Equal Education (EE) expresses its strongest possible concern at the events that took place surrounding last night's State of the Nation Address (SONA).
The fundamental cause of last night’s crisis is President Zuma's corruption at Nkandla and his disregard for the Public Protectors report, which has seriously challenged President Zuma’s legitimacy. The Public Protector's report, which laments the "appalling manner in which the Nkandla Project was handled", calls on the President to "determine the reasonable cost of the measures implemented by the DPW at his private residence that do not relate to security, and which include Visitors’ Centre, the amphitheatre, the cattle kraal and chicken run, the swimming pool" and to "Pay a reasonable percentage of the cost of the measures". In the context of growing inequality, serious corruption, and mass unemployment, the President's failure to implement the Public Protector’s report – and the actions of those in the ANC and government who continue to shield him from doing so – is a recipe for growing instability, weak administration and ineffective governance.
Parliament must hold the Executive accountable. Section 92(2) of the Constitution states that the Cabinet, which includes the President, is "accountable collectively and individually to Parliament for the exercise of their powers and the performance of their functions". Parliament cannot therefore bend to the will or convenience of the President. For example, the President must answer questions four times each year. It is problematic that he did not do so last year, and this diminishes the legitimacy of both Parliament and the President, as we have seen.
Parliament must be respected as a democratic, open space to hold powerful interests, economic and political, to account.
It was legitimate to remove those individual EFF MPs who, after their questions were answered (however inadequately), were effectively preventing the SONA from proceeding. However, this should have been a removal of the MP’s named by the Speaker and not of the party as a whole, and should have been done peacefully by Parliament's own independent security service, not by the police, who are part of the Executive. The entry of armed police into the House was a grave violation of the separation of powers. The assault of members of the EFF is completely unacceptable, a violation of the Constitutional rights to dignity and of freedom and security of the person.
We also noted that on the same day that violence was used to silence the EFF, its members acted similarly towards one of their own at a press conference in Cape Town. There were no heroes yesterday.
We wish anyone injured in yesterday's events a swift recovery.
The decision of the SABC not to broadcast the removal of MP’s detracts from its legitimacy as a public broadcaster. The attempt to block cellphone signal, to prevent independent reporting and evidence, was shameful and unprecedented.
The speech itself was underwhelming, in skirting key issues that face millions of people daily: education and health.
It is disappointing that the President said very little about daily challenges in the basic education system. The President said nothing about the large dropout rates of learners between grade 1 and grade 12, currently standing at 50%. The President didn’t reflect on the quality of education in our schools, where we still see low literacy and numeracy skills and huge exodus of learners leaving more “difficult subjects” like maths for maths literacy.
The President said nothing about racism in schools, even when schools like Curro have been racially segregating learners – in fact, the state has invested millions in the company in charge of those schools. The President said nothing about the education of poor working class learners who continue to receive a substandard education, who don’t have transport to school and walk up to 15kms, don’t have textbooks, don’t have desks or even chairs. These are all issues the President should have spoken to. The President should have explained how government intends to address these issues, but didn't.
School infrastructure continues to be one of our major concerns. The President said:
“We will also continue to improve the infrastructure in schools and higher education institutions to create a conducive environment for learning and teaching. Through the Accelerated School Infrastructure Delivery Initiative which is part of the national infrastructure plan, ninety two (92) new schools have been completed to date and 108 are under construction. About three hundred and forty two (342) schools have received water for the first time. Three hundred and fifty one (351) schools have received decent sanitation while two hundred and eighty eight (288) have been connected to electricity.”
While progress is being made, which is encouraging, a total of 92 schools in four years is not impressive, especially when one considers two years ago in his 2013 SONA President Zuma saidthat "a total of 98 new schools will have been built by the end of March”.
The real issue however is that ASIDI continues to suffer from inefficiency, and major delays. The way progress is reported continues to be ineffective and the coordination processes between national and provincial programs are increasingly convoluted. As a result rollout has faced serious delays.
We are also concerned that the November 2016 deadline in the Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure will not be met. This deadline is meant to ensure that all schools with no access to water, electricity and sanitation get access, and that inappropriate schools made of mud, asbestos and wood are eradicated. Plans by MEC’s are still not made public and the President made no mention of this.
On the Youth Wage Subsidy – now known as the Employment Tax Incentive (ETI) – the President said:
"Our investment in youth employment is also paying off. The Employment Tax Incentive which was introduced last year directed mainly at the youth is progressing very well. Two billion rand has been claimed to date by some twenty nine thousand employers, who have claimed for at least two hundred and seventy thousand young people”.
It is not true that the ETI is doing well, According to a paper published by researchers at UCT the ETI, which was introduced on 1 January 2014, is a failure. According to their research it “did not have any statistically significant and positive effects on youth employment probabilities”. The authors show that the tax subsidy is potentially a very expensive government subsidy to businesses, with very limited impact.
As Equal Education we have continuously called for the scrapping of the ETI. Before the Act was passed Equal Education made detailed submissions to Treasury explaining why it would fail, when the UCT research was released we affirmed this view in a statement.
We are gravely concerned by how the State of the Nation Address proceeded last night, including the fact that basic education still does not get the attention it deserves. In the few sentences where the President did mention basic education, he missed the opportunity to really address what concerns parents, teachers, learners and the country at large on matters of education.
For more information contact:
Nombulelo Nyathela (EE spokesperson) 060 503 4933
Yoliswa Dwane (EE Chairperson) 076 706 2338
Brad Brockman (EE General Secretary) 072 267 8489
Doron Isaacs (Deputy General Secretary) 082 850 2111