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SONA 2023 DEBATE

Ramaphosa chides ‘merchants of despair’ and reiterates priorities of ending rolling blackouts, corruption and joblessness

Ramaphosa chides ‘merchants of despair’ and reiterates priorities of ending rolling blackouts, corruption and joblessness
President Cyril Ramaphosa during the 2023 response to the State of the Nation Address debate at Cape Town City Hall on 16 February 2023. (Photo: Gallo Images / Jeffrey Abrahams)

President Cyril Ramaphosa tethered his administration to ending rolling blackouts in a State of the Nation debate reply on Thursday that also signalled the departure of Deputy President David ‘DD’ Mabuza from the government.

It was a meandering speech that lasted just short of 60 minutes, which started with President Cyril Ramaphosa greeting ANC backbencher Paul Mashatile in his role of ANC deputy president as part of the welcome to leaders of political parties represented in Parliament.

It ended with thanks to Deputy President David “DD” Mabuza for his “unwavering support” over the past five years and “the work he has done for this nation and all of us”.

Mabuza had “indicated his wish to step down from his position. This is a request I am considering and attending to”, said Ramaphosa.

After weeks of speculation and political noise about a Cabinet reshuffle, the presidential greeting and thanks signal an acknowledgement of patience running out, if not the roil in the governing party.

ramaphosa sona reply

President Cyril Ramaphosa (front row, second from right) among MPs during the 2023 response to the State of the Nation Address debate at Cape Town City Hall on 16 February 2023. (Photo: Gallo Images / Jeffrey Abrahams)

Ramaphosa would not have missed that at least two ANC speakers during the parliamentary debate on his State of the Nation Address (Sona) publicly recognised Mashatile in the ANC seats.

It’s not the first time the ANC has had a different deputy president in Luthuli House to the one in the Union Buildings, but it is the first time that the governing party’s deputy president sits in the parliamentary benches waiting for his appointment as second-in-charge in the government, never mind the traditional ANC blather about doing the will of the branches.

In 2005, Deputy President Jacob Zuma stayed put in the party as deputy president even when President Thabo Mbeki fired him over corruption scandals on 14 June that year as his deputy in government. Zuma subsequently resigned his parliamentary seat. But the July 2005 ANC National General Council overturned a National Executive Committee decision that Zuma should vacate the party’s deputy presidency.  

On Thursday, when Ramaphosa delivered his reply to an acerbic two-day debate on his Sona, ANC contestation still needed to play itself out — both in party and government.

It was the contestation across the party political landscape that Ramaphosa addressed with what seemed to be disappointment about the lack of enthusiasm for his call for joint action to solve South Africa’s “challenges”, and his measures to end rolling blackouts with a State of Disaster and the appointment of an electricity minister in his Presidency. 

Both measures were roundly criticised by opposition speakers over the past two days as unnecessary, further duplication and bloating a “mega-Presidency”. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Reshuffle ‘nanny Cabinet’, fire non-performing ministers and stop ‘mega-Presidency’, Scopa chairperson tells Ramaphosa 

Describing critics as “merchants of despair” and talking of their “dishonest and self-serving rhetoric”, Ramaphosa said: “They have determined that their political fortunes are best served by depicting a country in chaos — instead of being parties that acknowledge the challenges and that are determined to work together to find solutions so that we leave no one behind.”

‘Extremely difficult circumstances’

Putting electoral prospects above people, argued Ramaphosa, showed a lack of appreciation for his administration’s achievements despite “extremely difficult circumstances”, including the Covid-19 pandemic, public violence and State Capture.

ramaphosa sona reply

President Ramaphosa said that foremost among the challenges facing South Africa were the actions needed for the resolution of the electricity crisis. (Photo: Gallo Images / Jeffrey Abrahams)

He maintained that South Africa had come a long way and achieved “progress that is plainly clear to everyone who cares to look”.

And he ticked off, again, strengthening institutions such as the National Prosecuting Authority and the South African Revenue Service; State Capture arrests and prosecutions; the Presidential Employment Stimulus that focuses on youth; and support for the vulnerable during the two-year Covid-19 lockdown restrictions.

Now rolling blackouts are the defining challenge. Every single day of 2023 so far has had scheduled power cuts that at Stage 6 can leave households and businesses without power for up to 12 hours a day.

“Our priorities in 2023 are to decisively resolve the electricity crisis, reduce unemployment and root out corruption and crime,” Ramaphosa told parliamentarians on Thursday.

“Foremost among these [challenges] are the actions needed for the resolution of the electricity crisis.”

He said a State of Disaster would ensure agility to remove red tape that hampered energy security. And solar panel subsidies for businesses and households would be announced in the Budget on 22 February, repeated Ramaphosa.

Other measures that are widely expected include putting as much as R230-billion of Eskom’s R400-billion debt on the government’s books. 

Visit Daily Maverick’s home page for more news, analysis and investigations

Segue to the electricity minister in the Presidency that Mineral Resources and Energy Minister Gwede Mantashe explained was a project manager.

“The minister will be responsible for driving the various actions being coordinated by the National Energy Crisis Committee to end load shedding as a matter of urgency. [Resolving rolling blackouts] requires the undivided attention of a political principal who does not need to split their time and energies among different important responsibilities,” said Ramaphosa. 

“The minister of electricity will be focused day in and day out only on addressing the load shedding crisis, working together with the management of Eskom and the board. The minister will be leading the National Energy Crisis Committee and interacting with all other departments in the spirit of cooperative governance.”

It was not a duplication, or a fragmentation or a foundation for ministerial turf wars.

“As Minister Mantashe said, urgency of execution and delivery is paramount. We don’t have the luxury of time,” said Ramaphosa.

And with that, Mantashe, also the ANC national chairperson and a close Ramaphosa ally, became the only minister the President actually named, not just mentioned by title, in both his Sona and Sona reply speeches. DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Mark K says:

    The annual salary of the deputy president of South Africa is R2 825 470. Can you think of one thing that David Mabuza has done for the benefit of South Africa in the 5 years he has had this role? I can’t. That’s R14 127 350 for no obvious work at all. How much have you earned in the last 5 years? How long was Cyril Ramaphosa deputy president? Also 5 years. Can you think of a single thing that he did to help us in all that time? I can’t. Money for nothing and your Phala Phala couch for free.

    And yet you, Ramaphosa, have the gall to speak about “merchants of despair”?

  • Bryan Macpherson says:

    Ramaphosa and his incompetent, corrupt and dishonest ANC colleagues have driven the country into a State of Disaster – and he chides them as being in despair!

  • Peter Doble says:

    We have “merchants of despair” entirely because we have a corrupt, incapable, do nothing, ideologically inert, feckless, pontifical, self serving political administration which has presided over a decline in national fortunes lasting for decades. A government which delivers empty promises, hopelessness, despair, unending misery and catastrophic policies on a national scale while presenting its peoples as international pariahs through supporting and defending the indefensible.

  • Peter Slingsby says:

    Waffle waffle waffle. No decisive action, on any issue you care to name.

  • James Francis says:

    Yesterday, my Uber passed through Hyde Park, on the road where all these politicians live. Such a nice-looking place. No wonder the President thinks we made progress. No huge potholes. No desperate beggars. No stolen cables or burnt substations. No gunshots at night. All things that happen everywhere else. Mr President, I have never seen as much unemployment as I see now, nor as much emigration. Crime has frankly never been worse. The state has never been more compromised by corruption and infiltrated by criminal syndicates. The police has never been more ineffectual. The power has never stayed off this long. The municipalities have never been more dysfunctional. The situation has never been more desperate. The politicians are selling SA’s future and soul to aspitant apartheid states like Russia, Turkey and China only to enrich themselves. The ANC should stop bragging about rapidly disappearing progress and start listening to those merchants of despair. Because they are right.

  • Peter Oosthuizen says:

    We wouldn’t need a minister of electricity if Cyril had put the weight of the state behind the CEO Andre de Ruyter and done something about the gangsters inside and outside Eskom.

  • Karl Sittlinger says:

    So why does ESKOM not have a diesel wholesale license yet? It’s literally one freaking signature from your cadre Mantashe!

  • Marko V says:

    This is the same Cyril that was in charge of sorting out Eskom way back when he was deputy.
    In 2015, he publicly promised to end load shedding within 18-24 months.
    He was also present during Zuma’s state capture and did nothing about it.

  • Hermann Funk says:

    Blah, blah, blah, is is willing to challenge the opposition, but he lacks the guts to challenge the incompetent members of his party and cabinet. What a useless “leader” of a country.

  • Timothy Fearnhead says:

    Too frustrated to comment !

  • Helen Swingler says:

    ‘Merchants of despair’ is a cheap, alienating shot from the President. Long-suffering South Africans deserve more. Rather recognise the South Africans who work selflessly to stave off the disaster created by the government and its self-defeating cadre deployment system. All the gains mentioned are disappearing like mist in the sun, sir. These are being fast eroded by colossal losses, Eskom, et al.

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    The superficial SONA delivered by the President last week and his rebuttal left many issues unanswered. Firstly, energy is not electricity only as we are made to believe it includes liquid fuel. One is raising this because behind the rising cost of living is liquid fuel price. It is easy to say this is because of the geopolitical reasons and the war in Ukraine which is only a quarter of the story in our case. Mantashe easily deflects the problem by pointing to rising energy prices yet the reality is that our refining capacity has been reduced from 700 thousand barrels a day to 135 thousand barrels a day as refineries have closed from six to only two. This means that we are importing now refined products that are reflected in the fuel price and consequently food prices. The News 24 has been carrying stories of these closures as a result of government intransigence and environmental policies suited for developed countries. The cost of fuel to the economy and ultimately the fiscus is very huge but the conspiracy to hide this is widespread. This includes the failure by the President to address this issue together with the other energy crisis, electricity. We need an urgent solution to the refinery crisis that is affecting the economy just like the electricity crisis. The cost of imported refined products is huge. A mafia is developing around the fuel imports and has to be nipped in the bud.

  • virginia crawford says:

    And who are the merchant of chaos and corruption? Priorities? The same priorities for over 2 decades – end crime and unemployment – and the result? It’s worse. Shame on our opposition parties for not putting up a viable alternative to these incompetent crooks.

  • Dhasagan Pillay says:

    The President finds himself in a quandary of epic proportions. He is the face of the damnable who are damned for their inability to play nicely with other stakeholders, while asking, without much politeness, for other stakeholders to save him from the folly of his colleagues. The rather-undignified name of the recently named new ministry doesn’t help either, nor the continued path of rewarding party loyalty as part of the continued party position that the ANC must govern no matter what – as can be seen in the shambolic political games, and associated horse-trading, being played out in metros at every opportunity.

  • sunsingh0123 says:

    The Ivory Tower has spoken. When you are esconsed in luxury , have every whim catered to and breathe rarified air , your vision is bound to be through rose tinted glasses.

  • D'Esprit Dan says:

    Ramaphosa is becoming more duplicitous by the day. I would describe him as a bare-faced liar, but most times he appears so out of touch with reality that he’s unable to lie about things he clearly has no clue about. If Ramaphosa drove the roads I do, he would see chaos – potholes, destroyed traffic lights and motorists brazenly ignoring the rules of the road. If Ramaphosa lived in my neighbourhood, he would see chaos – blackouts that are neither planned nor short-lived, water shortages with no notice, rubbish piling up because there’s a shrinking number of proper disposal sites (and idiots who don’t care that they litter and clog up the drainage systems), unkempt sidewalks and stormwater drains that have physically collapsed. If Ramaphosa worked in my environment, he would see chaos – unplanned blackouts for hours on end, generators that pack up through sheer exhaustion, with parts unavailable for days, Internet outages because of the lack of power or theft of infrastructure. If Ramaphosa had to use the same police stations that I have to he would see chaos – barely literate officers who seem to actively despise the public for reporting crimes and being forced to fill in paperwork, ignoring the crime around them. If Ramaphosa used the same hospitals that I do, he would see chaos – dysfunctional facilities, lack of equipment, lack of staff, bloated deployed cadres. Ramaphosa, you are not fit for purpose. You’re the problem, not the solution. Do something or bugger off!

  • Dragon Slayer says:

    @Ramaposa – No constructive input from opposition?
    What could be more constructive than advising the firing of incompetent ministers and senior ‘civil servants’ (oxymoron noted!) . Making outcomes achieved instead of ‘busy’ activities the measure of performance agreements. Employing competent technically qualified and experienced people instead of obsequious sycophants. Get basic service delivery and crime sorted out before sponsoring football teams, erecting flagpoles, and wasting money on promoting tourism and investment to people that are smart enough not to risk their money and families in what is at best a mafia state?

  • D'Esprit Dan says:

    So we have a Minister of Minerals and Energy, who’s purview includes electricity. We have a Ministry of Public Enterprises, which is in charge of Eskom. We have a National Electricity Crisis Committee, charged with ending the crisis (at least they didn’t call it the National Electricity Challenge Committee), and now a Minister of Electricity in the Presidency. To what end? Simply more and more layers of bureaucracy in a pathetic attempt to be seen to be doing something, when all about us the country collapses. Pathetic Cyril, gazing at the triumph of his Presidency, in a patched pothole, is the worst manager of this country we’ve had in the post-apartheid era. Even Zuma got done the things he wanted to, albeit in nobody’s interest but a criminal elite, but Cyril is absolutely useless. Clueless. Incompetent. Visionless.

  • Dragon Slayer says:

    @Peter Oosthuizen – What part of setting up and needing de Ruyter to fail as a political imperative don’t you understand? My only surprise is that de Ruyter was so naïve.

  • Graeme de Villiers says:

    These comments are a collective snotklap, if I’ve seen one! It beggars belief that he can lay blame and derision at the very people who are accountable for parliamentary compliance as the opposition.

  • Chris Marshall says:

    Merchants trade in goods made by others, and we know who is the primary manufacturer of the despair in which they trade.

  • Rory Short says:

    When you head an incompetent and devoted to corruption party, the last thing you feel able to do is face reality. CR is quite clearly in that position.

  • Eberhard Knapp says:

    State of Disaster?
    Great – Gwede can then sign off HIS deal with Karpowership.
    And the ANC can cancel the elections in April 2024.

  • Michael Hayman says:

    This excuse for a president can make your blood boil. It is difficult to add to the comments expressed by others because I would simply be repeating what they have said. Suffice to say that I agree with every damning thing they have to say about these clowns.

  • Margaret Harris says:

    Why don’t we cut the rhetoric, ditch the despair, while hanging on to our democracy by our teeth and vote the whole lot out.
    It’s our fault they are still there because, just like Ramaphosa we, as a nation have been too afraid, too frozen in the past to grab hold of our own destiny.
    Our democracy is going down the drain very fast, so we have to become the authors of our own future or end up like so much of the rest of Africa.
    I guess the message is simply, Change or Die.
    .

  • Gerald Davie says:

    When is the word ‘Treason’ going to gain traction in this nation of ours?

  • Sam Shu says:

    Dear president: putting lipstick on a pig, doesn’t mean it’s not a pig. To add to that, if I can extend the metaphor, you are not the best makeup artist in politics. Unfortunately for us all, that “honour “ belongs to the “honourable” malema😂😢. When he says it a pig, it’s a pig, even if his intent is to eat the whole thing and not share a scrap with anyone

  • Malcolm Kent says:

    It seems obvious that now the ANC are looking at a chance of losing at the next election they are leaning towards a quasi-democratic state along the lines of China & Russia, to whom they blatently cosy. Probably more like the mafia state of Russia where corruption & graft reign from the top down (we are pretty much there already). Under the guise of ‘state of emergency’ where a ‘super presidency’ already has cocentrated powers it will be easy to introduce undemocratic & unconstitutional rules under the excuse of ‘for the good of the country’. Who wants to take a bet on next years election being ‘postponed’?

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