On Saturday at the ANC's 99th birthday party in Polokwane Zuma said the government would not make final-year students pay back their third-year loans if they passed. These loans would be converted into full bursaries.
Yesterday one Cosatu affiliate union said Zuma needed to give more details about this plan in his State of the Nation address and in Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan's budget speech.
National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union (Nehawu) spokesperson Sizwe Pamla said Zuma should also have revealed more about the government's plans to uplift the rural poor.
"The poorest of the poor in our country are to be found in the rural areas and it is imperative that the rural economy be attended to immediately," Pamla said.
But the union held back from criticising Zuma's speech in line with the latest alliance agreement to "refrain from alien tendencies like public verbal sparring".
Cosatu, which last year criticised members of the ANC as a "predatory elite", also lavished praise on the ruling party.
"They can be sure that the workers of South Africa will remain 100percent in support of our great national revolutionary movement," Cosatu president Sidumo Dlamini said.
But political figures and independent analysts outside the tripartite alliance painted another picture.
Mncedisi Twalo of the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign said there was nothing new in Zuma's speech.
"He repeated previous promises that the poor would have opportunities," Twalo said.
"But this is an insult to the poor because almost 1million people have lost jobs since he was elected. He even complained that the economy could create jobs for the poor. So what new thing can he come up with?"
Independent political analyst Dale McKinley said: "When elections loom Cosatu always returns to the source, that it is the only vehicle for its leaders' advancement - the ANC.
"This leaves people on the ground as bystanders. We see a high stake political poker game being played out among the elites, where people are used only as voting fodder."
As long as the ANC refused to make radical changes to the economy and redistribute wealth, they would continue putting on this "pantomime" to fool the public, McKinley added.
PAC president Letlapa Mphahlele said until the ANC "empowers indigenous Africans economically, all talks of freedom and human rights are just in vain".