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Daily Maverick

President Cyril Ramaphosa's State of the Nation Address of 16 February 2018 seemed crafted to appeal to the electorate that has been alienated by the Zuma presidency marred by scandals. But, can Ramaphosa honour his promises?  

President Jacob Zuma resigned from office on 14 February 2018. This was the consequence of rule riddled with accusations of corruption and “state capture” orchestrated with the Guptas. Years of pressure from the opposition had culminated in the decision by the ruling African National Congress (ANC) earlier this month to recall their deployee, Zuma.

Many issues were at stake including the survival of the ANC. The ANC’s move was also guided by the intent of saving the country from the growing divide created by grave miscalculations on the part of Zuma as regards to reconciling black economic emancipation with the economic interests of the economically more advantaged white South Africans. The ace called to the rescue was Cyril Ramaphosa, then Deputy President of President Zuma. It seems preparations had long been underway to have Ramaphosa replace Zuma. Ramaphosa was elected to the ANC Presidency during the ANC convention of 18 December 2017, beating Zuma’s candidate, Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini-Zuma.

With Zuma out of office, parliament sat on 15 December 2017 to elect a new president. Only the ANC presented a candidate, Cyril Ramaphosa. His election in parliament was unanimous and he was immediately sworn in by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng. His first act was going to be to make the State of the Nation Address (SONA) scheduled for 16 February 2018. Several things were at stake. Rampahosa’s words alone were going to determine if confidence would return to the South African economy, its government and institutions, and if the growing social division in the country was going to be mended and finally, if the ANC’s lessening voter base was going to at least stabilise if not start growing back. It would seem that Ramaphosa lived up to expectation.

President Ramaphosa addressed almost, if not all burning national issues. The key theme in his speech was: “Growth, Development and Transformation”. The address focused essentially on rebuilding the economy to ensure that growth returns, that jobs are created and that transformation occurs within the economic fabric of South Africa. Key to this was youth employment on which President Ramaphosa placed a lot of emphasis. The economy, according to the president will be revitalised based on improvements in a number of key sectors. First, in industry and manufacturing. Transformation in this sector will include measures to empower blacks, especially women.

Another very potent sector for growth was the infrastructural sector. Of particular importance was the road infrastructure that had to be improved. For Ramaphosa, infrastructure investment was crucial to efforts aimed at growing the economy. Another area that received the president’s attention was the mining sector which to him is a “sunrise sector” and not a “sunset sector”. The president then pointed out that measures will be taken to encourage small businesses. Next, the agricultural sector was described by the president as another “sunrise sector”. However, plans for the agricultural sector were underpinned by the urgency in addressing the issue of land reform. Here, Ramaphosa stated unambiguously: “expropriation without compensation”. A statement received with a lot of cheers by black South Africans. However, guided by the responsibility to avert feelings of injustice to those concerned, President Ramaphosa recalled the moral backing for this measure, stating that it was guided by the intent of redressing a grave historical injustice.

The president gave assurances that the land distribution will be done in a way that will not harm the agricultural sector. Moving on, President Ramaphosa stated his commitment to see to it that the tourism industry is boosted. In stating that South Africa was a land of warm and welcoming people, the president was perhaps trying to trash the issue xenophobia. The next sector targeted by Ramaphosa as key to growth, development and transformation was the digital economy. In this sector, President Ramaphosa stated that a Digital Industrial Revolution Commission tasked with ensuring that South Africa is able to “seize the opportunities and manage the challenges of rapid advances in information and communication technology will soon be established.”

Rampahosa equally did not fail to highlight what the ANC government was doing and intends to do in terms of welfare for the citizens. Some of the flagship programmes were free education at undergraduate level of university, improving teacher education and continuing social grants. Then there was equally the issue of HIV/AIDS which for Ramaphosa remains a key concern for the state of South Africa.

Finally, the president did not fail to address fiscal concerns, the size of the public service, public administration customer service and the need to revitalise state owned corporations. Of course President Ramaphosa addressed corruption and the issue of “state capture”. Like the land issue, the problem of state capture that was rife under Jacob Zuma was seriously awaited by the audience. Ramaphosa did not mince words when he stated that he was going to combat corruption and that the justice department must take up the issue of state capture and investigate it properly. Such an investigation may lead to a prosecution of Jacob Zuma, the Guptas and other persons involved.

The SONA by President Ramaphosa was welcomed by all political parties in parliament. However, members of the opposition did not miss the chance to mention that they would hold the president accountable were he to fail to live up to his promises.

President Ramphosa did mention South Africa’s participation in the Southern African Development Community and in the Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) blocks as part of strategies that could improve the economy. However, conspicuously absent from his speech was South Africa’s role in fostering peace and stability across the African continent.

President Ramaphosa’s speech seemed as if it was crafted to appeal to the electorate. Reactions after his speech showed that confidence had returned to state institutions and leadership. Even while he was speaking the Rand, the South African currency, gained some points. President Ramaphosa succeeded to address the burning issues of the moment with tact and maturity. This is a major boost for the ANC that has been struggling to survive in recent years due to Zuma’s errors.


* Ngah Kiven Gabriel is a PhD candidate at the Department of Politics and International Relations, Faculty of Humanities, University of Johannesburg, South Africa. He can be contacted at <[email protected]>