Maverick Citizen: #SONA2020 responses 

‘Our common duty is to learn to trust again’

By Mark Heywood 19 February 2020

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa looks on as the Economic Freedom Fighters disrupt parliament during the State of the Nation Address in Parliament in Cape Town on Thursday 13 February 2020. The annual presidential address comes in the midst of a harsh economic environment, service delivery failures, incapacitated SOEs, rampant crime and high unemployment. (Photo: Daily Maverick/Leila Dougan)

We know what business and the trade unions think of SONA. We have heard what the other political parties have to say. But how have civil society organisations responded?

To answer this Maverick Citizen sought the opinions of civil society leaders on some of the most crucial questions ordinary people face: service delivery, the climate crisis, gender-based violence, alcohol abuse and the delivery of key rights of access to healthcare services and basic education.

This is just a sample of issues and organisations. There are many, many more. As we said in our weekly newsletter yesterday, the challenge for the Presidency and government departments at every level is how “unleash this vast reservoir of energy and ideas” and:

“Tap into the creativity, generosity, energy and ideas that exist throughout civil society. Wherever we look we find people who want to work: cleaning polluted rivers, providing vital services by filling gaps in healthcare and education, keeping communities safe(r), trying to create jobs. But, sadly, most of these active citizens report encountering obstruction, not assistance and encouragement, from state officials.”

So, although we could have written an article summarising their responses, we think you will agree that each organisation makes an important and substantive critique, combined with practical suggestions.

We have therefore decided to provide their responses verbatim: 

The South African Christian Leadership Initiative

SONA is a speech. A political speech to be more exact. So cynicism is to be expected. Yet cynicism is a luxury we dare not allow ourselves. Ours is a huge task of lifting ourselves up by our bootstraps.

Leadership in a country as polarised as SA is, is bound to be tough. Every organised group in our society seems to know exactly what to do to fix our many problems! It does not help that the trust levels between the governed and the government is as low as it is. But to the extent that SONA is a leadership intervention, we would do well to welcome it.

This is what makes it crazy that EFF did not want De Klerk in the room. As if De Klerk and all the millions of white South Africans who agree with him, should not listen to the future a democratically elected head of state wishes to outline. Non-racialism, as warranted by our Constitution, does not require people to agree on their reading of history. Only that they commit to a democratic shared future.

It is our common national duty as South Africans after Zuma, and beyond Zondo, to learn to trust again. Without trust, which in turn will fund enterprise and initiative, stagnation will cascade across the economy.

That said, there was nothing really wrong with the substance of SONA.  The president offered each sector something to believe in and to work with in order to move our country forward. In the end, it is up to the people of South Africa to make it work. We must try.

For the rest, we must continue grassroots activism to press for more accountability and more delivery.

Rev Moss Nthla, Chairperson 

Public Service Accountability Monitor (PSAM)

SONA presented a gloomy picture of the economy, foregrounded by increased unemployment currently at 29.1%, according to Statistics South Africa. With the battling state-owned enterprises the state of the economy does not seem promising at all.

The president proposed solutions through social compacting.

Social compacting was first proposed in 2003 by the South African government and is defined as an “encompassing framework coordinating action between government and social partners”. It is a partnership of the government, the community sector, business and labour with clear tasks to build the economy.

The president mentioned that social compacts have continued to strengthen democracy in South Africa. The question then, is how poverty and joblessness persist 25 years into democracy? The potential benefits of social compacting would be countered by factors including corruption, mismanagement of public resources and abuse of public office.

In Africa, social compacting has not been very successful as states suffer from a lack of legitimacy and find non-transparent means to govern, that are not accountable to the citizens. South Africa is unlikely to have a genuine social compact that plays a significant role in restructuring the economy.

The president also mentioned the District Development Model (DDM), which seeks to build social compacts in local development initiatives. In a county where students are taught in dilapidated classrooms without sufficient water and sanitation facilities and where emergency medical services (EMS) are not reaching people in time due to the state of roads, departments must first strengthen their capacity to fulfil their constitutional obligations before collaborating under the DDM. 

Tlamelo M Mothudi (Health Researcher), Esteri Msindo (Human Settlements Researcher) 

Johannesburg Against Injustice

The president has appeared to have touched most of the pertinent issues facing the nation. We particularly appreciated the change in tone and approach. The speech came across as more reflective, and as if the president has listened to much of the criticism over the last year. This was illustrated in his more realistic goals, and more clearly outlined timetables for implementation.

We appreciate that he is the first South African head of state to speak so frankly and clearly about the Climate Crisis we face, and we look forward to the climate change legislation he promised to pursue. We intend to hold the president to his promises in this regard.

As a civil society organisation, we applaud the president on his commitment to make public the performance contracts with his Cabinet. Such transparency will allow for tracking of progress and effectiveness of delivery by the various ministries and departments.

We remain deeply concerned about the ongoing economic crisis, particularly rising youth unemployment and the ongoing stagnation with the greater economy. While he outlined a number of positive plans, this is not sufficient when considering a lack of detail on how these plans will make a meaningful and measurable change in the short term.

We were encouraged as the president mentioned the establishment of additional TVET Colleges and a new university. However, we feel the speech was severely lacking when addressing broader educational challenges, particularly as it pertains to basic education and vocational training. The failures of our education system are fundamentally handicapping our entire economy, and unless there is a greater focus, higher accountability on governance in this sector, we doubt there will be meaningful change.

Finally, we were concerned by the lack of urgency in addressing criminality and corruption in the public sector, given the widespread protest and campaigning by civil society that preceded this address. 

The Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (Safcei)

SAFCEI is pleased that President Cyril Ramaphosa did not mention nuclear power in his State of the Nation Address (SONA). According to Safcei’s executive director Francesca de Gasparis, the organisation – which was responsible, with other civil society actors, for exposing and stopping the government’s corrupt nuclear deal in 2017 – hopes that this signifies that South Africa is moving toward a more significant investment in renewable energy.

“We also acknowledge the president’s call to finalise the Climate Change Bill, soon. And, we hope that he will remain vigilant of this process, to ensure that it gets done as a matter of urgency. It is so important that the government re-evaluates all relevant policies, to ensure that climate change action underpins all of these going forward,” De Gasparis says.

 “We would also like to encourage President Ramaphosa and his team to include the knowledge from NGOs and civil society at large. The threats that accompany climate change are a problem that needs input from every sector of society. As such, we all need to be involved in finding solutions that would work within the South African context. By including this knowledge, from communities on the frontlines experiencing climate destruction, we will be better equipped to find tangible solutions. Solutions that are realistic and could be implemented now for affected communities,”

De Gasparis continues:

“We were pleased that the president has also indicated that South Africa needs to move swiftly towards a just energy transition. This includes the move from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, with an increase of access to renewables by local municipalities. And, of course, it is imperative that the government create a clear and roadmap for phasing-out coal. Furthermore, there must be increased renewables investment in Eskom. This should include a plan for the adequate development of a smart grid, in the very near future.”

“We hope that the government will now move forward, with much more serious commitment and urgency, to integrate climate into all of its energy decision-making. This includes considering how it needs to adapt its approach to job creation,” she says.

“One thing that still remains a critical concern, however, is that of all the people who were involved in the government’s illegal and corrupt nuclear deal, not one has been prosecuted. Not one person has been brought to justice.”

Safcei calls on the president to make sure that those who were corrupt in their dealings and used nefarious means for their own financial and personal gain – especially in their official capacity as servants of the people – are dealt with swiftly and severely.

The lack of accountability from government officials remains a huge concern. Our hopes of a just and ethical government, is under constant threat as corrupt officials get away without any punishment. Democracy cannot work without accountability.

Extinction Rebellion, South Africa

We are relieved to see that the climate crisis received an unprecedented share of attention from the SA president in the 2020 State of the Nation Address, and couldn’t agree more with his frank assertion that it is the greatest “existential threat” to humankind. But we urgently need to see it treated as such, in deeds, not just words.

South Africa’s current pledge in terms of the Paris Agreement is highly inadequate, planning to increase GHG emissions for the next five years and only reduce them after 2035.  This when the (conservative) science tells us we need to be reducing emissions every year by around 8% from now to stay within reasonably safe limits.

We need to see progress and inclusive dialogue on the Just Transition that must necessarily accompany the reduction efforts to avoid more unemployment and ensure the wellbeing of our people. This was not mentioned.

The Climate Change Bill referred to must urgently be put into effect. The 2018 version published for comment is weak, and presupposes that we still have years available to us before we meaningfully reduce emissions and put adaptation measures in place. We don’t.

We appreciate the mentions of procuring additional power from solar and wind-generated resources. Unfortunately, the address also reminds us that IRP 2019 plans for new coal power, hampering emission reduction, threatening precious water resources and the health of thousands due to air pollution. 

Disturbingly, there is no direct mention of the severe weather events and the multi-faceted water crisis imperilling so many.

We did not hear what we need, the declaration of a climate and ecological emergency – a tangible demonstration that the government is actually committed to engaging the ever-intensifying crises that literally threaten our lives. We are demanding that the government achieves net zero carbon by 2025.

Mr President. This is not a drill.

 The Womxn and Democracy Initiative, based at the Dullah Omar Institute, UWC

The Womxn and Democracy Initiative heard in this SONA, the ways that President Ramaphosa has been influenced by the feminists who would not stand down in 2018, and who have participated in the Interim Steering Committee on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide (ISC) – now he refers to “violence committed by men against women” – using the active voice and naming the source of the violence.

This shift in language is important.

We note the mention of the R1.6-billion allocated in this financial year (from existing budgets) to the emergency plan. However, the president didn’t give us the strategic intention on this for 2020.

His reporting on progress was limited to proposed law reforms, which on sexual offences deal with punitive aspects but don’t approach procedural or systems issues.

Overall the SONA did not provide enough information to gauge the extent of this priority in 2020, however judging from the activity and progress of the ISC by December 2019, we remain encouraged.

The concept of women’s economic empowerment is a standard of past SONAs and ANC policy, generally in shopping list form: including youth, women, people with disabilities and so on, seldom with substance. This year we heard two commitments towards actualising this ideal, the SheTradesZA platform for women-owned businesses and the commitment of R10-billion over five years from the Industrial Development Corporation and “partners”.

But this is not enough to turn the tide when women, particularly black women, continue to be over-represented in informal and insecure employment, face additional barriers to starting small businesses, and remain in the lower rungs, excluded from leadership, in the corporate sector.

Thus, while we are encouraged by the strong focus and plans relating to youth, we are discouraged by the gender blindness of the Presidential Youth Employment Intervention’s (PYEI) six priorities.

The status quo was demonstrated by the presentation of three young entrepreneurs who will receive grants – only one of whom was a young woman. The president must set hard targets in the PYEI for at least half, but preferably the majority, of youth targeted to be women or gender non-conforming people.

The president should recognise that much of women and girls’ labour in families and communities remains invisible and unpaid, but supports our limping economy in real ways while limiting their access to education and economic activity; these barriers to economic participation – in addition to GBV – must be factored into plans. Unfortunately, the reference to women’s access to land fell foul of the shopping list norm.

SONA is a limited source of information, the detail is in budgets and departmental plans which we will track, and while we see the positive shifts linked to women’s lives in this SONA, it failed to get to the heart of structural discrimination by men against women.

Samantha Waterhouse, Vivienne Mentor-Lalu and Motlatsi Komote.

 Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR)

For the first time, the president talked about the “crisis of violence perpetrated by men against women.” 

While it sounds encouraging that R1.6-billion was “re-prioritised” in 2019, what it means is that no additional money was allocated from Treasury – government departments have had to take away from existing programmes and services, to contribute to this pot, which is minuscule compared the money spent on bailing out SOEs.

To date, there is still no clarity on which existing programmes and services are being affected by this “re-prioritisation”. Given that SONA was silent on additional budgetary allocation, we will look to the upcoming Budget speech to gauge just how important this emergency is to our government.

Amendments to the law to broaden the categories of sex offenders that must appear on the national Sex Offender Register sound nice, but this move will have frustratingly little strategic impact. Expanding the register, which has always been woefully incomplete and poorly managed, is practically useless when our real problems are catching and successfully prosecuting perpetrators, and removing barriers to reporting sexual offences in the first place.

The same argument goes for making it harder to get bail, and further increasing minimum sentences. These are not even low-hanging fruit – they are no fruit at all, when SA already has very harsh minimum sentences, and the only real deterrent is the certainty of getting reported, caught, and prosecuted.

The “crisis of violence perpetrated by men against women”, as the president termed it, deserved more detailed attention in the SONA. For transparency and accountability, the public needed to hear far more about the actions, decisions and time-lines of the Interim Steering Committee that is tasked with the Emergency Action Plan, and finalising the “National Strategic Plan on Gender-Based Violence and Femicide” and council that will drive that plan.

Sanja Bornman, Attorney, Gender Equality Programme

The Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance (SAAPA, SA)

The alliance was very disappointed that the State of the Nation Address 2020 did not contain any reference to government plans to process outstanding legislative processes to address alcohol-related harm.

Over the past months, the harmful use of alcohol and its consequences have been raised by a multitude of people and organisations, including the president, the minister of police; the minister of transport; the Gauteng MEC for education; the Western Cape MEC for community safety; the head of the National Liquor Authority; the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC); the KZN MEC for economic development, tourism and environmental affairs; a large number of SAPS and metro police officials from across the country; the ANC Women’s League; medical aid companies; insurance companies; the universities of Fort Hare, Limpopo and Stellenbosch; the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA) and other public health and gender NGOs, and representatives of political parties such as the Economic Freedom Fighters, the Democratic Alliance and the IFP.

Yet the SONA said nothing on the matter, despite the fact that the ANC’s 2020 January 8 Statement, released just a month earlier, said:

“Part of this effort requires that we must be more direct in reducing alcohol use and abuse… through legislative and other measures and through community mobilisation.”

This call to action by the ANC, which specifically highlighted the link between alcohol and gender-based violence, should have resulted in a clear statement of intent from government on what it plans to do in respect of stalled liquor legislation that, if enacted, would have an immediate and dramatic impact on the public health and well-being of the nation.

Perhaps the state has been “captured” by the liquor industry. We do know that, contrary to a Cabinet decision of November 2010, all spheres of government are willy-nilly entering into collaborative arrangements involving liquor industry money, thereby compromising their ability to act in the public interest when considering liquor-related legislation.

The liquor industry itself is currently positioning itself to support their argument that the government doesn’t need to introduce new legislative measures, that a combination of “responsible drinkers” and an industry that regulates itself will be sufficient to prevent alcohol-related harm. Aware.org, the industry organisation whose brief is to pretend that liquor bosses care about the harm caused by their products, recently launched a marginally modified version of the industry’s own Code of Commercial Conduct, “warning” the industry that, if it didn’t regulate itself, then the government would.

But the global position on addressing alcohol harm, drafted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and supported by public health researchers and practitioners worldwide, is that self-regulation and promotion of “responsible drinking” does not work. The only effective way forward is government intervention to ban alcohol marketing, increase the price of alcohol products, and reduce their availability through measures such as setting alcohol outlet density quotas and limiting outlet operating times.

SONA 2020 has sold the country short by not announcing that the processing of the Road Traffic Amendment Bill and the Liquor Amendment Bill is to be fast-tracked. It is no exaggeration to say that the lives of our people depend on this happening.

 SECTION27

While the president’s State of the Nation Address presented an accurate picture of the dire state of our economy and the challenges on that front, it offered very little detail about how this government will accelerate the delivery of socio-economic services such as health and education.

It has been more than a year since president Ramaphosa launched the Sanitation Appropriate for Education (SAFE) initiative, but there has been little progress in the delivery of safe sanitation in schools.

The president spoke of access to education as an achievement. He failed to mention the dilapidated and overcrowded classrooms in which children have to learn. He lauded the 2019 81% matric pass rate, but overlooked that only 60% of learners who enrol in Grade 1 reach Grade 12. Of that percentage, only 37% pass matric.

If there is any hope of addressing this discrepancy, there must be a concerted focus on literacy programmes. Ensuring that all children are able to read with comprehension must be a greater priority than robotics and coding.

In relation to healthcare, the president mentioned that five million people are on anti-retroviral treatment, a significant achievement. Given the more than two million people living with HIV who are not on treatment, and the more than 240,000 new cases of HIV every year, more needs to be done on prevention and on retention in care. The Thembisa model indicates that condom usage is decreasing.

HIV is still a public health emergency and requires sustained attention.

The president said there has been enthusiastic support for National Health Insurance. However, he gave little attention to the burning questions people have brought up during the NHI public hearings. 

More than anything, people have expressed concern about the implementation of the NHI, which frankly, is hard to envisage in the context of our broken health system. The silence from the government on this front is worrying.

Finally, the president’s reference to the Nelson Mandela Fidel Castro Medical Training Programme in Cuba which has produced 1,200 graduates who return to practice largely in rural areas in South Africa: This largely successful programme must be accompanied by a comprehensive human resources for health plan to appoint and retain healthcare workers. In summary, we would like to see greater political will to fix both the health and education systems.

Equal Education

The 2020 State of the Nation Address (SONA) marked one significant victory for Equal Education (EE) in that President Ramaphosa announced, as a means of strengthening the capacity of the state and increasing the accountability of elected office bearers or public servants, that he will be signing performance agreements with all Cabinet ministers before the end of February and making them public so South Africans can hold to account those elected into office.

Since the reappointment of Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga in 2019, EE has demanded that her performance contract, alongside all other members of the Cabinet, be made public. Ramaphosa’s announcement will allow for both transparency and accountability. EE will be keeping a close watch on the performance of ministers and public officials.

President Ramaphosa said immediate interventions to improve the quality and relevance of the education outcomes includes the introduction of “the three-stream curriculum model”.

EE supports attempts to strengthen and expand occupational and vocational opportunities, but these opportunities must expand the choices learners have without unfairly streaming them into restrictive technical pathways likely to disadvantage learners from poor and working-class backgrounds.

Learners must be allowed to choose their own academic pathways rather than be forced into one — or out of school entirely — by a failing system. Our concern is the further entrenching of socio-economic inequalities in the education system. Read our report on the three-stream curriculum model as well as a summary of the opportunities and risks associated with the three-stream model in our matric statement here.

Further, during SONA in 2019, President Ramaphosa committed to ensuring that every 10-year-old learner is able to read for meaning. During SONA 2020 he further elaborated on this saying that the government will fix the fundamentals and that our early reading programmes are gathering momentum. This promise is vague and we require that the president elaborate on what “fixing the fundamentals” means, especially given budgetary constraints and the effects the migration will have on community-based providers of ECD care.

We are tired of tightening our belts — austerity further marginalises us. We demand structural change, the government must tax the rich and support the informal “work” that most young folk could potentially find themselves. Give us quality, equal education.

Noncedo Madubedube, General Secretary MC

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