President Cyril Ramaphosa has a dream for South Africa, almost Wakanda-esque in its scope, complete with bullet trains and a brand-new, purpose-built post-apartheid fourth-industrial-revolution-ready New Jerusalem.
To judge Ramaphosa’s third State of the Nation Address (SONA) since becoming president last February – and his second this year – by the reaction of the commentariat, you’d be forgiven for thinking that that was all he spoke about in his almost 6,400 word address – yet he spoke about them for less than 200 words in total.
What he did speak about was the need to galvanise the economy and to contextualise just how far back the nation has slumped in its pursuit of the National Development Plan, which has only 10 years left to run. He acknowledged the crisis befalling the growing legions of the unemployed and unemployable, the time-bomb that is youth unemployment and the plight of the poor.
He fronted up to the failure of the state to either functionally educate or provide adequate health care to its citizens; the enduring dysfunction of the municipalities and the existential crisis that Eskom poses for every single one of us. And he grasped the nettle – enjoining all who use electricity to actually pay for it, one of the unspoken though major and enduring generational contributors to our national power utility’s imminent collapse.
Eskom is too important to fail, he warned. It’s an important statement both in terms of the burden that all South Africans will have to shoulder to pay for it to be fixed – R230-billion in the immediate term – as well as its role in driving the expansion and revitalisation of South Africa’s industrial sector, itself a key source of sustainable employment and foreign exchange.
The fourth industrial revolution will not be televised, as much as it will be Facebooked, tweeted and Instagrammed; the internet of things is dependent upon the inter-relationship and connectedness of people, and to that end, data costs have to come down in line, Ramaphosa warned, with the rest of the continent through breaking the logjam in the freeing up of available spectrum and discussions on dropping prices with telecommunication companies.
He addressed the gnawing land hunger that has seized so much of our current narrative – fittingly on the 106th anniversary of the promulgation of the infamous Native Land Act – promising that government would look to available land that it owns as a first and urgent resort.
Ramaphosa acknowledged the spiralling crime levels, promising to increase the intakes of student officers at police colleges. He addressed tourism, not just the visa disaster that almost dealt the industry a fatal blow, but also the key markets that need to be wooed.
Ultimately, he not only addressed every aspect of our society, including the increasingly precarious state of the environment, but provided five specific targets for the next 10 years: no person will go hungry, the economy will grow faster than the population, two million more people will be in employment, every 10-year-old will be able to read for meaning and violent crime will be halved. These, he said, would be achieved “not despite the severe difficulties of the present, but because of them”.
He also drew a line below the sectarian identity politics that have been tearing at South Africa in recent times, reiterating not only the tenet of the Freedom Charter and the Constitution that the country belongs to all who live in it, but that the solutions to the country’s problems lie in everyone – irrespective or class, colour or creed – working together as one to build a better country, a better Africa and indeed a better world.
Ramaphosa did all of this against the backdrop of his own tenuous grip on power in his party and the unceasing low scale civil war that he is fighting with his own secretary-general, which played out on the eve of SONA with the announcement – after a week-long delay – of parliament’s all-important standing committee chairpersons.
Despite the loud protestations to the contrary, the names of those selected spoke volumes; former ministers of the ancient regime tarnished by mounting evidence of direct involvement in state capture and party apparatchiks distinguished only by their fealty to Jacob Zuma and the misnamed Radical Economic Transformation movement.
After Ramaphosa’s skilful manoeuvring to institute austerity measures in his own cabinet and get rid of as many bad apples as possible, the list of chairs was a signal victory in the secretive “fight back” campaign for the heart and soul of the ANC.
Ramaphosa, though, had the last word; exerting his authority as president of party and state by reiterating as publicly and as unequivocally as possible, the constitutionally guaranteed independence of the Reserve Bank, the new Armageddon for patriots and plunderers alike.
Critics, and there are many, were quick to denounce this SONA as long on vision and short on implementation plans. The truth is no plan is worth the paper it is written on without a vision – and a detailed one at that – to aim for, it’s one of the cornerstones of complexity theory. Ramaphosa gave us that in no uncertain terms, it’s up to the ministers and the mandarins to earn their salaries now and come up with the plans to achieve Ramaphosa’s vision that, in the words of Ben Okri, our future will be greater than our past. DM
Jon Foster-Pedley is dean and director of Henley Business School Africa.
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