Cape Town: Members of Parliament on Tuesday had an opportunity to debate the State of the Nation Address (SONA) delivered by President Jacob Zuma nearly a week ago.
Parliament has set aside nearly eight hours for members to debate the President’s speech from Tuesday to Thursday. This year’s SONA was the 6th delivered by Zuma since he took office in 2009 and the last in the current administration. It was a reflection of government’s achievements, not just in the past five years, but since the start of democracy in 1994.
Different political parties represented in the National Assembly are each allocated time to air their views on the speech. On Tuesday, members of the public filled the public gallery of the National Assembly to listen to the debate. President Zuma will then provide his replies on Thursday afternoon.
Higher Education and Training Minister, Dr Blade Nzimande, who was the first to take to the podium, spoke mainly on education, telling members that access to education had improved over the years to reach those who were excluded by the system in the past.
“We have achieved almost complete universal attendance in schools. More than three million adults had accessed adult education,” Nzimande said.
He said since the dawn of democracy, government had improved representation of Africans at South African universities, increasing the number of African students at these institutions to 68 percent, compared to 55 percent in 1994. In the Further Education and Training (FET) colleges, enrolment had increased by almost 90 percent in the last five years alone, Nzimande said.
Zuma also mentioned this in his speech last Thursday.
Nzimande said the growth in the number of students enrolling at institutions of higher education has added the pressure for government to build more universities.
He noted that the new Sol Plaatje University in the Northern Cape had started taking in students as from this year, while the University of Mpumalanga will also open its doors this week.
Government was now planning to establish 12 new FET campuses, mostly in rural areas, across the country.
For International Relations and Cooperation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, Zuma’s speech had highlighted South Africa’s increasing role in the affairs of the world when its isolation ended in 1994.
She said South Africa had hosted a successful FIFA World Cup, admitted as a member of the Brazil, Russia, India and China bloc of emerging economies and hosted a successful climate change summit in 2011.
“Indeed, we have a good story to tell. Our standing in international affairs has been admired by many. Today, we have more than 130 foreign missions represented in our country.”
Minister for Women, Children and People with Disabilities Lulu Xingwana said: “Our freedom could not be achieved unless women were fully emancipated from all forms of oppression. Today, we stand here and boldly declare that for women South Africa is a much better place to live in today.”
She said the establishment of the ministry dedicated to women and children in 2009 stood as a testament of the commitment to the empowerment of the most vulnerable groups in society.
The country had made great strides in promoting gender equality and women representation in positions of influence. Before 1994, only 2.7 percent of women were represented in Parliament and that had increased to 44 in 2009, said Xingwana.
The Parliamentary leader of the main opposition – the Democratic Alliance -Lindiwe Mazibuko, said while South Africa was undoubtedly a better place since 1994, unemployment remained a major challenge for many South Africans.
United Democratic Movement (UDM) leader Bantu Holomisa said Zuma’s speech gave the country an opportunity to reflect on the progress made since 1994 and the challenges that were still facing South Africa.
“We acknowledge the good strides made since the attainment of our freedom,” said Holomisa, adding that issues of access to land, housing and sanitation still needed to be dealt with.
SOURCE: SA NEWS