On Thursday, 11 February, President Jacob Zuma will deliver his State of the Nation Address (SONA) at the annual opening of Parliament. The SONA marks the beginning of the year’s political governance program and focuses on the current political and socio-economic state of the nation. Also in his address, the President will set out the government’s key policy objectives and deliverables for 2016 to the Members of Parliament.
In his last SONA in 2015, the President stated that youth related issues were among government’s top priorities. He declared 2015 as the year of investing more into the future of the country by putting more effort into youth development. The President mentioned three youth related focus areas, on which the government is putting emphasis:
- Investment in youth employment – The President said the Employment Tax Incentive which was introduced in 2014, mainly for the youth, was progressing well. R2 billion had been claimed by 29 000 employers for at least 270 000 young people. In 2014 the President announced a target of six million work opportunities over five years. By February last year more 850 000 work opportunities had been created.
- Promoting opportunities for the youth – The National Youth Development Agency disbursed R25 million to 765 youth owned micro enterprises all around the country. The Agency also partnered with the Industrial Development Corporation and the Small Enterprise Finance Agency, which resulted in a R2.7 billion fund for young entrepreneurs.
- Improving the education system – The President said the government continues to improve the infrastructure in schools and higher education institutions to create a conducive environment for learning and teaching. He added that work is also continuing to establish three brand new universities, Sol Plaatjie in the Northern Cape, the University of Mpumalanga and the Sefako Makgatho Allied and Health Sciences University.
With just a few days before the President delivers this year’s SONA, the question now on everyone’s lips is, “Did the government deliver to its promises last year and what is in the pipeline concerning the interests of the youth?”
Among the usual pressing youth related issues, young people are also expecting President Zuma to touch on how the government is rolling out National Youth Policy (NYP). Developed to create a platform of engagement in society and economy for the youth, the NYP is an area of interest for most youth. Other issues like free education for all, youth unemployment, increasing crime rate, land redistribution and racism also appear to be the youth’s interest in this year’s SONA.
Some members of the ACTIVATE! Change Drivers network expressed their expectations from President Zuma’s SONA 2016. ACTIVATE! Change Drivers is a network of more than 1600 young change makers or “Activators” across South Africa who are finding innovative ways to transform their communities and the country as a whole.
A Kwazulu-Natal law student and Activator, Alex Khoza is concerned about some of the government departments who do not adhere to the Batho Pele principles of governance and hopes that the President will address this issue.
Eastern Cape based Activator and United Nations Population Fund & Youth Advisory Panel Deputy Chairperson, Baxolise Dlali would like the president to talk about the rapidly increasing youth unemployment, racism, the continued under-performance of the economy and upcoming local government elections. “We all know the devastating effects that racism has on the general well-being of a country. Regardless of our different racial backgrounds, we should be able to live harmoniously and respect each other,” he said.
Community development and media practitioner Liza Smith believes that education will be one of key items that the President will talk more about. Smith said: “Tertiary education will definitely take center stage. The fee structure and funding for tertiary institutions ought to be highlighted. Bursaries and job opportunities for the youth as well as NSFAS will be paramount in the SONA. With all that said I would like the government to focus on NSFAS including how needy applicants are identified and how NSFAS plans to get payment from previous loan recipients.”
Johannesburg based success coach and published author, Tshepang Mokgatla is one of Activators who think that President Zuma has to share more information about government plans for making free education a reality. “We have a multitude of issues that need urgent attention and one of them should be the free education. A report with recommendations on how we can achieve free education was drafted and publicly released by the Department of Higher Education. It is now time to action those recommendations. I also think most of the focus of the SONA will be on rallying our nation and especially the youth to cast their votes at the upcoming local government elections,” he said.
The contentious land redistribution that political parties like Economic Freedom Fighters and Pan African Congress are campaigning for seems to continue to resonate with many young people. Activators like Khanyisa Booi is calling the President to give a detailed plan with timelines and strategies that will see the country properly dealing with the land debacle. “We need a clear stance on how land will be restituted so that matters of inequality are sorted. We need answers on how commercial land that belongs to people will start benefiting them,” said Booi.
Rural youth development is also one of the main issues that Pretoria based Activator Donahue Adams expects the President to focus on. He also hopes that the President will put more action into his words and engage the nation in the execution of government strategies. “This year I would like to see more action and less talking from both the citizens and the government. South Africans must remember that the responsibility of transforming the country does not lie with President Zuma alone,” said Adams
Polokwane based Law student, Evodia Mashamaite shared similar sentiments. Mashamaite added that the public should not expect anything extraordinary from the President. “I believe this is his last chance to connect with the people and inspire a sense of hope. There is a lot that President Zuma has to focus on but I won’t hold my breath and expect him to deliver. In many instances his decision making has not shown that he takes into account the ordeals that face many South Africans daily. I also don’t think he cares about issues like economy, education, crime, unemployment and many others. I really do not want to hear statistic figures of millions of rands which have no real felt impact in the lives of the people, but knowing President Zuma, he will do exactly that,” said Mashamaite.
Entrepreneur and Activator Nazareen Ebrahim thinks the 2016 SONA will not be different to any other Parliament opening ceremony by President Zuma. He said the only important thing the president can do is to surprise the nation by announcing his immediate resignation. “I am hoping that President Jacob Zuma will take a morally correct decision and announce his move to step down from leading the country. However, I would also like him, as a very last resort to showing some responsibility towards his leadership, to address how he sees the National Development Plan rolling out in relation to unemployment, poverty and startup entrepreneurship,” he added.
Aphiwe Ntlemeza offered some advice on how ordinary South Africans can keep government officials accountable. Ntlemeza is a member of the Youth Advisory Council. “In order to be aware of the happenings around your province or country as a whole, citizens need to take an informed decision of being aware and involved in the entire process. That’s when it will be easier for us to make the government accountable and make sure they keep their promises,” he said.
SONA 2016 will take place on Thursday, 11 February at the Parliament of South Africa at 19h00. The speech will be broadcasted live on Parliament Channel, SABC News, ENCA, ANN7, Aljazeera and many national and international radio stations. ACTIVATE! Change Drivers media partner Live Mag will also be updating the public live from Parliament.