South Africa


Something new, something old and something in the making — Ramaphosa carefully balances interests

Something new, something old and something in the making — Ramaphosa carefully balances interests
President Cyril Ramaphosa delivers the State of the Nation Address at the Cape Town City Hall. (Photo: Elmond Jiyane / GCIS)

In a State of the Nation Address heavy on the economy, President Cyril Ramaphosa was more precise on regulator reform than on security and anti-corruption measures that remained fudgy vows. It signals a far from the unified front across government.

Talking commitment to “strengthen our democracy and reaffirm our commitment to a Constitution that protects us all”, President Cyril Ramaphosa in his State of the Nation Address (Sona) on Thursday pledged a new social compact within 100 days, “working together to revitalise our economy”, and “an end to inequality and injustice” that impeded South Africa’s progress. No one would be left behind. 

To illustrate this, much of his 8,302-word speech — a little longer than the usual around 7,000 words — was focused on regulatory reform to cut red tape, measures to assist small business, improve water management and secure stable electricity

Part of the something new is the unit in the Presidency to clear bureaucratic obstacles and thus facilitate enterprise. It joins Operation Vulindlela, the joint Presidency National Treasury initiative to overcome governance bottlenecks, alongside the investment and infrastructure office and the project office that drives the Presidential Employment Stimulus in the Presidency. Never mind a whole range of economic change and other advisory councils, including the State-owned Entities (SOEs) Council.

The signal seems to be that unless it’s located in the Presidency, it’s not a given that projects and programmes would be implemented efficiently, effectively and reasonably timeously. 

Yet Cabinet taking collective responsibility remains a key leitmotif of the Ramaphosa administration. And so the July 2021 public violence that cost more than 300 South Africans their lives and thousands more lost livelihoods, is not about the security ministries, even though their scattered approach and crossing into operational matters were brought into sharp relief by the presidential panel report released earlier in February. 

“We will begin immediately by filling critical vacancies and addressing positions affected by suspensions in the State Security Agency and Crime Intelligence. We will soon be announcing leadership changes in a number of security agencies to strengthen our security structures,” said Ramaphosa.

That’s part of the “something in the making” that emerged in Thursday’s Sona.  

Also in the “something in the making” in-tray remains a Basic Income Grant (BIG), effectively income support for 18- to 59-year-olds, despite public and vocal lobbying. “Broad consultations and detailed technical work would unfold”, according to Ramaphosa, who extended the R350 monthly social relief of distress grant for another 12 months to March 2023. 

More than 10 million people receive this monthly support, in addition to the 18 million grants such as pensions, foster and child-care grants. 

The end of the national State of Disaster declared on 15 March 2020 and the related Covid-19 lockdown — Friday is Lockdown Day 689 — is in the making, pending the finalisation of regulations under the National Health Act and other legislation. 

The “something old” was largely a repeat of prior promises, sometimes with a twist like a deadline or new numbers of recruits, as in the revitalised National Youth Service. 

The critical skills list also goes back to Sona 2021; it was published on 2 February 2022

The public-private partnerships on rail and at Durban and Ngqura ports date back to at least August 2021 when Transnet and Public Enterprises talked of going this route to attract public-private partnerships. 

At Sona 2021, Ramaphosa said, “Our ability to compete in global markets depends on the efficiency of our ports and rail network. We are repositioning Durban as a hub port for the Southern Hemisphere and developing Ngqura as the container terminal of choice…”

What Thursday’s Sona has done is to set timeframes: October 2022 for the port partnerships, April 2022 for third-party private operators on some railway lines. 

And longstanding talk of regulatory and structural reform was given detail. That included amending the Electricity Regulation Act for a competitive electricity market, reviewing the Business Act, easing small business permit requirements and streamlining the rules in the industrial hemp and cannabis field. 

Immediate reaction to President Ramaphosa’s address seemed largely muted.  

Labour federation Cosatu said the address spoke to the usual common issues — it took on board the R350 grant matter, and the National Health Insurance (NHI) — but was not radical.

President Cyril Ramaphosa in the Cape Town City Hall. Photo: Jaco Marais/South African Pool

“We are worried. They say the crisis is deep. But we don’t have a sense of urgency to arrest the disintegration, to reverse it,” Cosatu Parliamentary Liaison Matthew Parks told Daily Maverick. “It is critical to see these (Sona) commitments are resourced by the Budget in two weeks.” 

EFF leader Julius Malema bluntly said Ramaphosa had sold out, pointing to the business-friendly leanings of the 2022 Sona, in a televised interview with Newzroom Afrika, while United Democratic Movement Chief Whip Nqabayomzi Kwankwa, in another televised interview on SABC, pointed to the contradiction of insisting on a developmental state — by definition a state that’s interventionist — and the pro-business regulatory reforms that Ramaphosa had announced. 

DA leader John Steenhuisen was just chuffed. The Sona was “commendable” — it “could easily have been a DA speech”. But he also cautioned that the proof would be in the implementation. 

(Ramaphosa’s) realisation, decades too late, that ‘government doesn’t create jobs; businesses create jobs… government must create the conditions that will enable the private sector’, is a considerable departure from his party’s central control-obsessed approach to the economy and jobs,” said Steenhuisen in a statement. “(U)ntil he walks the walk by significantly reforming labour legislation and by downsizing his bloated public sector with its thousands of millionaire managers, that will just remain talk.” 

Intellidex analyst Peter Attard Montalto told Daily Maverick that Thursday’s Sona was in large part a repeat of last year’s and already announced issues. 

“Yet it highlights the Presidency is indeed super busy on a wider range of fronts and probably more so than generally realised,” he said. “However, the dial is not shifting… Within all this a social compact makes no sense. Government is very clear; what it is doing here means they want to extract unrealistic and non-credible jobs and investment commitments from business, which business simply cannot make…” 

Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA) CEO Busi Mavuso described the Sona as a missed opportunity. 

“Business was hoping for a greater sense of urgency and a far stronger commitment to accelerating both the reform agenda and infrastructure roll-out. Overall, BLSA believes the president could have done more to address blockages to the efficient implementation of already agreed policy and didn’t go far enough to build confidence that 2022 would be the year of delivery,” she said in a statement. 

Ramaphosa, an enthusiastic social compacter, did not set out too many details of this new comprehensive social compact he talked about on Thursday. 

He said it would take 100 days to get to that finalised comprehensive social contract “to grow our economy, create jobs and combat hunger”. 

This compact would build on the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan that Ramaphosa launched in mid-October 2020. It would retain government priorities of the 2021 Sona, from overcoming the Covid-19 pandemic, infrastructure roll-out, local production, employment stimulus and the rapid expansion of energy generation capacity. 

On Thursday, Ramaphosa appealed to everyone to do their bit. 

“Let us forge a new consensus to confront a new reality, a consensus that unites us behind our shared determination to reform our economy and rebuild our institutions. Let us get to work. Let us rebuild our country. And let us leave no one behind.” DM


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  • Jimbo Smith says:

    SONA should start with a report back on all the promises & pronouncements & hollow talk of the prior years rendering. It would be short & sweet…NIL, NOTHING, NIKS! And so in 2022 a whole pile of stuff & some form of timeliness (100 days etc. ). Until this man understands the fundamental difference between TALKING & DOING it all amounts to NOTHING!

    • Jacobus Strydom says:

      Yes exactly! I’m reminded of the saying, “you don’t impress people with what you are going to do”.

      • Peter and Heather Mackie says:

        The evidence of the total failure of governance to serve the people and the nation is plain to see
        There can be no satisfaction or result from more and more words of complaint.
        Politicians (and President) in office have shown themselves to be totally unresponsive, and incapable of providing ethical and moral leadership.
        The poisons of disparate cultures; lack of opportunity, education and initiative; corruption; and absence of commitment to serve; have eaten away at our nation.
        We have been in this situation for too long.
        What then can be done practically to bring about the changes we need??
        There has to be a way.
        How can we work together?
        How do we demand more of the opposition parties?

  • Laurence Erasmus says:

    Well, if Cyril really doesn’t want to leave anyone behind then somethings will need to change – end cadre deployment, end BBBEE, end AA, relax labour laws for small business, reduce the tax rates, fire civil servants fingered for corruption, reduce the size of the civil service, improve digitisation of basic civic services at SAPS and Home Affairs and end the state of disaster, open up all of the country’s borders for tourism and economic activity.

    • Gerrie Pretorius Pretorius says:

      Add to that – Dismantle the ridiculous pricing from Mittal which will stimulate local steel manufacture, Increase import duties on metal finished products that can be manufactured in SA, Fire the current cabinet and employ competent people (Only half the number will be sufficient), Reduce the workforce of the civil ‘service’ by 30%, etc.

  • Sydney Kaye says:

    Defining the problem is always regarded as the first step. And belatedly, as Steenhuisen said, he has finally concluded that businesses create jobs not the state.

  • Stephen T says:

    The fact that an “Operation” needs to be declared to “overcome governance bottlenecks” is a clear and unambiguous indication that a bloated, overly centralist government has reached peak levels of inefficiency. There are only two ways to deal with this unsustainable state of affairs. Either the state must descend further into tyranny in order to maintain its centralist authority and thus erode the civil liberties of its citizens, or it must decentralise into a more agile federation of states.

    The latter, of course, is the kind of federalisation that the ANC has historically been opposed to because of little more than greed (for power and authority).

    Perhaps it is true that the Natural Order of such a multicultural nation as South Africa is indeed a federal multi-state, and to oppose this is tantamount to fighting a pointless struggle against human nature itself.

  • Marc Eyres says:

    I give SONA 8/10 if it can get implemented.CR must make it happen, there is truly no one else credible or capable in any political party.

    • Gerrie Pretorius Pretorius says:

      Don’t hold your breath! cr has no idea … all he is concerned about is anc unity and staying in charge.

    • Charles Parr says:

      If it was his first SONA I’d agree but he’s only waking up now because it’s his last. If the action packed agenda over the last four years is anything to go by then all he did is write the SONA speech for the next useless body to fill the slot. I’m afraid o/10 for this and -100/10 for not quantifying how much his ‘mates’ have stolen, who will get it back and who amongst his ‘mates’ is now burning the country down. Ramaphosa you’re a pathetic character. Your cabinet still there, your police hierarchy still there. Come on, I’d expect more of a monkey.

  • Gerrie Pretorius Pretorius says:

    “We will begin immediately by filling critical vacancies and addressing positions affected by suspensions in the State Security Agency and Crime Intelligence. We will soon be announcing leadership changes in a number of security agencies to strengthen our security structures,” said Ramaphosa. This should really be of concern to every South African who has been subject to the cadre deployment of the anc since 1994.

  • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

    Personally I think Cyril is doing as well as possible under extraordinarily difficult and complex circumstances.

    But regardless of my opinion, whether you love him or hate him, Cyril is the only playable option for this country at the present time.

    So supporting him is really the only constructive option …do you really want to entertain the likely alternatives?

    • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

      Did anyone really think that handing over the running of our country to a populous who had actively been kept uneducated and suppressed for decades was every going to work in the short to medium term? Keeping those blinkers on plays so nicely to the whitey narrative.

      • Charles Parr says:

        But realistically, they did say that they were ready to govern. And besides that, anybody that can’t do a job finds someone that can. But if you pick those people only from a pool of people that the same ability as you then the outcome is perfectly predictable. Caring about it is something completely different and that’s what I haven’t seen up to now.

        • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

          Hey there @charles – objectively I’m sure you’ll agree that it really was inconceivable that the opportunity for equality would be turned down regardless of ability to rule at that time. You don’t know what you don’t know right? Also objectively it is not a huge stretch to understand the resentment to and distrust of anything white, which I hope and assume will fade as apartheid recedes in the rearview mirror. I reckon taking a few of our lovely commentators and putting them in a township for a few weeks, or possibly the rest of their lives might change their perspectives rather dramatically.

          But maybe the people here are made of sterner stuff – I don’t know.

          • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

            Likewise I wish I could, but sadly cannot hand on heart say that if I’d lived in a shack all my life and suddenly had access to this monster piggy bank I would able to be saintly in my behaviour. The pendulum swings, and hopefully it will settle in the middle given enough time.

          • Charles Parr says:

            A valid point well made. The are lots of buts there but let’s leave it at that.

      • Malcolm Mitchell says:

        Do not forget that the “populace as you call it has the vote, much the same as the NP populace of non-thinkers, but with the vote held this country back for decades, until they were forced out.

        • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

          yip – I haven’t forgotten – the big difference being that the NP voters had top notch education. Also voting was selfish to protect the beneficial status quo. Neither can be said for the current voter base, so it really can’t be considered a like-for-like voting comparison.

        • Fanie Rajesh Ngabiso says:

          by the way @mally2 – thanks for the spelling correction – not great ingrish on my part 🙂

  • Hermann Funk says:

    I experienced a very tired and frustrated President. Last night’s speech created the impression, for me, that Ramaphosa has a genuine desire to see a different South Africa but is hamstrung by many incompetent members within his cabinet and a bloated public service. He realises that incompetence but instead of firing he appoints technocrats that will work out of his office. The unfortunate thing, he speaks about his intentions rather than to inform us what is already happening. Will he initiate the leadership changes he announced or will he resort back to dithering and trying to unify a party that is fragmented beyond “repair”. The next three months will tell us.

    • Peter Dexter says:

      Hermann, I agree with you. I believe that if he acted as he would like to, the NEC of the ANC would simply recall him and replace him with a “more compliant cadre.” If the citizens of SA elected the president, he would be able to lead, but he acts at the discretion of a very small group of ANC members. The total ANC membership is only about 1,4m out of about 60m people, meaning the chain of accountability is defective. Theoretically, he must serve the citizens of the country, but if he doesn’t favour the “top cadres” ahead of the general public, he will be removed.

  • Leslie Stelfox says:

    “We will begin immediately by filling critical vacancies and addressing positions affected by suspensions in the State Security Agency and Crime Intelligence.” With whom? ANC cadres? Surely not! Well, they certainly won’t come from other political parties now, will they?

  • Tim Price says:

    I wonder when CR is planning on rebuilding parliament – the place is a mess and no sign of public works on the scene. Imagine the potential for inflated tenders …

  • Angela Sayer-Farley says:

    He should have acknowledged the realities of the Zondo Commission’s findings – that the country is suffering a corruption crisis; promised to get (some of) the money back; condemned factionalism (referring to the July riots). South Africans need revenge – or at least a promise of justice – before they can heal. Why should they put their shoulders to the wheel until government shows serious signs of change?

  • Spence Gordon Gordon says:

    At Best a 5 out of 10
    Sadly our President still maintains the ANC front and Center in everything that he does, he needs to step up and ditch all the bad eggs, bring the corrupt to book. etc. etc. etc
    Become a President with the balls to do what is right for the country.
    This is his 6th SONA and where are we, nowhere, Laurence Erasmus has hit the nail on the head.
    Small businesses who have the potential to employ thousands of workers need to be released from the power of the Unions and Bargaining Councils. These entities fly in the face of our constitution and take away the freedom of choice of both employers and the employees.
    As a small business owner, BBBEE, the plethora of labor legislation are all major barriers to us employing more people.
    Wake up Mr President, Put South Africa First.
    We are ready to help, but you need to set the tone, A Lovely family Meeting, as you choose to call it, every 4 or 5 weeks or so doesn’t truck it.

  • Malcolm Mitchell says:

    He basically expounded DA policies; as Steenhuisen says it could have been written by the DA. However with the RET faction against him , can he deliver?
    Time for a coalition between the DA, Action SA and the Ramaphosa rump of the ANC. This is the only way the country will recover.

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