On Thursday 12 February President Jacob Zuma delivered his 8th State of the Nation Address (SONA). This year’s SONA was delivered on a special day in South African history, making the 25th anniversary since the release of former President Nelson Mandela from prison and 60th anniversary since the adoption of the Freedom Charter. The South African Municipal Workers’ Union (SAMWU) hereby gives its reaction.

Signal Jamming

SAMWU condemns the jamming of cellphone coverage in and around parliamentary precinct. We believe that this is censorship and violates the rights of ordinary South Africans who rely on the media, in particular social media to receive and participate in parliamentary events as they unfold. We further believe that monopoly that the Parliamentary channel has on the coverage of Parliamentary events should be challenged. Other media houses should be allowed to have their own feeds instead of solely relying on what Parliamentary officials deem to be in the interest of the public.

Chaos in Parliament

SAMWU is disappointed by the chaos that erupted in parliament while the president was delivering his speech. SAMWU condemns the disruptions that occurred and urges political parties to sort out their differences to make Parliament work for all South Africans . Although we do not support the disruptions, however believe that the presiding officers could have handled the disruptions in a more civil manner.

Employment

The president’s SONA comes just a few days after Statistics South Africa released 2014 Q4 employment statistics. Unemployment remains at unacceptably high levels (24.3%) while those who have been discouraged from seeking employment now constitute a staggering 34.6% of the South African population. Although in the last quarter there was a drop in unemployment, we have been cautioned by Statistics South Africa that this may have been as a result of the festive season, as such the country may have more people who are unemployed.
We are disappointed that the president lauded the Employment Tax Incentive and further added that over R2 billion had been claimed by employers since its inception. SAMWU has and continues to be opposed to this piece of legislation which in our view does not address the issues of unemployment particularly among the youth. A study completed last year has shown that labour brokers had been the main beneficiaries of the Employment Tax Incentive.
The president indicated that 850 000 job opportunities had been created. There is however no explanation or definition as to what these job opportunities are. There exists a huge difference between job opportunities and job creation. We believe that these job opportunities that the president mentioned was in reference to Extended Public Works Programme (EPWP) which SAMWU is strongly opposed to, especially in local government. SAMWU is of the view that EPWP is government’s cosmetic solution to the issue of unemployment. We firmly believe that individuals who are in these programmes should be employed permanently by the state are they are carrying out state functions.

Energy

We have noted with excitement the progress that the ANC government has made in electrifying the country since ascending to power in 1994. We however believe that working together we can achieve a lot more for the people of South Africa. To date, over 3.4 million households remain without electricity. We have further noted with concern and disappointment that the president has confirmed government’s commitment to bailout Eskom to the tune of R23 billion.
We believe that for the economy to grow, issues of Eskom should be addressed. We are however of the view that Eskom has not demonstrated to the public how it seeks to spend the bailout and why it needs the bailout. In its past financial year, the power utility posted profit of R12 billion yet it is unable to provide reliable power to the public who are confronted with the ever increasing electricity prices. We urge government to look into the management of Eskom, the power utility has the ability to be self-sufficient yet its management is failing the country.

Land and Agriculture

SAMWU welcomes the decision by government to limit land ownership to South Africans, we further welcome the extension of land claims to 2019. We believe that this is a step in the right direction in addressing the ugly injustices in South African history. We further welcome the decision to allocate land to small holder farmers, farm dwellers and labour tenants through the Land reform Land Reform Programme.

Human Settlements

SAMWU is proud of the great progress that the ANC government continues to make in the provisions of housing to South Africans. We are particularly excited that South Africans will benefit from the 87 housing projects in the coming financial year, as announced by the president. We are however disappointed that R2.1 billion would be committed to revitalising distressed mining towns. This is an indication that mining companies are not taking responsibility for the upkeep of areas which they operate in. SAMWU is of the view that mining licences should force mining companies to ensure that communities benefit from their activities through infrastructure development.

Youth ISSUES

Youth unemployment remains an issue of public concern. The youth constitute a majority of the country’s population yet unemployment affects them the most. We welcome the good work done by the National Youth Development Agency (NYDA) in providing assistance to over 760 youth enterprises in the past year. We urge government to ensure that the NYDA funding is increased so to enable it to further fund youth initiatives.

Infrastructure

We welcome the decision by the president to commit R6 billion to 13 cities to improve the road networks. We are however concerned that even in the midst of resources spent by government in improving public roads, the provisions of such services are then shifted to private companies. Government spends resources only for private companies to benefit. An example of this is Reavaya where in government built infrastructure only for a private company to benefit and in turn exploit its workers. SAMWU calls on government move the operations of such services to municipalities as we believe they are better placed to provide these services.