Five critical issues facing South Africa – Helen Zille

The DA leader sets out what President Motlanthe should address in Friday’s State of the Nation speech

Five issues President Motlanthe must address tomorrow

When President Kgalema Motlanthe delivers his State of the Nation Address tomorrow, he should address five critical issues which touch the lives of South Africans and affect the welfare of our democracy. They are all equally important to our future.

President Motlanthe must demonstrate that he is the real leader of the nation, and that he is neither a compliant caretaker President, nor a pliable proxy for Jacob Zuma. There is great pressure on Motlanthe to do this, given attempts by the ANC - both openly and covertly - to reduce his status. For example, ANC Chief Whip Mnyamezeli Booi was recently quoted as saying that Motlanthe's State of the Nation Address would be downgraded to a mere report-back, since he had not introduced any new government programmes during his brief tenure.

Through his words and deeds tomorrow, Motlanthe must show his own party that he is able to rise above their petty power-plays, their reported attempts to isolate and marginalise him, and their determination to abuse the presidential office to protect Jacob Zuma.

More importantly, Motlanthe must inspire confidence in the nation that he - rather than Zuma or any other member of Zuma's closed, crony circle - is the commander in chief.

Motlanthe must prove that he is not beholden to the narrow interests of the court-shy Zuma and his coterie of hangers-on. He must demonstrate that he can lead and serve the nation by addressing the following issues.

Firstly, Motlanthe must dismiss the rumours that he is set to appoint Zuma's former defence lawyer, Muzi Wilfred Mkhize, as the next National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP) to succeed Advocate Vusi Pikoli. In fact, he should go further and give an unqualified undertaking that the next chief prosecutor will not be a deployed ANC cadre. Because if an ANC loyalist is deployed to the post - especially one who belongs to Zuma's patronage network - it will be clear that he will be expected to make the case against Zuma disappear, in the same way that the Scorpions were made to disappear to protect ANC leaders from corruption charges.

The ANC's cadre deployment policy has had a devastating impact on governance. It has embroiled state institutions in the ruling party's faction fights. It has led to gross power abuse, subverted the Constitution, and allowed a closed circle of cronies to accumulate wealth and privilege through corrupt means.  It has disadvantaged the poor, as crony contracts have undermined service delivery to the poor.

Earlier this week, ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe defended the policy, and promised that it would continue on the grounds that "the trust between [the governing] political party and the management should be absolute". He also suggested that critics of cadre deployment were subconscious racists, because they automatically assumed that black people were less qualified for public service jobs.

But cadre deployment has nothing to do with affirmative action.  The ANC has cynically abused the concept of affirmative action as a fig-leaf to hide a policy of jobs-for-pals and contracts-for-pals. This policy of patronage has nothing to do with empowerment and everything to do with personal enrichment and advancing the interests of the ANC's ruling clique. That is why Gwede Mantashe defends it: he knows that Jacob Zuma needs the policy for his own political survival and that of his cabal. He understands that Zuma must deploy members of his clique to state institutions to protect himself.  And Zuma, in turn, has promised to enrich and protect his clique when he becomes President.  That is how a closed, crony circle works.  And when you strip everything else away, the closed, crony system lies at the heart of the tragic phenomenon of the "failed state" in Africa .

So we must take with a large pinch of salt Zuma's claim, made during the ANC's election manifesto launch last month, that he opposes deploying "friends" to state institutions and believes that the public service should be staffed with "the right personnel".

Motlanthe would be doing the nation a great favour if he matched Zuma's words with deeds and announced the abandonment of cadre deployment altogether.

Secondly, Motlanthe must announce the appointment of a judicial commission of inquiry into the arms deal. We believe that Zuma's supporters have a valid point when they say he is just a "minor player" in the arms deal scandal. With reports of large-scale corruption escalating, it is essential that Motlanthe should put the nation above his party. He must use his position as President to ensure that we get to the whole truth of the alleged bribery and corruption in the arms deal.

Thirdly, Motlanthe must update the nation on the government's plans to overhaul the criminal justice system, which were outlined by the Deputy Minister of Justice, Johnny de Lange, last August. At the time, De Lange said: "The situation is sometimes so overwhelming that we don't know what to do about crime. We have not necessarily taken the right decisions over the past 15 years or used resources efficiently. We have to brace ourselves now."

Six months down the line, crime continues to overwhelm South Africans and the government shows no signs of bracing itself. Criminals are still getting away with crime because our criminal justice system is dysfunctional at every level.  It cannot prevent crime, catch criminals, gather evidence, prosecute and convict them successfully, secure them in prisons or rehabilitate them there.

Motlanthe urgently needs to spell out his government's plans to turn this situation around.

And now that he has yielded to political pressure from the ruling party and signed into law the two bills that closed down the Scorpions, Motlanthe must at least guarantee the public that the Directorate for Priority Crime Investigation (which will replace the Scorpions) will be free from government interference.

Fourthly, Motlanthe must provide a roadmap of how the government plans to deal with the local impact of the global economic crisis. This week I visited communities in Botshabelo outside Bloemfontein , Lindelani and Newlands East outside Durban , and Parkside and Buffalo Flats outside East London . The people here are poor. Most of them have never heard of the sub-prime crisis that caused the global economic meltdown, but they will be the first to suffer its local consequences. South Africa desperately needs clear leadership on how we should respond to the looming threat of recession, but so far the government has failed to provide a steer. This is because there is a fight in the ruling party between the "populists" and the "prudents" over the direction of economic policy.

On the one hand, Finance Minister Trevor Manuel has said that there will be no change to macroeconomic policy. On the other hand, by threatening fundamental policy shifts, Cosatu and the SACP are manoeuvring the ANC to favour their own members and to ignore the right to work of the unemployed. That is reflected in the ANC's election manifesto, which envisages all sorts of new interventionist mandates for the Reserve Bank, and places tighter restrictions on the labour market. This means that more and more people will be unemployed.

Motlanthe must rise above these internal squabbles and indicate clearly what instruments, in terms of fiscal and monetary policy, we can use to offset the worst effects of the global crisis.

Finally, the President must focus on the problems in our education system, and start providing solutions. It is all very well for the theme of this year's State of the Nation address to be "entrenching people-centred democracy in achieving development goals", but unless we start producing literate and numerate school-leavers, the majority will never have the opportunities they need to fulfill their potential and build a better future.

President Motlanthe must take the nation into his confidence and address these issues frankly and fearlessly. By doing so, he will demonstrate that his loyalty lies with the people of South Africa rather than with the ruling clique of ANC. And that is also why he would be showing good faith if he told the voters of South Africa when they can expect to vote in the most crucial election since 1994.

This article by Helen Zille first appeared in SA Today, the weekly online newsletter of the leader of the Democratic Alliance, February 5 2009