South Africa

SONA 2020 PREVIEW

Last year was about incremental steps, says The Presidency

President Cyril Ramaphosa accompanied by his spokesperson Khusela Diko check the state of readiness around Parliament before the State of the Nation Address in the National Assembly on 5 February 2019. (Photo: GCIS / Elmond Jiyane)

Ahead of the State of the Nation Address, the Daily Maverick’s Ferial Haffajee asked President Cyril Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, Khusela Diko, about the state of the nation. 

Question: The president said 2019 had been a year of the consolidation of reform. What did he mean? 

Answer: The president is on record having said that the sixth administration inherited a state whose capacity had been hollowed out and whose institutions had been weakened. The effects of mismanagement and bad decisions are evident in economic outcomes. In order to restore the state’s capacity and bring our economy back from the brink, government has had to take steps to first establish the extent of the problem, before putting in place turnaround measures. 

In other instances, urgent measures were implemented; the economic recovery and stimulus package being one, and a roadmap for Eskom being another. The year 2019 was about incremental steps; we cannot undo the debilitating effects of the past overnight. There has been progress on certain fronts, and setbacks on others. What is important is that we stay the course.

Q: Looking at the mini-budget and the subsequent reports from the rating agencies Moody’s, S&P as well as the International Monetary Fund, it would appear that 2020 must be the year of growth and dealing with debt. How do you think this will be done? 

A: For now, the president’s priority is getting our economy back on a sound footing, and addressing the unemployment crisis. Addressing sluggish growth means upscaling efforts to attract new investment, presenting a credible project pipeline for the Infrastructure Fund, providing energy security, pursuing prudent macroeconomic policies, ensuring policy and to implement the turnaround plans for our SOEs. We have also made progress on developing sectoral plans as part of a new industrial strategy.

We continue to engage with the private sector and labour through forums such as Nedlac and the “First Monday’s” initiative [a monthly meeting between Ramaphosa and business to deal with unemployment] to ensure that our goals are aligned. 

Economic growth is inextricably linked to a skills revolution we will be driving to prepare South Africa’s workforce for new pathways to employment, including self-employment. On the jobs front, the president is stepping up efforts to meet the commitments made at the 2018 Jobs Summit, and consolidate youth employment initiatives coordinated through a special project management unit in the Presidency.

The work on improving the ease of doing business and lowering transaction costs has reached that critical stage where working groups are instituting deep reforms to policies and processes. The Private Public Growth Initiative has engaged with sectoral master plans [growth plans across specific economic sectors] and raised issues of concern. Government’s plans to deal with debt will be outlined in the Budget speech later this year. 

Q: Do you think it can be done? 

A: The president has the utmost confidence that the building blocks government has put in place over the past year will begin to yield results. As government works to fix the fundamental underpinnings of the economy, South Africa is also positioning itself to take advantage of new markets and new technologies. 

Q: Most commentators have said that reform has been too slow. What is the Presidency’s view? 

A: For the process of reform to yield tangible results, government has to keep all social partners on board. That is why the president has spoken at length of the necessity of forging social compacts with business, with labour, and with civil society. There have been demonstrable gains, the process will be given added momentum this year. South Africa is a constitutional democracy; President Ramaphosa believes in the value of operating on the basis of consultation, cooperation and consensus. Achieving broad consensus on matters both straightforward and contentious takes time but it ensures durable outcomes. 

Q: The president, when he secured victory as ANC president, said all that had been secured at that time (now two years ago) was a beachhead (militarily, a small position from which to stage a bigger battle) Has a beachhead been expanded to a point of security now, to use the same analogy? 

A: The process continues. 

Q:.The president also said the era was a “new dawn”. In keeping with the metaphor, how is the day looking? 

A: It is looking bright. The president has committed to working together with South Africa turning this country around, and to meeting the expectations of our people. We will not fail them. 

Q: Could you tell me how the president’s salary sacrifice has worked – who have the beneficiaries been?

A: Setting up the Thuma Mina Fund has been an arduous process. The trust is still being set up. However, because of the delays experienced, the president has now approved the payment of the tranche covering half of his salary for 2018 to be paid directly to the Nelson Mandela Foundation as one of the beneficiaries rather than through the fund. BM

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