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President Zuma spoke with conviction and good humour in his State of the Nation Address. He justifiably celebrated the progress government has made, the centenary of the ANC, and laid out plans for the future.

The most visionary part of the speech dealt with planned massive infrastructure development aimed at modernising the country, invigorating the economy and creating jobs.

It was disappointing that the President ignored the question of school infrastructure. The 3,600 schools without electricity, and the 395 mud-schools in the Eastern Cape could have been a major thrust of the national infrastructure development and job-creation project. Shocking school infrastructure is crippling education in rural areas.

The President’s assurance that the Section 100(1)(b) intervention into Eastern Cape education is on track with all glitches resolved, was not convincing. In fact, the national government has not had the courage of its convictions to carry the intervention through, which has created confusion as to who the accounting officer is, and has resulted in a crippling dispute over who has the power to finalise the teacher post establishment in the province. The long-running problems in the province are likely to recur, and a thorough-going national intervention will be needed to build capacity and clean government.

In 2011 the President emphasised the “Triple Ts” being teachers, textbooks and time. This year the all-important questions of teachers and time were mentioned, but textbooks dropped off the list. The fact that thousands of learners in multiple provinces are currently waiting for textbooks, makes this a notable omission.

The speech displayed the President’s human gifts, but perhaps the biggest opportunity missed was to not use the stage to speak directly to the youth of South Africa. Young people want to hear the President empathise with them, motivate them and engage with them seriously. The self-assuredness with which the President downplayed the serious problems youth confront in their schools was unfortunate.

The President certainly acquitted himself well at the Parliamentary podium, but he must be President the other 364 days of the year too, and we will be reminding him of the real priorities.

For comment:

Yoliswa Dwane 072 342 7747

Doron Isaacs 082 850 2111