Zuma SONA: An 'old dog politician's' impressions

Graham McIntosh says the President exercises power comfortably and with humility

By any standards Zuma gave a good speech. His delivery (98% in his second language) and control of his subject was impressive.

I, as somebody who has had a very privileged education, cannot but be impressed at how, with very little formal education, Zuma has risen from living as a teenager with his domestic worker mother on the Ridge in Durban, to become the President of South Africa. It is not only a tribute to his own character, intelligence and determination but also proof that individuals from lowly circumstances can rise above their circumstances.

The speech demonstrated that Zuma, to use Tony Leon's words, "is comfortable in his own skin" and does not have chips on his shoulder. He certainly exercises power comfortably, with humility and a pleasant sense of humour. One could see all of that as one watched him deliver his SONA.

He set out to embrace all South Africans as his regular use of "compatriots and friends" emphasised as well as mentioning the diverse contributions from Steve Biko to Helen Suzman. He clearly wants to build the intangible values of our nation's morale and self-confidence and not just increase our prosperity.

His emphasis on growth and infrastructure is not only good economic sense but an admission of what he has learnt from China. Brazil, with their unemployment rate at around 6%, is another role model that he wishes South Africa to emulate. Zuma clearly understands that the opportunities provided by free-market capitalism in some form or other, is the only way to go.

The major force that eventually broke down apartheid job reservation, the pass laws and the coloured preference areas, was economic growth. The racist and sexist social engineering policies of the ANC will buckle, bend and break under the demands of a growing economy which Zuma is pursuing with vigour. All South African's will become more prosperous because economic growth will be hungry for all skills regardless of colour. It also will see faster urbanisation with its development opportunities and demand for houses, transport and infrastructure in our towns and cities.

The centenaries that he mentions, and not only that of the ANC, is nation building. Mandela kept his annual membership cards of the Methodist Men's Fellowship. It and the Congregational Church's celebrations are an affirmation that the ANC's values and roots lie in a Christian heritage, not the more recent Communist ideas incorporated in the Freedom Charter. His wish to celebrate the centenary of the Union Buildings is as close as he dare come to the politically incorrect reality that the South Africa nation was actually born, although malformed, in 1910.

The plan for upgrading Mthatha, which nowadays is a town that delivers a severe dose of Afro-pessimism, is a welcome recognition that the "New South Africa" must not become the "New Bantustan". Sadly the effect of cadre deployment and the mindless application of race and gender quotas has severely degraded many local governments and damaged other areas of government and parastatals, including ESKOM. The left's influence on government's mining policies has done huge harm. Zuma is obviously determined to address these dysfunctional areas.

South Africa needs homes, not repeating discredited myths and fantasies around the complexities of land reform such as talking of 87% owned by whites as SONA did. It is clear that Jimmy Manyi has bent his ear, if he can rubbish a tried and tested global principle of willing buyer-willing seller. To go back to before 1913 on the land issue could have interesting implications for blacks in the Western Cape, for example. There are also other issues that he raised that were barely credible such as health, crime and how the unions are allegedly supporting government.

Overall, South Africans, even if they are extremely unlikely to support the ANC, can recognise that SONA reflects a President who wants the best for South Africa and believes in and trusts all South Africans. He appreciates that we are political moderates who love sport and are committed to building the rainbow nation and see it prosper but want to get on with our own lives. In a sense his SONA expressed the spirit of the old national motto of Ex Unitate Vires - From Unity comes Strength.

Graham McIntosh MP (COPE), who writes in his personal capacity, has been present as a parliamentarian to listen to speeches on seventeen occasions where the political head of state has spoken to initiate the No-Confidence Debate or launched a debate on his State of the Nation address.

Click here to sign up to receive our free daily headline email newsletter