The positive aspect of the occasion is that it will coincide with the country’s celebration of 20 years of democracy.
It also comes two days after the country celebrated the 24th anniversary of Nelson Mandela’s release from prison. On a sad note, the address will be the first to be delivered since the death of Mandela.
Worryingly, Zuma will talk to the nation when communities in several parts of the country are up in arms over poor delivery of services. The nation has witnessed violent protests spreading like wildfire during which lives were needlessly lost and public property, including a police station, a library and a clinic were torched. This past weekend thugs also went on a rampage, petrol-bombing two voter registration centres in Bekkersdal township in the West Rand during a voter registration drive by Independent Electoral Commission.
There’s always a temptation on the side of our leaders to avoid tough talk on the eve of elections, fearing this could scare away potential voters. This is where Zuma has to start showing leadership. He has to send a stern warning to these anarchists masquerading as disgruntled residents that lawlessness, in whatever form, will not be tolerated.
If these criminals are not stopped, their actions will be replicated in other parts of the country, because word will go out that people can do wrong and not face the music for their actions. He has to send an unambiguous message to other anarchists hell-bent on preventing citizens from exercising their democratic right to vote that they will be dealt with harshly.
The right to vote did not come cheap. Many paid with their lives for us to enjoy this right today. A vote is a powerful tool that ordinary citizens can use to improve their living conditions.
Zuma has to send an unequivocal warning to hooligans threatening to disrupt the forthcoming polls that their actions won’t go unpunished.
He should also dedicate a huge chunk of his speech detailing concrete action plans to root out corruption, which is partly a contributory factor in the spike in civil unrests engulfing the country. But the problem is Zuma cannot be an effective anti-graft ambassador since he himself is at the centre of some of the biggest corruption scandals in a democratic South Africa.
The public is still waiting for satisfactory answers on how millions of rands were splashed on Zuma’s private home in Nkandla, spending that was clearly intended to see to it that he and his family live in the lap of luxury at taxpayers’ expense. Zuma’s inner circle of ministers has repeatedly sought to justify the millions spent on Nkandla, but this has not killed the acrimony over the scandalous spending.
Whether Zuma and the ANC like it or not, Nkandlagate is going to be a big, inescapable election issue. Unless the scandal is properly addressed and those guilty are held accountable, perceptions will always linger that Zuma’s administration is not only soft on corruption but is a huge part of the problem.
Victory against mismanagement and theft of public resources is impossible if our number one citizen and other high-ranking public representatives do not lead by example.
Steven Motale is editor of The Citizen