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#Sona2021 Debate: Glass-half-full President let down by Home Affairs’ cut-and-paste job
Shortly before President Cyril Ramaphosa stepped up to the National Assembly podium to deliver his reply to an acerbic parliamentary debate on his State of the Nation Address, one of his undertakings was delivered. Well, sort of. Caravan park and campground managers are a critical skill in South Africa, according to a draft list gazetted by Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi on Thursday.
That list has been long-awaited and was one of President Cyril Ramaphosa’s pledges in the State of the Nation Address (Sona) of 11 February.
“The revised list of critical skills will be published for public comment by the Department of Home Affairs within one week to ensure that the final version reflects the skills needed by the economy.”
As Home Affairs made the “within one week” deadline — Sona was last week Thursday — Ramaphosa mentioned this in his Thursday Sona reply as heralding a “new era of implementation and action”.
But a closer look at the Government Gazette notice shows the long-awaited critical skills list is a cut and paste job from the “Technical Report for the 2020 Critical Skills List” — pages 102 to 112, to be precise.
The 130-page academic technical research document with a 2020 publication date was released alongside the Government Gazette in a Home Affairs statement and on its website.
What the referencing of this “Technical Report for the 2020 Critical Skills List” highlights is the slow pace of government policymaking, implementation and delivery. If the academic and technical research was done for a 2020 critical skills list, where was the actual critical skills list? Business, and also labour, have been calling for this for several years.
It gets curiouser. The gazetted notice says, “Interested persons, communities, organizations and institutions are invited to submit written comments on the Technical Report for the 2021 Critical Skills List by 16h00 on 31 March 2021”. No such 2021 report exists on the Home Affairs website the notice refers to — only the 2020 technical report for the 2020 critical skills list.
Still, the publication of the draft critical skills list is a step forward, even if there’s a way to go yet. While public comment on this draft list is open until 31 March 2021, it’s not clear how long Home Affairs will take to process and consolidate inputs for a final critical skills list.
Until then it remains to be seen if caravan park and campground managers remain on the critical skills list alongside web designers, advertising and communication specialists, market research analysts, call centre managers, travel accommodation managers, agricultural farm managers, dock masters and naval architects.
The gazetted list under “Preliminary Critical Skills List (CSL) for finalisation by the DHA (Department of Home Affairs)” also includes nurses with a range of specialisations, pharmacists and GPs alongside engineers — from civil, mechanical, agricultural to aeronautical — and accountants, IT specialists, hydrologists and oceanographers.
On Thursday, Ramaphosa came into the House to deliver his Sona debate reply, wetting his throat with a glass of water.
“To your health,” came the shout from the parliamentary benches with DA leader John Steenhuisen quipping, “You’re safe now!”
Ramaphosa giggled, and turned to the opposition benches, “Oh, I see, because I got a jab. I was testing it for the nation and it is safe.”
That’s about as relaxed and friendly as it got as during his one-hour reply. Ramaphosa turned from preaching about South Africa’s assets on its balance sheet to what’s become a thread in several recent speeches, dismissal of doomsayers and Doubting Thomases.
“Pause for a moment, South Africa and look at our capabilities!” said Ramaphosa, who also channelled his past life as businessman. “Sometimes we forget what we have on the asset side of the balance sheet…”
It’s not in the official speech. But then Ramaphosa is known to go off script for a particular lecturing moment only to segue back to the scripted words.
He chose not to deal with any of the opposition criticism, dismissing this as personal insults, name-calling and mudslinging.
Yet Ramaphosa seemed stung by the past two days’ debate that he watched, not from his parliamentary bench as is the tradition, but from the virtual platform. Throughout the speech he moved to rebut opposition criticism that his administration had fallen short.
“This government has protected the people of South Africa whether we like it or not,” was yet another emphatic off-script point.
Officially, the script dealt with how “millions of citizens who despite the difficulties this pandemic has imposed on them, never lost faith in this country or in the commitment of this government to serve and protect them”.
The Covid-19 vaccination programme was touted by Ramaphosa, who received his jab at the Khayelitsha District Hospital on Wednesday, as the “best defence against this pandemic”.
Again, the president turned to dismiss naysayers by emphasising that the vaccinations had begun.
No reference was made to the confusion leading up to this point, nor the quick pivot required after the initial government-selected AstraZeneca vaccine was found to be ineffective against the dominant strain in South Africa.
But then that’s not the point in a Sona reply used to talk up his administration’s performance, with a nod to the togetherness required for the social compacting pushed by Ramaphosa.
Defeating Covid-19 — South Africa is now in Lockdown Day 330 — is one of the government’s priorities set out in the Sona, and reiterated in the presidential reply.
“We will overcome the coronavirus pandemic. We will rebuild our economy in a manner that is more inclusive, that creates jobs and that lifts people out of poverty. We will put an end to corruption, we will keep our streets safe and build a state that can effectively serve the people of South Africa.”
Then Ramaphosa let drop a couple of new announcements:
- Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande has been asked to put together a team of scientists to begin developing vaccines.
- Training of women entrepreneurs has begun to enable them to take advantage of the government’s pledge that at least 40% of public procurement would go to women-owned businesses.
- Mineral Resources and Energy has drafted an exploration programme implementation plan to boost mining, although no deadline for its release was mentioned.
- A so-called Platinum Valley is to be established to bring together various hydrogen applications to boost industrial and other development in what Ramaphosa called an “integrated hydrogen ecosystem”.
And then it was back to the fynbos and how, like its rejuvenation after fire (read Covid-19 pandemic), South Africa would rise.
“We are a strong nation and we must rely on our strengths to get rid of our weaknesses,” said Ramaphosa. “We must resolve to get the work done.”
But getting the work done seems to be just where it gets undone. DM
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