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LONG READ | Ramaphosa’s promises: A look at his Sona speeches as he prepares for 2022 address

Amanda Khoza Presidency reporter
President Cyril Ramaphosa speaks in the context of the rising cost of living, a weak economy, record high unemployment, serious questions over whether state security structures can keep the country safe and a health sector plunged into crisis by the Covid-19 pandemic. Picture: TOBIAS SCHWRZ/REUTERS
President Cyril Ramaphosa speaks in the context of the rising cost of living, a weak economy, record high unemployment, serious questions over whether state security structures can keep the country safe and a health sector plunged into crisis by the Covid-19 pandemic. Picture: TOBIAS SCHWRZ/REUTERS
Image: Reuters

President Cyril Ramaphosa’s presidency started on a high note with his inaugural state of the nation address (Sona) in 2018 promising to usher in a new dawn.

The lyrics of late legend Hugh Masekela’s “Thuma Mina” (Send Me) were etched in the minds of 57-million hopeful South Africans as Ramaphosa asked them to send him to deal decisively with fraud and corruption, low investor confidence, lack of service delivery and unemployment.

But now, as he goes into this year’s address, he does so under unprecedented pressure. The new dawn has certainly come and gone.

Much like in 2018, Ramaphosa speaks in the context of the rising cost of living, a weak economy, record high unemployment, serious questions about whether state security structures can keep the country safe and a health sector plunged into crisis by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Ramaphosa’s speech this time also comes seven months after deadly riots shook the nation to its core.

Ahead of his speech on Thursday, TimesLIVE looks back at some of Ramaphosa’s plans since his inaugural address.

2018 Sona — Rebuild broken trust

His maiden address was held on February 16 2018, after the political transition which saw former president Jacob Zuma unseated. Ramaphosa pleaded with South Africans to leave behind “the era of discord, disunity and disillusionment” — a period that resulted in “diminishing trust in public institutions and weakened confidence in our country’s leaders”.

His vision for the country was clear: “Build factories, roads, houses, clinics for 57m South Africans.”

The aim was to reduce the cost of living for the poor and create jobs — a refrain he has since repeated, and which his predecessors also sang.

Ramaphosa inherited a country with a dire economy outlook. He promised to address this by promoting investment in key manufacturing sectors.

To address transformation, Ramaphosa promised to improve the capacity to support black professionals through radical economic transformation, a policy of his party. His plan was to launch the Youth Employment Services, which would see the placement of a million unemployed youth in paid internships.

He pledged that his administration would focus on the mining sector, and said that he would be guided by the ANC’s approach that included the expropriation of land without compensation.

He promised to introduce a minimum wage on May 1 and said he would be appointing a presidential economic advisory council that would ensure co-operation in implementing economic policies — which he later did.

On higher education, Ramaphosa referred to Zuma’s commitment to phasing in fully subsidised free higher education for the poor over five years.

It was during this address that Ramaphosa promised to tackle corruption, fraud and state capture head on. He also wanted to turn around the National Prosecuting Authority and stabilise the SA Revenue Service (Sars).

2019 Sona — Part 1

A year later, in the February 2019 Sona, Ramaphosa gave an update on his promises, which included convening the jobs summit and addressing policy uncertainty and inconsistency.

“In response to the dire situation at several of our state-owned enterprises (SOEs) — where mismanagement and corruption had severely undermined their effectiveness — we have taken decisive measures to improve governance, strengthen leadership and restore stability in strategic entities,” he said.

The government had begun the mammoth task of dealing with state capture, particularly at law-enforcement agencies. He did this by appointing advocate Shamila Batohi “to lead the revival of the NPA and to strengthen our fight against crime and corruption”.

He told the nation that the state was implementing recommendations of the report of the Nugent commission of inquiry into Sars and was in the process of appointing a new commissioner.

Work was also done by high-level review panel on the issues at the state security agency (SSA) to enable reconstruction of a professional national intelligence capability including the re-establishment of the National Security Council.

Outlining his priorities for 2019, Ramaphosa said he wanted the government to accelerate inclusive economic growth and job creation.

He told the nation that at the first investment conference (2018) attracted around R300bn in investment pledges from South African and global companies.

Continuing the land theme, he said SA still had large areas of land which lay fallow. To address land reform, the constitutional review committee began reviewing section 25 of the constitution to set out provisions for expropriation of land without compensation.

Ramaphosa said that since Operation Phakisa on the oceans economy in 2014, the country had secured investments of nearly R30bn and created more than 7,000 direct jobs.

On infrastructure, Ramaphosa said more than R1.3-trillion had been invested to build schools, two universities, houses and to generate electricity. The government has committed to contribute R100bn into the Infrastructure Fund over a 10-year period and use this to leverage financing from the private sector and development finance institutions, he said.

In a key announcement, Ramaphosa said the government had begun the process of breaking Eskom into three separate entities: generation, transmission and distribution.

Giving an update on the NHI Bill, he said it was ready to be submitted to parliament.

On the Zondo commission, Ramaphosa began to receive a disturbing picture on the “breadth and depth of criminal wrongdoing” in the country.

2019 Sona — part 2

It was shortly after that Ramaphosa delivered his second Sona in just a few months. This because of the provincial and general election in May 2019.

In his June address, the economic picture had not changed.

“Our economy is not growing. Not enough jobs are being created,” said Ramaphosa.

Ramaphosa’s focus would shift from announcing new ideas to implementation. He said there were seven priorities, which were not different to his previous ones.

They included economic transformation and job creation, education, skills and health, consolidating the social wage, spatial integration, human settlements and local government, social cohesion and safe communities, building a capable state, ethical and developmental state and a better Africa and world.

To urgently improve the quality of the health system, Ramaphosa announced that the government was in the process of finalising the Presidential Health Summit Compact and the government was at an advance stage of reviewing a detailed plan of the NHI.

He noted that “Eskom’s serious financial, operational and structural problems” were contributing to a “lacklustre economic performance”.

Of the R300bn of investments announced at the inaugural investment conference Ramaphosa said more than R250bn worth of projects had entered the implementation phase.

That year Ramaphosa received a report of the presidential advisory panel on land reform and agriculture.

2020 Sona — Pre-pandemic address

Ramaphosa’s 2020 address was delivered a month before the deadly Covid-19 pandemic hit SA shores. Little did he know that some of his plans and promises would grind to a halt.

He again painted a bleak picture of an economy which had not grown.

“Even as jobs are being created, the rate of unemployment is deepening. The recovery of our economy has stalled as persistent energy shortages have disrupted businesses and people’s lives. Several state-owned enterprises (SOEs) are in distress, and our public finances are under severe pressure,” he said.

His aim for 2020, which was plagued by rolling blackouts, was to “fix the fundamentals and pursue areas of growth”.

He said the government would open bid window five of the renewable energy Independent Power Producers (IPPs) and work with producers to accelerate the completion of window four projects.

He told the nation that a new smart city was taking shape in Lanseria, which would be home to 350,000-500,000 people in 10 years.

Giving an update on land reform he said the government had released 44,000ha  of state land for the settlement of land restitution claims, and a further 700,000ha of state land for agricultural production was released in 2020.

2021 Sona — “No ordinary year”

In 2021, Ramaphosa delivered his address during a deadly Covid-19 pandemic which had at the time had killed 45,000 and infected more than a million people in SA.

Because “this was no ordinary year and Sona”, Ramaphosa told the nation that his priorities would be to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, accelerate SA’s economic recovery, implement economic reforms to create sustainable jobs and drive inclusive growth, and continuing to fight corruption and strengthen the state.

Ramaphosa was faced with the challenge of saving lives and livelihoods, accelerating the vaccination procurement process and massive unemployment.

“In the third quarter of 2020, our economy was 6% smaller than it was in the last quarter of 2019. There were 1.7-million fewer people employed in the third quarter of 2020 than there were in the first quarter, before the pandemic struck. Our unemployment rate now stands at a staggering 30.8%,” he said.

To address these challenges, in April 2020 the government introduced the social and economic relief package.

“It identified measures worth a total of R500bn — or about 10% of our GDP — to provide cash directly to the poorest households, to provide wage support to workers and to provide various forms of relief to struggling businesses,” he said.

At the time, more than R57bn in wage support had been paid to more than 4.5- million workers through the special Unemployment Insurance Fund Temporary Employer-Employee Relief Scheme (TERS).

“More than R1.3bn has been provided in support mainly for small and medium-sized businesses. In addition, more than R70bn in tax relief was extended to businesses in distress.  About R18.9bn in loans have been approved for 13,000 businesses through the Loan Guarantee Scheme,” said Ramaphosa.

He presented to parliament an economic reconstruction and recovery plan on how the government planned to save the country during the crisis.

On land redistribution, Ramaphosa said the government had handed over more than 5-million hectares of land, totalling around 5,500 farms, to more than 300,000 beneficiaries.

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