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Rural Development and Zuma’s State of the Nation Address

22 February 2010

I wasn’t as disappointed with the State of the Nation address as some of the genuine public intellectuals – I rather like President Zuma’s low-key style, lack of flowery metaphors, and the complete absence of hand-held fruit.

The usual purpose of poring over the State of the Nation address is to look for signs of new policy directions, or perhaps more clarity as to policy directions that have already been declared. This is potentially very helpful, since the underlings I deal with at the Department of Rural Development and Land Reform know little more about emerging policy directions in their field than the rest of us. Indeed, this is the odd thing about the Comprehensive Rural Development Programme in particular: its outline was announced within hours of the new government taking office – with such breathtaking speed in fact, that for the first time in a while there was a sense of urgency and direction. And then? Well, very little. More details about the pilot process in Muyexe village (the first pilot site, in Limpopo) followed, and the lack of focus that was there (volleyball training!) was not encouraging.

So what of the State of the Nation address? What did we learn? We learned that 231 RDP houses have been built in Muyexe (see box in right pane), though the Sunday Times informs us that little else has happened there, e.g. none of the guaranteed jobs, the improved access to water, etc.

Maybe more interestingly we’ve been given some idea of the scale-up plan: there are seven other sites around the country encompassing 21 wards, but the total number of wards to ‘have sites’ (whatever this means) will increase to 160 by 2014. (Is that a lot? There are 750 wards in KZN alone….) And then this: “We want 60% of households in these sites to meet their food requirements from own production by 2014.” My colleague Ben heard it differently: according to him, the President said something like, ‘We want households to produce 60% of their food requirements’. That would probably have made more sense than to try to ensure that three fifths of all households are fully self-sufficient, an idea that, as Mark Twain once said of Wagner’s music, is “… better than it sounds”.

Well that’s about it. There wasn’t much, and as for what there was, the misunderstood version might well be more promising. The only other item of note was how Zuma concluded his brief comments on rural development: ‘Kancane kancane kuze kulunge, phela bakwethu, kuthiwa nempandla iqala ngenhlonhlo.’ In essence, progress is incremental, ‘little by little’; in the same way that Zuma himself wasn’t always bald, rather it was a process that takes time. I can vouch for that.

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