President Jacob Zuma addresses ANC supporters at the Cape Town Stadium for the ruling party’s 103rd anniversary celebrations in this file image. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON
President Jacob Zuma. Picture: TREVOR SAMSON

IT'S THE economy, stupid. This spirit and words were missing as President Jacob Zuma read what is the ruling party's vision and mission statement for the year ahead in Rustenburg on Saturday.

The phrase (it's the economy, stupid) was the mantra of Bill Clinton's US presidential campaign in 1992.

As Mr Zuma delivered the African National Congress (ANC's) "January 8 statement" — to celebrate its 104th birthday — the economy was the elephant in the room, as last year ended with signs that the country was headed for serious economic trouble.

Notably, but not surprisingly, the speech was shy on details on economic matters, offering only broad strokes. Party officials argue that this event is not meant to offer details, but it is an opportunity for the president to give marching orders to the party faithful on behalf of the National Executive Committee.

Finer policy details get rolled out through government platforms like the opening of Parliament and announcement of budget allocations.

Mr Zuma called for greater co-operation between the government and the private sector and also broader society.

"It is equally important that the levels of co-operation and partnership between labour, government, civil society and the private sector is improved. This requires consistent dialogue that results in positive action.

Going forward, we must enter into a social compact and deepen the partnership of labour, government, civil society and the private sector."

With low economic growth levels experienced in SA and other emerging markets, Mr Zuma called for better management of the public purse.

This statement was made without a sense of irony by the man from Nkandla — shorthand for government excess. It's also by the president who single-handedly caused economic mayhem on December 9 when he fired Nhlanhla Nene as the finance minister, replacing him with the now-you-see-him-now-you-don't Desmond van Rooyen.

Mr van Rooyen was replaced within four days following an unprecedented financial markets meltdown. He was moved to the Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs department, making way for Pravin Gordhan, who returned to the finance portfolio like an artist bouncing back "due to popular demand".

Mr Zuma told a packed Royal Bafokeng Stadium on Saturday: "It is incumbent on all of us to ensure proper fiscal management and prudent utilisation of public money."