Become involved in the change you want

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

By Minister in the Presidency Jeff Radebe

Most people are aware of the annual State of the Nation Address (SONA).  Some associate with the pomp and ceremony that goes hand-in-hand with the opening of Parliament.  For others it is the symbolic start of a new year of business, signified by the President addressing a joint sitting of the two Houses of Parliament.

These observations are not incorrect. However, at its core the address is about so much more.  It can be likened to a ship’s captain charting a course to a distant destination.  Charting the course requires forethought and planning.  On any such journey there will be travails and obstacles, but through sure and consistent leadership the ship will ultimately arrive safely to port. 

Since 2008 when the global financial crisis struck, the international arena has been a sea of turbulence.  Global uncertainty has plagued markets and many nations have struggled to stay afloat.  South Africa has not been immune to this and our nation too has felt the pain.  However, through sound planning and consistent leadership we have been able to navigate our way through choppy seas.

When President Jacob Zuma delivers the State of the Nation Address on Thursday at 7pm, he will again stand at the helm and chart our course for the future. He will undoubtedly take the nation into his confidence and report back on progress since the last address.  He will also speak on government’s programme to move South Africa forward.

The annual address is a platform for the President to account to Parliament and the nation. Our Constitution provides for the separation of powers between the various pillars of state. The administration, under the leadership of the President, is charged with the day-to-day running of the country. Parliament on the other hand ensures oversight, accountability and approves legislation. 

Certainly there are some who see the address as nothing more than an annual event and perceives it as a talk shop. However, such interpretations hold no water for no nation can move forward without consistent planning and unwavering leadership.

When he takes the podium, President Zuma represents the hopes, dreams and aspirations of all South Africans. In doing so he will once again chart a course that seeks to address the triple challenge of unemployment, poverty and inequality and also move our nation forward.

Last year we celebrated 20 Years of Freedom.  Only the most impartial would dispute that the lives of South Africans have improved immeasurably since 1994.  Now as we enter the third decade of freedom we have a duty to build on this legacy. 

It’s simply not good enough to assume that government alone can solve the challenges we face. Our nation was built on the premise that we would not be defined by our brutal past; therefore every citizen can and must do their part to move South Africa forward.  

President Zuma will give direction and set the tone when he delivers the State of the Nation Address, but we too need to play our part and help government overcome the remaining challenges. The things which afflict our nation are not government’s problem alone; within all of us resides the potential to find innovative solutions that will help to move South Africa forward.  

Those who only complain, but do nothing to change our circumstances are failing the nation and our Constitution.  Within the Constitution and our system of governance are mechanisms that allow South Africans to participate and make their voices heard. It begins with South Africans showing an interest, in how government is run, having their say and engaging in robust debate with decision-makers on issues that affect our communities.

The many avenues open to engage directly with government must be used, be it the Presidential Hotline or Izimbizo.  South Africans should also engage with our elected representatives to ensure that matters that affect our daily lives are discussed in Parliament.

If we are to overcome the devastating legacy of the past, communities must take responsibility for our development.  We call on South Africans to scrutinise government decisions that directly affect them, hold public officials to account and ensure service delivery is fair. We need partnerships between government, citizens and civil society to better deal with issues that affect people.

On Thursday, President Jacob Zuma will address the nation. Don’t just tune in and listen; engage meaningfully, together we can become the change we want to see.