Johannesburg - South African President Cyril Ramaphosa presented his State of the Nation address SONA last Thursday in his first major opportunity to outline policy after his African National Congress won a fresh mandate to govern in the May 8 national elections.
His speech was received with mixed reactions across the country, with some hailing the leader as the right man for the country’s top job while others described his speech as a mere dream.
Economic analysts Lindie Paro told the Southern Times that although most opposition parties critisised the president’s speech as a mere dream, it was refreshing to note that Ramaphosa placed South Africa's economic growth at the forefront of the sixth administration's agenda.
“It is now vital for the various spheres of the economy to continue engaging with various ministries and SOEs (state-owned enterprises) over the coming months in order to realise implementation of ideas. Economic growth and employment creation go hand in glove hence the president made it clear that if the economy grows, nearly 2 million jobs could also be created in the coming decade,” she said.
Ramaphosa also emphasised the urged need for his government to rescue the ailing power utility Eskom.
“Following the sharp contraction in growth in the first quarter, the Reserve Bank now projects that growth in 2019 is likely to be lower than anticipated in the February budget. One reason for the lacklustre economic performance has been the load shedding early this year, together with the continued uncertainty in the supply of electricity and the state of Eskom. The lesson is clear: for growth, we need a reliable and sustainable supply of electricity. Eskom is facing serious financial, operational and structural problems,” he said.
Political analyst Dr Zolani Dube said rescuing Eskom would tackle many other challenges that the economy is facing.
“It is a positive stand to note that markets were satisfied that the government will attempt to rescue Eskom and deal with corruption through a special investigation unit. However, SONA did not convince the markets that the bailing out of Eskom will keep the government’s debt-to-GDP ratio below 60 percent.
“A reliable power supply is, of course, essential for the economy to grow, but we believe the government should be looking to phase out coal-powered electricity and replace it with renewables from private sector providers as soon as possible, for the sake of the planet as well as the economy,” he said.
Ramaphosa said Eskom was due to receive another urgent financial boost from government to help it meet its financial obligations and that this would be a significant portion of the R230billion required by the power utility over the next 10 years.
This is on top of the R69 billion that Finance Minister Tito Mboweni allocated to Eskom in his budget speech in February to help it pay its debts amounting to nearly R500 billion.
The land issue in South Africa has also attracted much attention and the president noted that the day marked 106 years after the Natives Land Act, which was aimed at regulating the acquisition of land, came into force.
He called the law "one of the most devastating acts of dispossession, pain and humiliation" and said its effects were still present.
He also highlighted that his government was prioritisisng expropriation of land in an orderly manner.
Opposition Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema, however, fumed after the speech accusing the president and the ruling party of not taking the land issue seriously.
He warned the president of chaos and bloodshed if he didn’t make good on the ANC’s commitment to expropriating land without compensation.
“The issue of resolving inequality will never happen in South Africa if we don’t resolve the land question. We must, therefore, warn you that if you do not expropriate land without compensation and return it to its rightful owners, the democratic project remains under permanent threat. Our people are going to engage in an unled revolution because there will be fighting for what rightfully belongs to them,” said Malema.
Malema has accused the ANC of not tackling the land issue in good faith.
“We cannot use the land question to encourage people to vote for us, it is an emotive issue and when we speak about it, we must be meaning it, not what you did to the electorate. If we do not change the patterns of property ownership in South Africa, white people will continue to think that they are superior because they own the means of production,” added Malema.
Another opposition leader Pieter Groenewald of the Freedom Front Plus was not overly impressed with Ramaphosa's SONA.
"The president has got a very nice dream, but unfortunately when he wakes up he'll find out it's a nightmare," said Groenewald.
Justice Minister Ronald said the president’s speech was inspirational.
"What stood out for me is the clear commitment and support to the NPA to do their job without fear or favour and also the following of the money through the SIU Special Tribunal, the money that has been stolen from the fiscus, the estimated R14bn. The tribunal will kick-off in the next few months," he said.
The ANC chief whip Pemmy Majodina called on MPs to support Ramaphosa’s dream before criticising it.
“When the president talked about the dream, there is no revolution without a dream. Every revolution without a dream is dead. The president has outlined more than 21 concrete plans on how to take South Africa forward,” he said.
Ramaphosa said his administration will focus on seven priorities:
- Economic transformation and job creation
- Education, skills and health
- Consolidating the social wage through reliable and quality basic services
- Spatial integration, human settlements and local government
- Social cohesion and safe communities
- A capable, ethical and developmental state, and
- A better Africa and world.