Five key takeaways from Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address
The final State of the Nation Address of the sixth administration presented no new ideas on how the government will deal with pressing economic and societal issues. Instead, President Cyril Ramaphosa used it as a platform to boast about the ANC-led government’s successes since the advent of democracy in South Africa.
The nostalgic State of the Nation Address (Sona) that President Cyril Ramaphosa delivered on Thursday was used to take stock of what the ANC-led administration had achieved as South Africa commemorates 30 years of democracy.
While he did not make any grand announcements during his speech at the Cape Town City Hall, he updated citizens on measures he said the government was taking to move the country in the right direction.
Crime and corruption
The President said the Asset Forfeiture Unit of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) was working tirelessly to recover funds stolen in the State Capture era.
“Freezing orders of R14-billion have been granted to the NPA’s Asset Forfeiture Unit for State Capture-related cases, and around R8.6-billion in corrupt proceeds have been returned to the state.
“A restored and revitalised South African Revenue Service has collected R4.8-billion in unpaid taxes as a result of evidence presented at the [State Capture] Commission, while the Special Investigating Unit has instituted civil litigation to the value of R64-billion.”
Read more in Daily Maverick: State Capture investigations at SOEs struggle amid lack of investigative and forensic skills, Scopa hears
Ramaphosa said the government was working towards introducing legislation which would eradicate money laundering and fraud and secure the country’s removal from the Financial Action Task Force’s “grey list”.
“With the assistance of business, we have set up a digital forensic capability to support the NPA Investigating Directorate, which in due course will be expanded to support law enforcement more broadly.
“Legislation is currently before Parliament to establish the Investigating Directorate as a permanent entity with full investigating powers,” he said.
While acknowledging the staggering unemployment rate (the official figure is 31.9%) the President noted the obvious — that South Africa’s economy must grow so job opportunities can be created.
The latest Quarterly Labour Force Survey stated that the number of unemployed people had decreased by 72,000 to 7.8 million during the third quarter of 2023. Youth unemployment, however, was at 43.4%, a slight decline from 45.3% in the second quarter of 2023.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Lost decades — horrendous unemployment keeps South Africa jobless rate above 20% since 2000
Ramaphosa spoke about potential investments which could create jobs.
“Companies continue to invest, thousands of hectares of farmland are being planted, new factories are being opened and production is being expanded.
“We are on track to resolve the most important constraints on economic growth by stabilising our energy supply and fixing our logistics system. As these obstacles are removed, the true potential of our economy is unleashed,” he said.
Load shedding and renewable energy
The energy crisis continues to put the brakes on South Africa’s economy and to strain households. The National Energy Crisis Committee, which was formed to deal with the power crisis, was looking to implement new ways of energy generation.
“Last year, we implemented a major debt relief package which will enable Eskom to make investments in maintenance and transmission infrastructure and ensure its sustainability going forward,” Ramaphosa said.
Since SA’s renewable energy programme was revived five years ago, more than 2,500MW of solar and wind power had been added to the grid, with much more in the pipeline. More than 120 new private energy projects were in development after regulatory reforms enabled private investment.
“These are phenomenal developments that are driving the restructuring of our electricity sector in line with what many other economies have done to increase competitiveness and bring down prices.
“Through all of these actions, we are confident that the worst is behind us and the end of load shedding is finally within reach,” Ramaphosa claimed.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Government’s Integrated Resource Plan acknowledges rolling blackouts will be with SA for years
He promoted clean energy solutions which will be piloted in the Northern Cape.
“We have implemented sweeping regulatory reforms to enable private investment in electricity generation, with more than 120 new private energy projects now in development.
“We are going to set up a Special Economic Zone in the Boegoebaai port to drive investment in green energy. There is a great deal of interest from the private sector to participate in the boom that will generate green hydrogen energy projects,” he said.
The President hinted that he was on the brink of signing the much-contested National Health Insurance (NHI) Bill, which was passed by the National Council of Provinces in December.
While the EFF has openly supported this step, the DA believes that the legislation needs more work and will have deleterious effects on the health system.
Read more in Daily Maverick: Business organisations call on Ramaphosa to return NHI Bill to Parliament
“The National Health Insurance will provide free healthcare at the point of care for all South Africans, whether in public or private health facilities.
“We plan to incrementally implement the NHI, dealing with issues like health system financing, the health workforce, medical products, vaccines and technologies, and health information systems,” Ramaphosa said.
Extension of SRD grant
The President said the R350 Social Relief of Distress (SRD) grant would be extended.
The grant, which was initially introduced at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, has become a small means of survival for unemployed citizens.
“We have seen the benefits of this grant and will extend it and improve it as the next step towards income support for the unemployed.
“These grants and subsidies do much more than give people what they need to live. They are an investment in the future. Social assistance has been shown to increase school enrolment and attendance, lower dropout rates and improve the pass rate,” Ramaphosa said.
However, he resisted calls to increase the grant to cover the impact of inflation or to raise it to the level of the food poverty line, which is R760. DM