President must walk the talk


Comment by: Ps Ray McCauley ( 11 February 2019 )

The State of the Nation Address (SONA for 2019 has come and gone. Yes, the pomp and ceremony – which have become an annual ritual – may have vanished but the substance of what President Cyril Ramaphosa said remains with us.

And it is that substance against which his tenure in office and that of the government he leads – should it come back to power after the national elections this coming May – will be judged. Let us look at some of the broader themes he touched on. But before we do, it must be said that President Ramaphosa’s start of the SoNA was a master stroke. The joke he cracked about Julius Malema broke the ice and charmed the latter and the EFF into cooperating on the day. It was refreshing to have a SoNA where we listened to the speech from beginning to end without any commotion or interruption from our honourable Members of the House.

His emphasis on early childhood development and the decision to migrate it from Social Development to Basic Education is good news for the country and indeed for our children. Scientific research tells us that a person’s life successes, health and emotional wellbeing are dependent on early childhood education and development. In fact, though I have no evidence of it, many schooling careers, particularly of children from poorer backgrounds were negatively affected because of lack of or poor early childhood development. If we get it right in the early years, we can expect to see children thrive throughout school and their adult lives.

Unemployment, both among the young and old, is a major challenge in our country. The desperation of an able-bodied parent who cannot provide for his/her children because they cannot find work is painful to see. So is the sight of unemployed graduates who, hoping to improve their families’ lot after graduation or completion of their studies, cannot find jobs.

It was therefore encouraging to hear the President talking about doubling the number of jobs which were agreed upon at last year’s jobs summit. Job creation has become an extremely urgent imperative – for government, business and the labour sector. The message on confronting corruption was unequivocal. Presiding over a party that has in the recent past been lukewarm in condemning corrupting, it was a bold move by Ramaphosa to acknowledge that corruption and mismanagement have severely damaged many state-owned companies.

With the kind of allegations of corruption being made at the Zondo Commission, it is clear that this scourge must be dealt with decisively or risk the rating of ours as a credible state. Ramaphosa has promised to stabilize and restore the credibility of state institutions such as the National Prosecuting Authority and the South African Revenue Sars. The independence and credibility of these institutions were dented in the recent past and we need to restore public trust in them. We are encouraged by the commissions that seek to help us identify what went wrong at some of these institutions. But more importantly, the new appointments being made inspire confidence.

We are equally inspired that finally Eskom is being fixed. Apart from the mismanagement and corruption that has compromised what was once a beacon of light among power utilities on our continent (and indeed in the world), ideology has also stood in the way of what needs to be done to fix Eskom.

The separation of generation, transmission and distribution into different entities will hopefully streamline operations and improve efficiencies, thus ensuring sustainable electricity supply in the country. And the hiving off of Eskom’s three divisions into different entities need not necessarily mean privatization – least we get bogged down in ideological arguments while losing time in fixing the national power utility.

Ramaphosa also underlined, though somewhat modestly, the success of the investment drive he initiated when he came into power in 2018. A recently released report by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Global Investment Trends Monitor shows that foreign direct investment (FDI) into South Africa grew by 446% to $7.1 billion in 2018. This after sharp declines in FDI since 2014. President Cyril Ramaphosa set himself the target to attract $100 billion (about R1.4 trillion) in FDI by 2023. FDI into South Africa grew from $1.3 billion in 2017 to $7.1 billion (R98.6 billion) in 2018.

Finally, a SoNA address is and should be our collective nationhood and is supposed to unite us. Ramaphosa’s speech on this front, particularly towards the end when he called out the names of the leaders of each political party and challenged them to work with him in growing an inclusive economy. There are many bold promises made in the SoNA 2019 and one hopes that these will be follows up with action. If they aren’t, the SoNA address itself will be as significant as the fashion that was paraded on the day: a mere public spectacle that soon disappears.



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