Later today, and almost a year after his maiden address, President Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa will address a joint sitting of the two houses of Parliament, as contemplated by the Constitution, with the intention that the Republic’s President will speak to the nation directly on issues that matter to the citizenry with a crucial opportunity to account on the work of government. It is an important moment in our own collective history – an opportunity for the executive to account, but also to sketch in real times the priorities of our government, and the work that is being done to respond to the needs of ordinary South Africans.
There is no doubt that South Africans are struggling under the weight of the cathartic extrication that is taking place through the work of at least three inquiries considering the shadow state that operated during the past decade. South Africans desperately require real action – we need our President and his executive to respond to our own call of Thuma Mina. South Africans must know that our government is up to the task of holding those implicated in State Capture and corruption accountable and responsible, however, it also requires our government and the governing party (that is presided over by Ramaphosa) to hold itself responsible and accountable.
The extrication in some ways must be undertaken in the form of excavation into the extent of that rot, and thereafter it will require those entrusted to enforce the law, and protect the Constitution, to act against many powerful individuals and to confront and come up against powerful competing interests. This is the only acceptable outcome available to restore the faith South Africans have in the system. The failure to do so will cement the collapse of our social compact, a compact that is so desperately needed in order to realign South Africa’s trajectory and to respond to the pleas of South Africans, and in some ways, the essential ingredient outlined to making Ramaphosa’s new dawn viable and real.
South Africans must be reassured as momentum continues to grow across communities. The momentum that continues to build, replicate and spread, which in turn is demanding accountability and telling government and corporates alike quite loudly that nothing can take place without the consent of the people. Disruption has played an important role in shaping South Africa. We only need to look at our own past to look at the disruptive thinking of Steve Biko or Sobukwe or even Umkhonto we Sizwe to realise that disruption is a necessary process to discover renewal, and to provide meaningful answers to how renewal and revival can be made possible.
More recently, the impact of #FeesMustFall and #RhodesMustFall movements have reminded us about the power and effectiveness of a social compact. However, we must never forget that there is a real cost often for this disruption, and just this week we witnessed the fatal shooting of a young student at the Steve Biko campus of the Durban University of Technology. Ramaphosa and his government must not avoid the disruption, but rather must confront the need to account to the people more frequently, and to hold those accountable always, and find a way to use that disruption so that it can serve the people and fulfil the vision of the Constitution.
Ramaphosa must respond to all of this, and so much more. South Africans once again are looking to the Republic’s first citizen – wanting and needing answers. The mantle is heavy, but it is a mantle that Ramaphosa has embodied for almost a year. Now is the time to move beyond the ability to convene, Ramaphosa and his government must execute so that real consequences can be filtered into our society. Ramaphosa in his last State of the Nation provided South Africa with a promise – a promise of a more responsive and engaged government that would want to work with industry, business, labour and the people.
South Africa needed that then, but now we need the roadmap, we need Ramaphosa to provide us with the proposed path knowing that disruption and the need to have people at the centre of that plan must be incorporated. Leadership that South Africa needs today must demonstrate and respond to the fact that so many people are plagued by the failures of our government – children die, far too many citizens wait in local hospitals and clinics in the hope that they will be served and provided with medicine, far too many young people are crippled by a failing basic education system, far too many South Africans struggle to find work or opportunity.
The State of the Nation Address must respond to real issues affecting our citizenry. The attention in the news cycle will obviously focus on the ongoing truth-telling flowing from our State Capture inquiries, however, the state of our nation is dire with millions trapped in a cycle where poverty and inequality become intergenerational. We cannot afford to ignore this reality. Accountability and the prosecution of those implicated in the shadow state structure must take place but at the same time, we must demand from our government that it must provide its plan and agenda for dealing with inequality, poverty and unemployment. It will not be enough to provide South Africa with the assurances around Eskom or the Public Investment Corporation or South African Airways, but rather we need to urgently restructure and re-prioritise our State-owned assets so that they grow the economy and provide a real opportunity to disrupt the stubborn structural nature of our economy and political power in our country.
Ramaphosa must provide a roadmap that confronts the reality that far too many local authorities are failing to provide government services, and that our system of governance does not only require a rationalisation of the Executive, but more importantly a complete audit and review of our local municipalities. The expanded powers of the Auditor-General must be used to bring our local municipalities into line, and the Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs (or a restructured department) must ensure that the distressed and dysfunctional local governments are brought in to the line. We cannot continue to see stories of municipalities that have run out of basic service delivery tools when refuse removal stops and the broken sewerage pipes go unattended to while executive mayors have at least two luxury vehicles available at their whim.
It is a tall ask especially in an election year, however, the State of the Nation later this evening provides a unique opportunity for South Africans, more than its Parliament, to reflect on the work of government this past year, and to consider whether the agenda of its government is actually responsive and people-centred. We must be critical – we must demand answers – and we must also begin to question why justice has been deferred on so many fronts for so long. We must in our numbers use our democratic power to elect a government of our choosing later this year, and then we must make sure that they account to us constantly. South Africa has the opportunity to continue building momentum, embracing a renewed commitment to its own social compact with the focus on confronting the days, weeks and months ahead so that at our next State of the Nation, we are able to say that not only did South Africa respond to the first Thuma Mina but that we made our Executive and Parliament respond to our own call – a call that demands justice today for all. DM
Saddam Hussein authored a best-selling romance novel. "Sabibah and the King" also spawned a 20-part series.