Resolving the country’s continuing electricity crisis is the top priority in an out-of-the-ordinary State of the Nation Address by President Jacob Zuma.
President Zuma has used his annual State of the Nation Address, on 12 February, to announce measures intended to address the electricity shortages gripping South Africa.
Given deteriorating economic conditions, rising unemployment, growing – and often violent – public anger at the poor delivery of public services and the undeniable and continuing reality of “load shedding” power outages, this year’s address was, of necessity, a departure from the more obviously congratulatory tone seen in previous years.
The State of the Nation Address sets out the government’s priorities for the year ahead and is delivered to a joint sitting of both houses of Parliament, the National Assembly (the lower house) and the National Council of Provinces (the upper house), in the country’s legislative capital, Cape Town.
In a move designed to demonstrate the government’s awareness of voter concerns amid a steady stream of poor statistics, the Office of the Presidency had called upon South Africans in the weeks prior to the address to use social media to advise President Zuma of their suggestions for his speech. Unfortunately for the president, the majority of replies consisted of demands for his resignation or the repayment of public monies spent on the multi-million rand upgrade of his private homestead at Nkandla.
In a chaotic scene, MPs from the militant, left-leaning ANC breakaway Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) followed through on their earlier threat to disrupt proceedings when they interrupted Zuma’s address to demand that he repay the 246 million rand ($27 million) spent on the Nkandla upgrade.
In response, EFF President Julius Malema and deputy leader Floyd Shivambu were evicted from the chamber, which was quickly followed by a brawl between the remaining EFF MPs and police personnel and parliamentary security staff. Soon after, opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) MPs walked out after the Speaker Baleka Mbete failed to answer a question from DA parliamentary leader Mmusi Maimane as to whether the officers who had evicted the EFF MPs had been actual police officers.
Resuming, President Zuma used his eighth State of the Nation Address, frequently referred to as SONA, to spell out measures to solve the severe electricity shortages and which have been among the more significant contributors to the country’s poor economic performance. Unemployment, for instance, stubbornly remains at just below 25 per cent and 54 per cent of South Africans live below the official poverty line of R25.50 ($2.80) per day.
Also included in the president’s ‘nine point plan to ignite growth and create jobs’, were:
- The revitalisation of the agricultural sector and the agro-processing value chain.
- Advancing beneficiation, or adding value to the country’s mineral wealth through job creation.
- More effective implementation of a higher impact Industrial Policy Action Plan.
- Encouraging private sector investment.
- Moderating workplace conflict.
- Unlocking the potential of Small, Medium and Micro-sized Enterprises(SMMEs), co-operatives, township and rural enterprises.
- State reform and boosting the role of state-owned companies, a broadband roll-out and improved water, sanitation and transport infrastructure.
- Operation Phakisa, to develop the “blue economy”, including offshore oil and gas resources 
Tellingly, solving the energy crisis topped the list. In addition to increasing wind, solar and hydro capacity, President Zuma committed South Africa to an expanded nuclear power programme capable of generating 9,600 megawatts as part of the government’s ‘Integrated Resource Plan 2010-2030’. Contenders for the construction of the new nuclear plants include the United States, France, South Korea, Russia and China. The government has set a target of having the first plant operational by 2023.
Among the other initiatives in this year’s SONA were proposed new legislation setting a land ownership ceiling of 12,000 hectares and a prohibition on the ownership of South African land by foreign nationals (although long-term leases will continue).
In citing the economic slowdown and focussing on the electricity crisis, the president has effectively conceded that his earlier target of five per cent economic growth by 2019 may now be difficult to achieve. That is a brave admission, as failure to achieve that target could have repercussions for the ANC at that year’s general election. It would make it even more difficult for the ruling party to refute the claims of poor governance and under-performance levelled against it by the DA and the EFF, to which it has already ceded ground. The ANC’s opponents and the South African public will be watching for successful outcomes to this year’s SONA as never before.
Leighton G. Luke
Indian Ocean Research Programme
 South African Government, ‘President Jacob Zuma: State of the Nation Address 2015’, 12 February 2015. <https://www.gov.za/president-jacob-zuma-state-nation-address-2015>.