used this address to highlight his administration’s achievements since he took office in 2009 while at the same reflecting on the overall achievement of the country since 1994. The picture that emerged is clear; he has done a lot in his first term as President of the country. He also did not shy away from the challenges we still face as a country. We need to take heed of this and join hands to grow and develop our country, meet the remaining challenges head on and demonstrate just how much can be achieved in the spirit of Ubuntu.
We indeed have a good story to tell!
Phumla Williams is Acting CEO of the Government Communications and Information System (GCIS)